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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Davis Dominates as Lakers Beat Pacers 123-109 to Win Inaugural NBA Cup

Anthony Davis scored a game-high 41 points, grabbed a game-high 20 rebounds, had a game-high four blocked shots, and passed for five assists as the L.A. Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 123-109 to win the NBA Cup Championship Game. The NBA Cup Championship Game statistics do not officially count as regular season statistics or as playoff statistics, but it is still worth mentioning that Davis is just the third player in Lakers history to post a 40-20-5 game: Elgin Baylor accomplished this 13 times, and Wilt Chamberlain did it twice. Davis shot 16-24 from the field, and he controlled the paint at both ends of the court. He shot 9-13 from the free throw line and he did not attempt a single three pointer. LeBron James added 24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He only attempted one three pointer, and the only blemish on his boxscore numbers was that he committed a game-high six turnovers. James won the NBA Cup MVP award, which was based on play throughout the entire tournament and not just in the Championship Game. Austin Reaves scored 28 points off of the bench on 9-15 field goal shooting and 10-12 field goal shooting. The Lakers scored 86 points in the paint, more than any team has scored in the paint in any game this season, and they shot 43-65 (.662) in the paint. 

The Lakers shot 2-13 (.154) from three point range and won by double digits; one of the most amusing NBA fairy tales is the one about how a team "needs range shooting to win in the modern NBA." The funniest thing about that fairy tale is that no amount of evidence will convince the "stat gurus" that they are wrong, a point that we will revisit in April and May when the teams that jack up three pointers are eliminated one by one from the playoffs. The Pacers shot 10-41 (.244) from three point range. If you're wondering what it would look like if one of the better teams from the 1980s played a typical team from today's NBA, this game provided a glimpse of a team utilizing its size and high percentage two point shooting to overwhelm a smaller team that relies on three point shooting.

I have emphasized for years how much size matters in the NBA, and the Lakers' performance in this game is yet another example proving that point to be true. Size matters not only on offense but also on defense. The bigger, stronger Lakers physically overwhelmed the Pacers, holding them to 35-95 (.368) field goal shooting while outrebounding them 55-32. Tyrese Haliburton had a solid game (20 points, 11 assists, three turnovers), but he did not control the action the way that he did up to this point in the Pacers' NBA Cup games; the Lakers trapped him with size, forcing him to shoot or pass over much bigger defenders. Bennedict Mathurin scored 20 points off of the bench. Myles Turner is averaging 17.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, and 2.1 bpg while shooting .506 from the field this season, but the Lakers held him to 10 points on 3-11 field goal shooting, seven rebounds, and no blocked shots. No Pacer other than Turner had more than five rebounds. 

In the NBA Cup Semifinals, the Pacers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers destroyed the New Orleans Pelicans, setting up a Pacers-Lakers matchup in the first NBA Cup Championship. Both teams entered the Championship Game undefeated in NBA Cup play. In my NBA Cup preview, I predicted that the Lakers would win the Championship Game because they "will pound the paint with James and Davis" (although I expected the Lakers to face the Milwaukee Bucks, not the Indiana Pacers).

The Lakers relentlessly attacked the paint from the beginning of the game. In the first quarter, the Lakers scored 26 points in the paint on 13-20 (.650) field goal shooting, and they led 34-29 heading into the second quarter. Davis dominated the first quarter with 13 points on 6-9 field goal shooting and eight rebounds. The Lakers trapped Tyrese Haliburton and their size bothered him, limiting him to three points on 1-3 field goal shooting, three assists, and two turnovers after he did not commit a single turnover in the previous two NBA Cup games.

In the second quarter, Reaves erupted for 15 points on 5-6 field goal shooting. The Lakers led 65-60 at halftime, outscoring the Pacers in the paint 52-22 while shooting 26-37 (.703) in the paint. The Lakers shot 0-6 from three point range in the first half. Yes, it is possible to outscore the NBA's highest scoring team in a half without making a single three pointer! When the Lakers won the 2020 NBA championship, they dominated the paint: they ranked first in field goal percentage, eighth in defensive field goal percentage, and ninth in rebounding, but they ranked just 23rd in three point field goals attempted and 21st in three point field goal percentage. The notion that LeBron James needs "lasers" (great outside shooters) to win championships is demonstrably false. 

During the post-halftime interview, Lakers Coach Darvin Ham succinctly summarized the Lakers' game plan: "Dominate the paint. Play inside out."

The Pacers stayed close during the third quarter, only losing that stanza 25-22, but the Lakers won the fourth quarter 33-27 while shooting 12-20 (.600) from the field. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers shot 10-15 in the paint and 1-2 from three point range.

The Pacers are doing the best that they can with a young, undersized team. They are not a championship contender, but they are a dangerous team, and they have demonstrated that they will not back down from anyone; unlike the Pelicans, they did not quit against the Lakers despite being overpowered.

The Lakers won the NBA Cup by playing the right way eight times in November and December; in order to win the real NBA championship, they will have to play the right way 16 times spread out over four playoff series, and in at least two of those series they will face a team that is better than the Pacers. Will James, Davis, and company be physically healthy and mentally focused enough to win the NBA title? During the James-Davis era, the Lakers have a 26-17 record in the playoffs, with one 2020 "bubble" title and one season during which they missed the playoffs (2022). Take away the neutral court playoff games played in the Orlando "bubble" in 2020, and the James-Davis Lakers have a 10-12 playoff record. 

During the NBA Cup, we saw the Lakers' ceiling, but during the past three years we have seen their floor, so it will be interesting to see which Lakers squad shows up for the 2024 playoffs.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:29 AM



At Sunday, December 10, 2023 8:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what if LBJ and Street Clothes AD have too much mileage to play the reg season and then playoffs and finals while healthy, but are still the best in an abbreviated format? doesn't the NBA Cup validate them? so instead of being milers or marathoners, they're sprinters? instead of being starting pitchers, they're closers? sure in NBA history the finals go to marathoners and starting pitchers, but why? the only fair reason is that the NBA Cup sample size was too small -- and too dependent on matchups -- to validate the results? but the Lakers got a #1 seed and dominated every elimination game except the QFs. Taking this on top of their 2020 crown (again, long recess in season and no travel in playoffs, favoring the health-challenged vets), at least they seem to be the best sprinters and closers, right?

At Sunday, December 10, 2023 10:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


For the entire history of the NBA, the champion has been determined by doing well enough in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, and then winning the NBA Finals.

The NBA Cup is an interesting and entertaining diversion, but winning group play and then winning three single elimination games is not nearly as difficult as playing at a high level for an 82 game regular season followed by winning four playoff series.

Being an NBA champion is not about being a "sprinter"; by historical definition, being an NBA champion is about being a "marathoner."

I think that winning a "bubble" title with no traveling (other than the initial trip to Orlando) and no road games is the easiest path to an NBA title. I think that winning the NBA Cup is an accomplishment but it is not nearly the same as winning the real championship.

In short, I disagree with the notion that winning the NBA Cup validated the James-Davis duo.

At Monday, December 11, 2023 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thought from the other Anonymous. In Nascar, the biggest race is near the start of the season. In tennis, one of the four biggest tournaments is also at near the very start of the season. But for most sports, glory only comes at the end of the postseason. Plus, you have to do well enough during the regular season to even make the postseason. But, that doesn't mean this is the only way to determine a champion or the best way necessarily, though it could. I don't think the NBA Cup means much as far historical status for the players goes though somewhat entertaining.

You're right about the Lakers bubble title not being the same difficulty as pretty much any other title in NBA history. And Davis/James probably needed that with fewer games, more breaks, less travel, and no road games to stay healthy enough. However, they still won a title that year and that validates their duo, not the NBA Cup title.

At Monday, December 11, 2023 11:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Daytona 500 is the biggest NASCAR race, but careers are measured mainly by NASCAR season titles won, not Daytona 500s won, though of course a great NASCAR driver is expected to win the Daytona 500 at least once.

The NBA Cup is an interesting diversion. It means something, but it does not mean nearly as much as an NBA championship. If the NBA Cup is still around in 10 years, it will be interesting to compare the list of NBA Cup winners with the list of NBA champions for those seasons. My guess would be that the NBA Cup winner wins the NBA title maybe two or three times in a 10 year span; the NBA Cup is single elimination/small sample size, so there is much more randomness involved compared with winning the NBA championship.

In different threads here, I have discussed/debated the Lakers with Jordan, who is appalled that the Lakers traded for Davis and that they traded away other young players. I made the point that as long as the Lakers won at least one NBA title with Davis the trades were a success, because very few teams win an NBA title; it is worth taking some risks if those risks increase the likelihood of winning an NBA title. That said, overall the James-Davis Lakers have underperformed: They missed the playoffs in 2022, and they have not done much in the postseason other than winning a "bubble" title with no travel/no road games. The "bubble" title validates the James-Davis Lakers, but if the "bubble" had not happened the James-Davis Lakers would be correctly viewed as an underachieving team. In contrast, Jokic already has won an NBA title without any All-Star teammates, and Giannis already has won an NBA title without being paired with another superstar.

At Monday, December 11, 2023 3:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm here again David to let u Kno u are right the in season tournament isn't as valuable as a championship.

But it's a accomplishment that should be respected, they went undefeated and beat suns pelicans and pacers who was all hot and playing well.

The Lakers are contenderrs

Bron ad with reaves

And vando cam reddish wing defense.

Also dlo play making been great this year.

I think the commish got this right . All star weekend being 10 days and the play in right

This was exciting and I could see players cared. Bron took 3 charges. He hasn't done that since 2008

If the Lakers don't win title it will be a disappointment still

But this right now for them is good.

The pacers and new Orleans are frauds far as playoff contenders

But in a in season tournament all teams are dangerous

At Monday, December 11, 2023 4:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have given the NBA Cup the respect that it deserves, and I provided many game recaps, including game recaps for all of the games from the Knockout Rounds.

The Lakers are a sub-.500 team this season in non-NBA Cup games. LeBron was very focused on winning the NBA Cup. Will he be focused on the rest of the regular season and then the playoffs? We shall see. The Lakers' non-"bubble" playoff record with LeBron is not impressive.

I would call the Lakers "potential championship contenders." I picked the Lakers to finish fourth in the West, and right now they are tied for fourth/fifth, so they are performing as I expected.

At Monday, December 11, 2023 4:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Daytona 500 is the pinnacle of Nascar though, just like the NBA Finals is for basketball.

I agree the Lakers getting Davis is a success since they won in 2020, though it's a weaker title and probably one of the weakest ever. Every title counts as 1, but every title won isn't of the same difficulty.

It depends on how you view James, Davis, their cast, and the rest of the NBA as far as thinking they underperformed or not. I'm not that high on James overall compared to most. Couple that with him being at a very old age for the NBA since 2020(though he's still performing very well), I wouldn't expect him to be able to lead a team to a title since 2020 unless he had at least one another superstar teammate performing at a high level, a solid cast around him after that, and extreme extraordinary circumstances as well. This is exactly what happened in 2020 and everything fell into their laps perfectly. James has remained somewhat healthy since 2020 especially for his age but not for the average NBA player and not what's needed from a team's best player to lead a team to a title. Davis continues to be regularly injured as well. Each have a history of not giving full effort but also not smart effort throughout their careers. They made another WCF, too. So, taking everything into account, I actually think they've overachieved.

Jokic won a title only playing against mid 40-win teams in the playoffs. He played great, but it wasn't some amazing title or anything. His cast was also phenomenal. I could see several players winning the title last year if they swapped casts with Jokic and/or had the same path for a title. Murray has never made an AS team, but he's been AS caliber for several years now and played like a solid AS in the playoffs last year putting up huge numbers. Jokic cast overall was great and rivaled that of any team and much better than what James/Davis had last year. Giannis has had great teammates/casts for years now, too, though he's had a bunch of head-scratching series himself. It's a lot more than just looking at only the #2 guy. I'm pretty sure Giannis would take his casts these past 5 years over what James has had. And Davis is watching from the bench almost as much of the time as he is on the floor. Even if James is healthy enough to play every game, it's not going to matter if Davis is hurt that much.

At Monday, December 11, 2023 4:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Nuggets went 16-4 in the 2023 playoffs. They demolished teams led by James/Davis and Booker/Durant. Their path to the title looks easy in retrospect because they made it look easy. I am not calling Denver one of the greatest teams of all-time, but they had a great playoff run, and there should be no qualifiers or negatives attached to that playoff run--in contrast to the Lakers' 2020 "bubble" title.

If one accepts the premise that James is the greatest player of all-time and Davis is one of the top 75 players of all-time then the Lakers have underachieved during their time together. You mentioned that you don't rank James as highly as some people do, so from that standpoint it is valid for you to say that the Lakers have not underachieved.

My point is that one cannot simultaneously call James the greatest player of all-time while also asserting that he has won as much as he should with the Lakers; both statements cannot be true.

I don't understand why there are so many comments denigrating Giannis and Jokic. No one is calling Giannis or Jokic the greatest player ever, but each has won as many titles in the past seven years as James has won, and without the benefit of playing alongside another top 75 player. I am not sure that Giannis would take the supporting casts that he has had over what James has had; Giannis forced Milwaukee to ship out Holiday to get Lillard, so clearly Giannis believes that he needs another perennial All-Star to help him. I am not saying that I agree with the trade, but just pointing out that Giannis made it clear that this is what he wanted, and he did not re-sign with Milwaukee until after the trade.

At Tuesday, December 12, 2023 9:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First anonymous: 1. NBA postseason wasn't always this long; it was only 2 rounds total in Bill Russell's day -- not the 4 rounds it is now. 2. If 2020 was an "easy" title, then why didn't every other team win it?! It was equally "easy" (or difficult) for everyone, including Milwaukee, the PaperClips, the Celts, Heat, etc

At Tuesday, December 12, 2023 10:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Please re-read my original comment, which did not refer to four rounds: "For the entire history of the NBA, the champion has been determined by doing well enough in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, and then winning the NBA Finals." There is no comparison between winning the NBA Cup, and playing at a high level for the regular season followed by winning however many playoff series are necessary to win the championship.

"Every other team" did not win the championship because only one team can win. It should be obvious that it is easier to win playoff series without traveling and without facing hostile road crowds. The Lakers' two best players are injury-prone and prone to wearing down (this was not true of young LeBron, but it is true of him now). So, the COVID break followed by the season being shortened and the playoffs taking place in one location helped level the playing field for the Lakers. I don't think that those Lakers would have won the title had the season run its normal course, and the evidence supporting that is the fact that the Lakers have not come close to winning the title with the James-Davis duo in any other season (and please don't argue that getting swept in the WCF counts as coming close to winning the title).

At Wednesday, December 13, 2023 8:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First Anon:
yes, I agree that the COVID bubble was a perfect fit for the Lakers, which was lucky; but there is luck many years -- e.g., the Raptors playing the Warriors when 2 of their Big 3 got injured and were unable to play. Are you saying the COVID Lakers were more lucky than the Kahwi Raptors? Or more lucky than any other championship team or the average championship team? Seems subjective and difficult to quantify

At Wednesday, December 13, 2023 11:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Injuries, foul trouble, slumps, matchup advantages, and many other situations that you may or may not consider to be "lucky"--those are all normal occurrences en route to winning a championship.

Only one NBA champion has won the title without having to travel at all during the playoffs and without having to play any road games. I don't know if that makes the Lakers the luckiest champion, but it makes their "bubble" title unique. The word unique is often overused as a synonym for unusual, but here unique is the correct adjective: the "bubble" title is unique in NBA history.

At Thursday, December 14, 2023 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, obviously the bubble title was much different than any other title in NBA history. I'm fully aware of the luck or differences that any title might have. Winning 4 best of 7 series today is going to take much more effort, concentration, needing your team to stay healthy enough and longer, etc than anything Russell had to do in the playoffs. A lot of it is timing, too. In 2008, Boston was definitely the best team, but the best team often doesn't win, though they did. But, if Boston faces LA in the 1st round or 2nd round when Ray Allen couldn't find the broad side of a barn, LA likely beats them.

The entire season in 2020 was different. It was interrupted, finished 4 months later than usual. Less games were played. We didn't even know if it'd be finished. It was like 2 seasons in one. Someone had to win. The only thing I can say is that LA handled the differences the best.

At Thursday, December 14, 2023 11:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Obviously, the Lakers handled the differences the best. We know that because they won. That is not the point. I am pushing back against the notion--promoted by LeBron James' p.r. team (aka, most media outlets--that winning the "bubble" title was more challenging than winning any other title. We agree that it was different than any other title. I believe that, if anything, it was easier than most title runs. I see no persuasive evidence that it was more challenging than most title runs, let alone the most challenging.

Are you sure that the path to a championship in today's era (not counting the unique "bubble" title") is easier than it was in Russell's era? I would suggest that Russell's era was more challenging because medical care/training was less sophisticated, travel/lodging was less luxurious, the schedule was more demanding (more back to backs, four games in five nights, etc.), the game was more physical, and the league was less watered down with mediocre players/teams. Russell faced HoF centers almost every game. I would further argue that Russell faced off the court challenges--segregation/racism--greater than those faced by players today.

At Friday, December 15, 2023 3:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't disagree about the 2020 Lakers. 2 of the 4 of James' titles are under special circumstances with lockout/Covid. The bubble title definitely seems the easiest or least challenging. But, every year has its own challenges. Covid in 2020 was a tough thing to go through.

I never it was 'easier' for Russell. Russell and his teams had their own challenges when he played. But, most of the things you mentioned were the same case for everyone who played in his era. I'm not gonna get in a discussion about this, but there's certain things in the league and the world today that are big challenges that players didn't have to face 50-60 years. I'm looking at the bottom line which was fewer series and and less chances for injuries, etc. 60 years ago. Or that Russell didn't really have to be 'on' that much since he had so much help. You can talk about HOF centers almost every game, and I can talk about Russell playing with an AS team plus arguably the greatest coach of all-time. I think Russell had it pretty good in those aspects. Take Russell completely out of the equation, and the Celtics are still winning several titles during the title years he played during.

At Friday, December 15, 2023 3:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Glad that we agree that the "bubble" title was probably the easiest path to a title.

You say that you never said it was "easier" for Russell, and then give a bunch of reasons supporting your belief that not only did Russell have it easier but that the Celtics would have won "several titles" without him. The Celtics had a talented team prior to acquiring Russell but never won a championship. I disagree with your denial that you said that Russell had it "easier," because you just made it clear that is what you think, and I disagree with the notion that the Celtics would have won several titles without Russell. A team needed a dominant big man to win a title from the inception of the NBA until the emergence of the Jordan/Pippen Bulls (along with some rules changes/changes in officiating/changes in style of play).


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