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Vegas bound: Bucks oust Knicks in high-scoring barrage

The NBA's inaugural in-season tournament has reached the knockout rounds, which will culminate in one team hoisting the NBA Cup and each of its players walking away with $500,000 in prize money.

After all 30 teams were split into six groups and played four group stage games across November, eight qualified for the quarterfinals.

The Indiana Pacers beat the visiting Boston Celtics 122-112 on Monday night to clinch a berth in the semifinals, while the New Orleans Pelicans also booked their spot in the semis with a 127-117 win at the Sacramento Kings.

The Pacers will next face the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the New York Knicks 146-122 on Tuesday. The Phoenix Suns are playing at the Los Angeles Lakers to determine the last semis spot.

The semifinals will take place on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, followed by the championship game on Saturday.

So what, exactly, is the NBA Cup? How will the tournament work? Why is it happening? What is the NBA hoping to get out of it?

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Bucks knock out Knicks thanks to Antetokounmpo, Lillard

The star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard put together an offensive masterpiece against the visiting Knicks on Tuesday night to advance to the tournament semifinals.

The Bucks scored their highest tally of the season in the 146-122 decision to remain undefeated during tourney play and book their spot in Las Vegas, where they'll face the Pacers on Thursday (ESPN, 5 p.m. ET).

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"We want to win two championships this year," Bucks guard Malik Beasley said before the game. "Start off with this one and get us on the right foot."

Milwaukee put together the kind of unstoppable offense it envisioned when it made the trade to acquire Lillard, generating wide-open 3-pointers all over the floor. The Bucks made 23 of their 38 attempts from deep on Tuesday to shoot 60.5% and outscore the Knicks by 48 points from behind the line. It's the second time in team history Milwaukee has shot 60% or better on 3-pointers while taking at least 35 attempts.

The scoring barrage came against a stingy Knicks defense that had led the NBA in opponent scoring entering Tuesday. Lillard finished with 28 points, while Antetokounmpo enjoyed a 35-point, 10-assist performance.

Since their first meeting to kick off group stage play last month, the Bucks and the Knicks had found themselves on the upswing. Entering Tuesday's matchup, Milwaukee had won nine of its previous 11 contests, while New York had captured seven of its prior nine.

The Knicks wasted an inspired effort from Julius Randle, who went 9-for-9 from the floor in the first half and finished with 41 points on 14-of-19 shooting.

New York will now travel to face the Boston Celtics on Friday night. -- Jamal Collier

Quarterfinals

Dec. 4 | Pacers 122, Celtics 112

Dec. 4 | Pelicans 127, Kings 117

Dec. 5 | Bucks 146, Knicks 122

Dec. 5 | Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers | 10 p.m. | TNT

NBA in-season tournament bracket

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FAQ (by Tim Bontemps)

NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the new in-season tournament earlier this year. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Why is this happening?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has wanted to implement it for years, for a variety of reasons. Much like the play-in games, though, it took a long time for him to convince everyone involved to give it a shot.

Wednesday, Dec. 6Spurs at Timberwolves, 7:30 p.m.Nuggets at Clippers, 10 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 7In-season tourney semifinalPacers vs. Bucks, 5 p.m.

All times Eastern

The first hope, obviously, is that it generates revenue. The NBA believes the in-season tournament can become a significant moneymaking franchise over time because of the ability to sell its television rights -- as it did with the WNBA's version of the event.

The other hope is to draw more eyeballs to the league. The stretch of time the tournament is set within -- from the start of November through the first week of December -- might be the most irrelevant part of the NBA schedule.

It's after the initial rush of the season starting, and alongside the college football and NFL regular seasons. If this tournament can bring more attention to the sport during its least relevant time of the year, it will be seen as a victory.

What is the format?

Silver has long been fascinated with European soccer, and the basis for the NBA's in-season tournament lies in the cup tournaments across Europe. In those leagues, there is a regular-season championship, determined by the team with the most points over the full year, and then a separate tournament (or, in some leagues, multiple tournaments) that runs concurrently with the league season.

Unlike European soccer tournaments, though, which all are played outside of the league schedule, the NBA Cup is built into the NBA's regular-season schedule. The 30 teams were split up into six five-team groups.

The four group stage games will be played on seven November dates: four Fridays (Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24) and three Tuesdays (Nov. 14, 21 and 28).

The quarterfinals will be played Dec. 4 and 5 at the higher-seeded team, and the semifinals and championship game will be Dec. 7 and 9 in Las Vegas.

How will this impact the regular-season schedule and standings?

Typically, the NBA sends out a full 82-game schedule in mid-August. This year, though, the league only sent 80 games, with a gap in the schedule from Dec. 3-10. Each team's final two regular-season games will be determined by how the in-season tournament plays out.

The 22 teams that fail to qualify for the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament will have their final two games scheduled -- one at home and one on the road -- on Dec. 6 and 8 against other teams eliminated in the group stage.

The East teams that lose in the quarterfinals and the West teams that lose in the quarterfinals will play each other on Dec. 7. The teams that lose in the semifinals in Las Vegas will have played their full allotment of 82 games, while the teams that reach the championship game will actually wind up playing 83 games -- with the championship game not counting toward the regular-season standings.

The NBA's in-season tournament final will be played on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas. Tom O'Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

Why does the NBA Cup include regular-season games?

Before its launch, one of the biggest questions surrounding the in-season tournament was why any team would be incentivized to compete in it. By making it part of the regular-season schedule, and making every game count toward the regular season -- very important from a playoff tiebreaker standpoint -- the NBA created a situation in which it is in teams' interest to win these games.

If this had been set up like the cup tournaments in European soccer, there would've been nothing stopping NBA teams from opting out literally or figuratively, sitting all of their top players and getting extra rest time. Under this system, though, they'll have every incentive to play and win.

What teams make up the groups?

To create the groups -- which were separated by conferences -- the NBA put all 15 teams in each conference into five pots, separated by their finish in last season's standings. So: Pot 1 included the teams that finished 1-3 in regular-season record, teams 4-6 went into Pot 2, teams 7-9 in Pot 3, teams 10-12 in Pot 4 and teams 13-15 in Pot 5.

As a result, the following groups were drawn:

East Group A: Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons

East Group B: Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets

East Group C: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic

West Group A: Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, LA Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers

West Group B: Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets

West Group C: Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs

What do players get for winning?

The players on the winning team will each get $500,000, while the runners-up will get $200,000. The losing players of the semifinals will each get $100,000, and the losing players of the quarterfinals will each get $50,000.

Will anyone earn individual honors for their play in NBA Cup games?

There will be a Most Valuable Player award for the in-season tournament, as well as an all-tournament team.

Will this have any impact on the playoffs?

Not beyond the games being regular-season games that count in the standings. While there was some debate among league insiders about guaranteeing a playoff berth as a reward for winning the tournament, ultimately that idea -- or any other to further incentivize teams -- was not enacted. The only playoff impact will come from the wins and losses accrued throughout the tournament.

Why is it called the NBA Cup?

Because it's easy enough to change. In the short term, the NBA has said it went with the most basic of titles for both the tournament and its trophy -- the "in-season tournament" and "NBA Cup" -- as a way to introduce the concept to fans. However, using such bland, nondescript names has another clear advantage: When the league looks to sell the naming rights to both, it'll be an easier transition from an unremarkable name than one connected with a specific individual (such as the late David Stern, one possibility that had been floated before the tournament was officially unveiled).

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Everything you need to know about the NBA in-season tournament

Richard Jefferson gives an in depth explanation of the NBA in-season tournament.

In-season tournament scores and schedule

*All times are ET

Nov. 3

Pacers 121, Cavaliers 116

Bucks 110, Knicks 105

Heat 121, Wizards 114

Nets 109, Bulls 107

Trail Blazers 115, Grizzlies 113 (OT)

Nuggets 125, Mavericks 114

Warriors 141, Thunder 139

Nov. 10

76ers 114, Pistons 106

Hornets 124, Wizards 117

Celtics 121, Nets 107

Rockets 104, Pelicans 101

Jazz 127, Grizzlies 121

Timberwolves 117, Spurs 110

Mavericks 144, Clippers 129

Lakers 122, Suns 119

Kings 105, Thunder 98

Nov. 14

Pacers 132, 76ers 126

Hawks 126, Pistons 120

Heat 111, Hornets 105

Nets, 124, Magic 104

Pelicans 131, Mavericks 110

Thunder 123, Spurs 87

Nuggets 111, Clippers 108

Timberwolves 104, Warriors 101

Lakers 134, Grizzlies 107

Nov. 17

Bucks 130, Hornets 99

Knicks 120, Wizards 99

76ers 126, Hawks 116

Cavaliers 108, Pistons 100

Celtics 108, Raptors 105

Kings 129, Spurs 110

Magic 103, Bulls 97

Pelicans 115, Nuggets 110

Suns 131, Jazz 128

Lakers 107, Trail Blazers 95

Clippers 106, Rockets 100

Nov. 21

Magic 126, Raptors 107

Pacers 157, Hawks 152

Cavaliers 122, 76ers 119 (OT)

Suns 120, Trail Blazers 107

Lakers 131, Jazz 99

Nov. 24

Magic 113, Celtics, 96

Suns 110, Grizzlies 89

Knicks 100, Heat 98

Raptors 121, Bulls 108

Pacers 136, Pistons 113

Rockets 105, Nuggets 86

Bucks 131, Wizards 128

Kings 124, Timberwolves 111

Warriors 118, Spurs 112

Pelicans 116, Clippers 106

Nov. 28

Celtics 124, Bulls 97

Nets 115, Raptors 103

Cavaliers 128, Hawks 105

Bucks 131, Heat 124

Knicks 115, Hornets 91

Timberwolves 106, Thunder 103

Mavericks 121, Rockets 115

Kings 124, Warriors 123

Quarterfinals

Dec. 4 | Pacers 122, Celtics 112

Dec. 4 | Pelicans 127, Kings 117

Dec. 5 | Bucks 146, Knicks 122

Dec. 5 | Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers | 10 p.m. | TNT

Semifinals (at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas)

Dec. 7 | Indiana Pacers vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 5 p.m. | ESPN

Dec. 7 | TBD | 9 p.m. | TNT

Championship (at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas)

Dec. 9 | TBD | 8:30 p.m. | ABC


    

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