April 21, 2024

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers are one step closer to Las Vegas.

The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 131-99 on Tuesday to win their group and advance to the quarterfinals in the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament.

The in-season tournament came at the perfect time for Lakers, it would appear. Just 3-5 on the season and riding a three-game losing streak when group play began, L.A. swept through the qualifying round, going 4-0 against the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah to win Group A in the Western Conference.

A couple of weeks into the competition, the Lakers are starting to click and notched their third straight win to bring their record to 9-6. L.A. didn’t just win its group play games, either. It dominated, outscoring the four opponents by a combined 74 points.

LeBron James scored his 39,000th point on the way to 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds against the Jazz.

The win guarantees L.A. a home game in the quarterfinals Dec. 4 or 5 with a trip to Las Vegas for the semifinals on the line. The winners of Groups A, B and C in each conference make the quarterfinals, plus a wild card.

“Whenever you can sleep in your own bed and be in your own facility at home with all of the resources you have within that building and all of the comfort you have within your own home, you’re not having to jump on a plane and jump on a bus and go to a hotel with a foreign bed, all of that plays into us continuously getting stronger, getting into a better rhythm,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “Playing in front of our own home crowd, that’s another good nugget within those circumstances.”

The Lakers have not been shy about their motivation for the in-season tournament being not only the spirit of competition, but perhaps even more so, the cash prize. Every player on the winning team in the Dec. 9 championship game will receive a $500,000 bonus. The runner-up is gifted $200,000 per player. And just making it to Vegas will net the losers in the two semifinal games on Dec. 7 a cool $100,000 per player.

“It’s not a run-of-the-mill regular-season game,” Ham said when asked about the ramifications for the potential close-out game to clinch the group. “They’re well aware. That purse is pretty attractive. … Guys like money … Not like it, they love it. That incentive right there — it’s huge.”

The Lakers are the second team to clinch their group. The Indiana Pacers secured Group A in the Eastern Conference earlier in the night, outlasting the Atlanta Hawks, 157-152, in regulation.

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