Following an incredible group stage for the NBA's first In-Season Tournament, the quarterfinals are set to tip off with several interesting and scintillating games across both conferences.
The action begins Monday night with the Indiana Pacers taking on the Boston Celtics and the New Orleans Pelicans facing off against the Sacramento Kings. The action continues Tuesday night with the New York Knicks against the Milwaukee Bucks followed up by the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.
While it is still fairly early in the season, there should be no shortage of good storylines ahead of all these matchups—several of the teams are likely to meet again at some point during the postseason.
The quarterfinals shouldn't just be entertaining, they'll be informative as well as they'll show how well these different squads square up.
Here are some of the key storylines heading into this week's slate games.
Bucks Playoff Preview
It's no secret that the start of the Damian Lillard era in Milwaukee hasn't been the easiest of transitions.
The Milwaukee Bucks are still a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference, but it hasn't been as smooth or as dominant as most people expected despite having a superstar duo of Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Nonetheless, they still managed to escape one of the toughest groups in the entire In-Season Tournament that included the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, among others. And it gives them a chance to show the basketball world what this team will look like once they start postseason play.
It'll be particularly interesting to see who the Bucks' offense runs through down the stretch of some of the big games of the tournament.
Lillard or Antetokounmpo?
Lillard was acquired for these types of moments and it was clear why as he took over late in the fourth quarter of the Bucks' Nov. 28 comeback win over the Miami Heat—albeit a group that was playing without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro.
However, Antetkounmpo is a two-time MVP and has been the "guy" for Milwaukee for the past decade, commanding a certain level of respect.
It'll be fascinating if the In-Season Tournament helps determine the late-game pecking order for the Bucks.
Zion and the Pelicans Want to Make a Statement
Before Victor Wembanyama came along, Zion Williamson was the poster boy for the next generation of NBA superstars entering the league.
And when he's been on the court, there's been big flashes of that being the case.
Unfortunately, he hasn't managed to stay healthy through the first five seasons of his career, playing more than 29 games just once over that span.
The In-Season Tournament now presents Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans a unique opportunity to have something to show for this era with the two-time All-Star. They could come away with some silverware and prove that they can compete with some of the best teams in the league.
Williamson and the rest of the crew seem excited for the challenge of playing high-stakes basketball so early in the season ahead of their matchup against the Sacramento Kings—another one of the up-and-coming teams in the league.
"I think I live for stuff like that. In those moments, it's one of those there ain't no tomorrow, we got to figure this out right now moments," Williamson said via ClutchPoints' Chris Dodson. "I think that's when you see the best come out of people."
Now's their chance to show out and make an early-season statement after a middling first month of the campaign.
Pacers Defense vs. Celtics
There is no questioning the potency of the Indiana Pacers' offense.
Led by All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton, the Pacers currently lead the NBA in offensive rating (123.8), effective field goal percentage (59.1 percent) and pace (104.1). They can score on even the most elite defenses around the league.
Haliburton has been nearly flawless, leading the league in assists with 11.8 while turning the ball over just 2.5 times per game.
However, while all that is fine and good, Indiana can barely stop a nosebleed, which at times makes their elite offensive performances go to waste. It's especially concerning that their matchup is against the Boston Celtics, who have the best net rating in the NBA at 9.5.
Meaning not only can the Celtics' keep up offensively with Indiana, but they also have the type of defense with guys like Jrue Holiday and Derrick White that can help slow down Haliburton and Co.
And naturally, the last meeting between the two sides will surely be on the Pacers' minds.
Back on Nov. 1, Boston stomped Indiana, blowing out the Pacers 155-104 at TD Garden. The Celtics had eight players finish in double-digit scoring.
So, while it's clear that the Pacers have the type that could win the In-Season Tournament, it's their defense that'll dictate how far they'll be able to go.