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Pacers one win from advancing in NBA Cup

The Indiana Pacers are in first place in Group Stage play in the NBA In-Season Tournament (Provided Photo/NBA)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Ignore for a moment that the Indiana Pacers are mid-pack in the NBA regular season standings because they are unexpectedly front-runners for the league’s newest prize – and the team’s top player is making a convincing case for an individual honor, too.

Heading into a Tuesday matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, the Pacers are 2-0 in “Group Stage” play for the inaugural In-Season Tournament.

Victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers not only leave the Pacers as the only undefeated team in the East Group A, but it also means that Indiana would win the tie-breaker against both squads. The advantage is particularly helpful against the Sixers, who entered the group stage as one of the favorites.

If Indiana beats the Hawks on Tuesday night or the Detroit Pistons on Friday, the Pacers guarantee a spot in the Knockout Round of the new tournament. Knockout games are single-elimination, starting with a quarterfinal round on Dec. 4 and 5, a semifinal on Dec. 7, and a title game on Dec. 9.

Advancing comes with more than bragging rights and a shot at the new NBA Cup: success also guarantees extra paychecks for the players. Those who make the Knockout round are guaranteed, at minimum, an extra $50,000. Dollar amounts increase with each victory, and winning the championship game will net each player an extra $500,000.

Tyrese Haliburton has been the tournament’s superstar so far, averaging 25.5 points, 14 assists, and 2 steals per game. He currently sits at the top of the MVP ladder, just ahead of future Hall of Famer LeBron James and former Pacer Domantas Sabonis. Haliburton’s odds increase dramatically if Indiana makes the next round because the NBA says the tournament MVP “will be based on the players’ performance in both Group Play and the Knockout Rounds.”

Tuesday night’s game against Atlanta will feature another of the league’s all-new In-Season Tournament courts. We previewed some of the best, including the Pacers and the Hawks, before the season started.