‘King’ James and the Lakers Clash with Haliburton’s Pacers in Epic Battle for NBA Championship Crown

LAS VEGAS: Tyrese Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers’ scintillating run to Saturday’s NBA Cup final has brought them nose to nose with a league great in LeBron James and a legendary franchise in the Los Angeles Lakers.

King' James And Lakers Battle Haliburton's Pacers For First NBA Cup |  Barron's

The NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament has been a coming-out party for Haliburton and the Pacers, one of 10 NBA franchises never to win a league championship.

Having dispatched the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the young Pacers can expect their stiffest test yet from all-time scoring leader James and the Lakers, who would love to claim the first NBA Cup but acknowledge they aren’t taking their eye of the main prize of an 18th NBA title come June.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, who describes the Pacers as “somewhere on the climb” to becoming title contenders, said the match-up with James and the Lakers is just what his young team needs.

James, who turns 39 on December 30, delivered a master class in the Lakers 133-89 semi-final thrashing of the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, a performance that Carlisle said showed the four-time NBA champ “is in his prime still.”

“I’m watching the guy last night, and it’s phenomenal,” Carlisle said. “He’s the only player in NBA history who has been the youngest player in the league and the oldest player in the league, both. That speaks to obviously an amazing run of longevity and, in his case, greatness.

“He’s the all-time leading scorer, and if there’s a Mount Rushmore, he’s one of the guys on the NBA Mount Rushmore.

“That’s what we’re up against tomorrow. We’re up against him and Anthony Davis and a lot of other very good players that are on a real uptick right now competitively.

“We’ve got our hands full. But if you’re the Indiana Pacers and you’re in the process of making the climb and you want great experience, this is the kind of challenge that you’ve got to love.”

Gold standard Haliburton, who grew up a James fan, calls him “the gold standard of basketball players.”

“Like any kid born in 2000, LeBron was my favorite player growing up,” Haliburton said. “But that’s the great part about being in the NBA is getting to compete against your idols on a nightly basis. I really look forward to that.”

Former fandom aside, Haliburton and his young teammates would love to play spoiler to the Lakers’ bid to add a new piece of hardware to their stuffed trophy case.

“We’re not supposed to be here and nobody expected us to be here,” Haliburton said. “We’ve been probably looked at to lose the majority of our tournament games.

“The Philly game, we weren’t supposed to win. Boston game we definitely weren’t supposed to win. Milwaukee, we definitely weren’t supposed to win. That’s just been part of the storybook of this.

“But it’s not done yet.”

The Pacers will be hoping to wear down the Lakers with the up-tempo offense that has entertained fans and exhausted rivals in four group-stage wins and the knockout rounds.

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