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NBA in-season tournament prepares for Las Vegas arrival

Updated November 24, 2023 - 7:21 pm

The final games of the group stages of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament will take place over the next week, meaning which four teams will head to Las Vegas will soon be known.

The tournament’s semifinals and championship games will take place Dec. 7 and Dec. 9 at T-Mobile Arena. The NBA expects the first-time event to be a global affair on the Strip.

Fans from 45 states and 25 countries are expected to attend the games held in Las Vegas, with 20 percent of ticket buyers hailing from outside of the U.S., according to the NBA. The NBA hopes to create a championship environment at a neutral site with that mix of fans, something the league hasn’t had in the past for meaningful games, according to Evan Wasch, executive vice president of basketball strategy and analytics for the NBA.

“To create what we hope will be a championship feel in a neutral-site market, with that high level of competitive intensity of high level basketball and then add in the element of Vegas, which is such a unique and special home for basketball and the NBA, we thought all that comes together really nicely,” Wasch said. “The hope is that we can turn it into the destination between Dec. 7 and 9, for basketball fans locally, nationally and globally, to come and see the stars in the NBA participating in this high-level competition. There’s just a lot there and we thought Vegas was the perfect place to launch the inaugural edition of the tournament.”

Although the games are being held at a neutral site, fans of teams who make it to Las Vegas for the final four and title game will have dedicated sections at T-Mobile Arena. Once NBA teams make the quarterfinals of the tournament, those tickets will be made available for purchase.

When tickets for tournament semifinal and finals games were initially made available, NBA team season-ticket members drove 70 percent of the sales.

The in-season tournament is sandwiched in between the Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix and the Super Bowl, and taking place during a portion of the National Finals Rodeo.

“There’s no doubt that Vegas is one of, if not the, premier destinations for premium events like the in-season tournament,” Wasch said. “It’s great to be able to have a tournament there in a year when so many other premium events are taking place in Las Vegas. We have full confidence in the city and its stakeholders for putting on an incredible event and that’s part of the reason why we were so excited to be in Vegas.”

Games played in Las Vegas will have a different feel. A special court is expected to be in place, similar to those each of the 30 NBA teams have been using during tournament home games. The specially designed courts were created to let fans watching in person and at home know these aren’t your average regular-season games.

“The courts were one of the most obvious ways we felt that we could do that,” Wasch said. “When you turn on a game … you immediately know something different is taking place.”

The design features a mainly solid color, dependent on the home team, with the NBA Cup at center court. There is also a strip down the center of the court that is dubbed the “runway to Vegas.”

On average, the NBA In-Season Tournament games have been more competitive than the standard regular-season contest. Seventy percent of the games have been decided by single-digit scoring margins. That’s up from the league’s normal rate of 50 percent, Wasch said. One contributing factor is star players have chosen to participate for the most part.

“We’ve seen really high levels of participation,” Wasch said. “We place a high focus on star-player participation this year with new mechanisms in the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), as well as the in-season tournament. The in-season games particularly, the star-level players, those players who’ve been on All-NBA or All-Star teams the past three seasons have participated in about 90 percent of their in-season tournament games.”

The in-season tournament games are drawing interest. The Nov. 3 games saw the highest average attendance for the second Friday night of the NBA season in 26 years. Year-over-year attendance has spiked 3 percent through the first four weeks of the season.

“Ticket sales and attendance for these games have been higher than traditional regular-season games at this time of year,” Wasch said.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on X.

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