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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson miffed at NBA Cup effort

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The biggest questions facing the NBA’s In-Season Tournament were: Would people care? Would fans care? Would players care? Because if no one cares, then we’re back to square one of the Association’s conundrum and watching effortless (not the good kind) December basketball.

Perhaps the Milwaukee Bucks really were giving it their best Thursday night, and the kind of defensive effort that led to a 128-119 Indiana Pacers win is a preview of what to expect in April and May. There’s no use even trying to be sarcastic about the New Orleans Pelicans’ verve in their 44-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

You know what, I’ll just let the players and coaches tell it.

“Tonight was a total letdown,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We were all disappointed in our competitive spirit against the Lakers, and you got to give them credit. They came out and they dominated.”

You mean the cash prize wasn’t sufficient incentive to prevent a 133-89 eyesore? Oof.

“Nobody is going to give you nothing,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “Like, sometimes I feel like we expect just because we have great players out there, that Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner or Aaron Nesmith, somebody is not just going to give us the game. Like, no. We have to be better. We have to go out there and take it. You know at the end of the day, I think we are great players, but if we don’t go out there and compete, they are not going to respect us. They played their best against us.”

Now that you mention it, Giannis, the Pacers did get “a lot of dunks, open 3s, early 3s.”

“I got to be better,” Zion Williamson said. “I got to be more aggressive, finding my shot. I got to do more things to get my team going. I think I was too laid-back tonight, and I just can’t do that. And defensively I got to be better.”

I bet Adam Silver loves to hear clubs lament about a lack of “competitive spirit,” and admit to being “too laid-back” and loafing it on defense in the semifinals of the inaugural “Save the Regular Season” tournament. No amount of trophies, gaudy floor designs and Las Vegas chutzpah is going to change the fact that it was game No. 22 or 23 of an 82-game season for these teams.

Pacer guard Andrew Nembhard appeared to hyper-extend his knee on a fast-break layup attempt in the second half, and was ruled done for the night rather quickly. It looked awkward, and he needed help getting to the locker room, so it could be serious enough that playing through it wasn’t an option, but I want to know what he would’ve done “if this was the playoffs.”

At this point in the calendar, Nembhard shouldn’t risk further injury, and if that means missing the finals of the IST, too, that’s OK. Nobody really cares — unless LeBron James wins the cup. Then it’ll be an achievement along the lines of the Bubble title and will be used to further prop up his legacy.

I read somewhere that the NBA got its dream matchup for the final on Saturday, and it’s like in what universe would the league want Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner — instead of Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard — in the finals against LeBron, Anthony Davis and the Lakers? Please, just stop. Stop it. This is going to drive me crazy.

If I admit to enjoying the lipsticked pig that is the IST, will the NBA and its business partners please just let this be what it is? And that’s regular season basketball for a fanbase whose addiction to player movement and NBA Twitter left them with a severe case of sports ADHD. Nothing more, nothing less.

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