When the NBA announced the In-Season Tournament, there was skepticism from fans and players alike on the importance of this competition.
While the tournament is still underway, it's pretty clear it's been a resounding success.
We've gotten tremendous performances from LeBron James and other NBA stars, ratings are up for these games compared to matchups on the same dates last season and that half-a-million-dollar purse for each player on the winning team has been a grander incentive than any of us may have initially realized.
It turns out that giving the most competitive people on earth a competition and money to win brings out their best.
“Can you all give me like two seconds?” Darvin Ham needed to catch his breath after the thrilling quarterfinal win. pic.twitter.com/mMhwma2YPF— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) December 6, 2023
"You have a playoff environment out there," Russell said. "Everybody's coming ready to play. You see guys diving on the floor. Lot of bodies on the floor throughout the night. It just shows you how hard guys are playing for both teams. Playoff intensity right there."
That intensity wasn't just seen on the court, it was heard from the stands with fans cheering as if it was a playoff game and even afterward Suns players complaining about officiating and sulking over the defeat. The Lakers and Suns have played in high-stakes playoff matchups recently, so while this intensity in December is surprising, it's not unfamiliar.
With the Lakers facing off against the New Orleans Pelicans in Thursday's semifinals, Russell thinks it could give them a slight advantage, given their experience and continuity playing in such environments last summer.
"This is a playoff intensity," Russell said. "That's what the In-Season Tournament is bringing and the teams that are in it may be unfamiliar. They may have not been in the playoffs or players on that team may not have seen the playoffs. It just gives that feel. For us…it allows us to get into that mode sooner throughout the season before June gets here. I think that's just a positive to have as a group. It's a big deal for the guys on our team that's trying to establish themselves, as well, to be able to be along (for the ride) experience this and get paid at that, too. Big deal."
Will that experience pay off in Las Vegas remains to be seen, but if Tuesday is any indication, expect one of the most intense regular season games ever on Thursday night in the semifinals.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.