NBA

Pacers 'jewel' Hailburton thrilled to face idol LeBron in in-season tournament final

By Sports Desk December 09, 2023

LeBron James was Tyrese Hailburton's favourite player growing up, and Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows his team must keep the Indiana Pacers star under lock and key.

The Lakers face the Pacers in the final of the inaugural in-season tournament in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Indiana overcame the Milwaukee Bucks to progress to the showpiece game, with 23-year-old point guard Hailburton finishing with 27 points and 15 assists.

Hailburton has impressed all season, averaging 26.9 points per game, and now gets a chance to face off against one of his childhood heroes in the form of Lakers star James, who was in fine form against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.

"Like any kid born in 2000, LeBron was my favourite player growing up," Haliburton said. "And it's hard for him not to be for a lot of us.

"Growing up, I was a Cavs fan, then a Heat fan, then a Cavs fan again, then a Lakers fan before I got drafted. It's just how it went.

"To be able to compete against him in a championship is kind of like a storybook [ending] a little bit, and it's going to be a lot of fun.

"But that's the great part about being in the NBA, getting to compete against your idols on a nightly basis. I really look forward to that."

James might be Hailburton's idol, but Lakers coach Ham knows his team must find a way to keep the Pacers' talisman down.

"He's sneaky athletic. He has length to him, and his vision is incredible," Ham said. 

"I mean, the things he's able to do with the basketball, the way he sets up his teammates, looks off defenders, the way he pushes the pace in transition, he's constantly in attack mode.

"I think they've got a jewel, man."

Hailburton made his first All-Star appearance last season, though the Pacers have missed out on the playoffs in the last four campaigns.

"LeBron James is in his prime still," Pacers coach Ricky Carlisle noted.

"I'm watching the guy last night, and it's phenomenal. 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."

Ham added: "We've just got to be ready for a little bit of everything, but we can't get so caught up in trying to stop and prevent them from doing what they like to do. 

"We will, but we also can't forget to enforce our will upon the game, too. They have to guard us, too."

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