LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers are one step closer to Las Vegas.
The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz131-99 on Tuesday to win their group and advance to the quarterfinals in the NBA's inaugural in-season tournament.
It appears the in-season tournament came at the perfect time for Lakers. Just 3-5 on the season and riding a three-game losing streak when group play began, L.A. swept through the qualifying round, going 4-0 against the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah to win Group A in the Western Conference.
A couple of weeks into the competition, the Lakers notched their third straight win to bring their record to 9-6. L.A. didn't just win its group play games, either. It dominated, outscoring the four opponents by a combined 74 points.
LeBron James scored his 39,000th point on the way to 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds against the Jazz.
"That was great that we were able to take care of business," James said.
The win guarantees L.A. a home game in the quarterfinals Dec. 4 or 5 with a trip to Las Vegas for the semifinals on the line. The winners of Groups A, B and C in each conference make the quarterfinals, plus a wild card.
"Being home and able to sleep in our beds, not having to travel, that's always good when you play well at home," saidAnthony Davis, who led L.A. with 26 points and 16 rebounds. "Kind of a rocky start early on on the road so this kind of helps us out having our fans behind us. But it feels good. One step closer to winning The Cup."
The Lakers have not been shy about their motivation for the in-season tournament being not only the spirit of competition, but perhaps even more so, the cash prize. Every player on the winning team in the Dec. 9 championship game will receive a $500,000 bonus. The runner-up is gifted $200,000 per player. And just making it to Vegas will net the losers in the two semifinal games on Dec. 7 a cool $100,000 per player.
"It's not a run-of-the-mill regular-season game," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said when asked about the ramifications for the potential closeout game to clinch the group. "They're well aware. That purse is pretty attractive. ... Guys like money. ... Not like it, they love it. That incentive right there -- it's huge."
Lakers big man Christian Wood, signed to a $2.7 million veteran's minimum contract for the season, spoke about the potential impact of the winning payday.
"I've been in the league for a long time so I'm trying to save it as much as I can," Wood said. "Who wouldn't try to save that much money? But it's big time for the young guys. We're going to go and try to do it for them."
"A great, great step in the right direction in us not only securing anything for the in-season tournament but just us coming together and constantly trying to get better at being together and playing the right way," Ham said.