NBA sees seven of the eight first-round matchups set

Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat play during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Aug. 12, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
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Updated 13 August 2020

NBA sees seven of the eight first-round matchups set

  • In the Western Conference: Houston and Oklahoma City will meet in the first round
  • In the East, Miami and Indiana will meet in the first round

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: The NBA playoff bracket is nearly set.
Wednesday’s results filled in five of what were the six unknown matchups for Round 1 of the postseason, which starts next week at Walt Disney World.
In the Western Conference: Houston and Oklahoma City will meet in the first round, meaning Rockets guard Russell Westbrook and Thunder guard Chris Paul get the chance to face their former teams.
“It’ll be interesting,” Paul said. “Two teams that know a lot about each other. We’ll prepare, get ready and we’ll see what’s what.”
Other West matchups that got clinched on Wednesday include the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers against No. 7 Dallas, and No. 3 Denver against No. 6 Utah.
In the East, Miami and Indiana will meet in the first round — after the clubs close the regular season on Friday against one another to decide which team will be seeded No. 4 and which will be No. 5.
Indiana’s win over Houston on Wednesday set what had been the last two unknown series on the East bracket. No. 3 Boston will play No. 6 Philadelphia in a meeting between longtime rivals, and the Pacers are now locked into an East opening series against the Heat — with the potential of those teams playing nine times in a span of 10 games.
Miami beat Indiana on Monday. The teams meet again Friday then face off in Game 1 to begin a best-of-seven series early next week.
That means, for just the second time since 2011, teams that end the regular season against one another will open the postseason against one another. The last time it happened was 2016, when Cleveland faced Detroit.
“It’s good to know that we play them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Just need to figure out what uniform we’re wearing.”
That will be decided Friday, when home-uniform advantage gets decided.
“We’ve got to match Miami’s energy,” Indiana’s Edmond Sumner said. “That’s a team that’s going to play hard for 48 minutes.”
The other East matchups were known previously: No. 1 Milwaukee plays No. 8 Orlando, and No. 2 Toronto plays No. 7 Brooklyn.
In the West, Houston and Oklahoma City will be in the 4-5 matchup and Utah will be the No. 6 seed. The Jazz were locked into that slot by the Thunder defeating Miami, and Denver became the No. 3 seed when they lost to the Clippers.
The full list of matchups won’t be known until at least Saturday, when the West play-in series begins with Portland, Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio bidding for those two spots. The winner of that series will take on the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the only matchup that’s yet to be determined.


Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

Updated 22 September 2020

Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

  • Pirlo’s Juve look slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri under Sarri

MILAN: Wearing a suit and tie, new Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo cut a very different figure on the sidelines to his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, who often appeared wearing a tracksuit.

And his Juventus team also looked slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri of the Sarri era.

Right from the start of Juve’s 3-0 win at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday there was an intensity to the team’s play that had been lacking for much of the previous year.

“We accepted the changes made by the club,” Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “This season, the new coach is Pirlo, who has changed our way of interpreting soccer that we had last year.

“It’s too early to say if it is right or not, but it is different.”

Juve’s new players also suit Juve’s new style even if Weston McKennie — the first American to play for the Italian champion — was the only player Pirlo signed.

McKennie assisted on two of his side’s goals and also had chances himself.

Two of the team’s other new players who stood out, Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur, were signed by Sarri but fit well into Pirlo’s set-up.

“We have four central midfielders with the right characteristics to play like this,” Bonucci said. “McKennie, Adrien and Arthur and Rodrigo cover a lot of the pitch. They have the legs to be aggressive and are also good at passing the ball.

“That way, we manage to unite being aggressive and having more quality in possession, I think that’s the difference from last season.”

Pirlo has had little time to settle into his new role. The 41-year-old was handed his first coaching job at the end of July when he was put in charge of Juventus’ under-23 team, which play in Serie C. But he had not led a game before he was promoted to replace the fired Sarri.

However, Pirlo knows several of the players well having played with them at the club.

The former midfield great kicked off an unprecedented era of dominance when he joined Juventus in 2011, helping the side to the first four of its record nine successive Serie A titles.

Pirlo has once again been tasked with leading the team to new heights — this time the Champions League, which Juventus hasn’t won since 1996 but which Pirlo won as a player twice with AC Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri went closest for Juventus, steering it to the final in 2015 and 2017.

“Pirlo is much more similar to Allegri (than Sarri), but everyone has their own character,” Bonucci said with a wry smile and a laugh. “Andrea transmits a lot of calm serenity, as he did when he was a player when you could give him the ball in the midst of five opponents and you were sure he wouldn’t lose it.

“We have great respect for him and for this path that has just begun, which I’m sure will allow us to take away great satisfaction.”