Bucks, Lakers lead way into unprecedented NBA playoffs

Bucks, Lakers lead way into unprecedented NBA playoffs
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers is pressured by Alex Len of the Sacramento Kings at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 13, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)
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Updated 16 August 2020

Bucks, Lakers lead way into unprecedented NBA playoffs

Bucks, Lakers lead way into unprecedented NBA playoffs

MIAMI, Florida: An NBA season unlike any other shifts into high gear on Monday with the start of the playoffs in the league’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
In a season reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic, home court advantage is just a memory.
Fans are banned from the campus where the league has so far successfully operated without a positive COVID-19 test. But the price is that players know that the deeper their teams’ playoff run the longer they remain isolated from their families and friends.
“This is going to be the toughest championship you could ever win,” Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning Most Valuable Player, said as the NBA assembled in Orlando in July to resume a season halted in March.
Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers agreed.
“Whoever wins this year really had to go get it and earn it, and had guys who took time off seriously and still stayed in shape, and was able to get back the chemistry, true chemistry,” Rivers said.
Antetokounmpo’s Bucks arrived at the bubble virtually assured of the top seed in the Eastern Conference and own the best record in the league as they head into a first-round meeting with the Orlando Magic.
The Bucks beat the Magic in all four of their regular season games, but they’ve produced a lacklustre 3-5 record in the restart — an admitted frustration for Antetokounmpo, who still believes Milwaukee can return to their dominant form.
“Now it’s playoff time,” Antetokounmpo said. “I definitely don’t believe in the turn-on switch that everybody talks about, like we can turn on the switch and be great, but I do believe that if everybody is on the same page and if everyone is focused and get together ... I believe we can play way, way better.”
The Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, back in the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, have also gone an unimpressive 3-5 in seeding games.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company — inspired this season by the memory of Lakers great Kobe Bryant who died in a helicopter crash in January — will be up against battle-hardened Portland.
The Trail Blazers won four straight down-to the wire games — including an extra play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies — to seize the final playoff berth in the West.

Rampaging Raptors
The reigning champion Toronto Raptors are back in the playoffs despite losing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and starter Danny Green after their title run.
They’ll be taking on a Brooklyn Nets team that has gone 5-3 in the bubble and notched wins over the Bucks and the West’s second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.
“They’ve got a lot of guys who are playing with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence right now,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We will have to play really well to beat them.”
Other Eastern Conference matchups pit the Philadelphia 76ers against the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers against the Miami Heat — both rivalries with the potential for fireworks.
The 76ers beat the Celtics in three of four regular-season games, but with Aussie star Ben Simmons sidelined with a knee injury and Cameroonian big man Embiid looking less than his best so far in the bubble the Celtics could have an opening.
In the West, the Clippers have Leonard trying to follow up his title run with Toronto with another championship campaign.
Leonard, Paul George and a talented surrounding cast will have their work cut out to contain the Mavericks’ potentially explosive offense led by Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
The clash between division rivals Denver and Utah could well go the seven-game distance, as evidenced by the closely-matched teams’ double-overtime thriller during the seeding games that was finally won by Denver.

Streaking Rockets
With the San Antonio Spurs missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the Houston Rockets’ eighth straight post-season appearance gives them the longest active streak in the NBA.
In the first round they’ll face an Oklahoma City Thunder team that appeared headed for a lacklustre rebuilding phase when it traded Russell Westbrook to Houston for veteran point guard Chris Paul.
But Paul has helped the Thunder to the same record as the Rockets, who could find the going rough in the first round with prolific point guard Westbrook out indefinitely with a right quadriceps strain, likely leaving star James Harden to shoulder the offensive load.
Nevertheless, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey remained bullish on his team’s chances in “one of the most exciting moments in NBA history.
“We have a historic situation we’re all facing,” Morey said. “I count eight teams that can win it. When does that ever happen? It’s exciting — and I think we’re one of those teams.”

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
Updated 17 January 2021

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
  • The first of UFC Fight Island 3’s triple-header took place at the new Etihad Arena

DUBAI: UFC Fight Island returned to Abu Dhabi for a third edition with Max Holloway delivering a stunning 50-43, 50-43, 50-42 win over Calvin Kattar at the newly opened Etihad Arena.

The Hawaiian-born American, the world’s No1-ranked Featherweight, has now set his sight on retaining the championship from current holder Alexander Volkanovski.

Watching UFC President Dana White paid tribute to Holloway and his sixth-ranked opponent from the US, as well as the rest of the line-up, which for the first time on Fight Island took place in front of a live audience.

“I knew this card was going to be special,” he said. “Holloway is fun, and we've got to give Kattar some great credit. Khabib and I got together and he said to me ‘I want to see if someone really blows me away next weekend, then we'll see.’ Max looked incredible tonight. I don’t know if I’d call it his best performance, but he’s one of the all-time greats.”

Meanwhile, the delighted winner of the headline bout is already looking ahead.

“Thank you Abu Dhabi,” said Holloway.

“Thank you for keeping us safe and thank you to the fans for coming out. Make sure you tune in for UFC 257 next week. I'm staying on for it and it’s going to be great. Just blessed to have fans back, first card of the year, first event in Etihad Arena and I set some numbers. I had a chip on my shoulder tonight and I wanted to show that I’m one of the best boxers in MMA.”

Just before the main event of the night, Carlos Condit had defeated Matt Brown via a unanimous decision in their Welterweight bout.

“I feel good,” the 36-year-old American said after the win over his compatriot.

“I was stoked to get in there and finally face Matt. Standing across the cage from him was awesome. I had the hair standing up in the back of my neck, I was so stoked to get in there and get my hand raised. I’m very happy. I expected a little more back and forth on the feet, we ended up grappling quite a bit, but I’m not sad about the way that went because I got the better of those exchanges.”

In what was named the Performance of the Night, Welterweight Li Jianglang of China defeated Santiago Ponzinibbio of Argentina via a TKO after 4:25 of round one.

“I landed a clean shot when he was in a defenseless position, there was no need to go after him,” he said.

“If you are a true martial artist you don’t do that. I need to keep going now, show the fans what I’m capable of and go after the championship belt. Having fans back in the arena is a great step forward for 2021.”

Before that, Alessio Di Chirico, who claimed another Performance of the Night award, recorded a TKO win over Joaquin Buckley after 2:13 of round one in their Middleweight bout.

The main card had kicked off with Punahele Soriano of Hawaii delivering the first UFC knockout of 2021 over Middleweight opponent Dusko Todorovic of Sebia in round one.

“The world lies ahead for me,” he said.

“It feels really good to win this after a year off. It’s amazing being here, around the hotel at the pool. I was nervous coming into this fight undefeated, but I just had to keep focusing on winning. He was undefeated and is an amazing fighter so it was great to get it done. Getting the first finish of 2021 was amazing. I wanted to set the tone as the first on the main card and I did that. 

“This is my release, so it feels great to be back after a year off,” Sorianio added.

“Shows me I can get it done. I’m back to work on Monday and I’m looking forward. I envisioned going into work after winning a fight and fist pumping everyone - I can do that now.”

The Prelims had seen Bantamweight Joselyne Edwards overcome Wu Yanan with a unanimous decision; Carlos Felipe defeat over Justin Tafa via a split decision in their Heavyweight bout; Ramazan Emeev beat David Zawada; and Vanessa Melo edged a split decision over Sarah Moras in their Women Bantamweight clash.

The night had kicked off with the first ever fight at Etihad Arena, which saw Austin Lingo beat Jacob Kilbum via split decision in their Featherweight bout.

“It’s awesome to be the first winner in the Etihad Arena,” the winner said.

“Thanks for letting me fight here. I love having fans in the stands and hearing them cheering, it’s great, it blew my mind. I’ve seen my teammates fight with no crowd I’ve got in there with fans, it was great. I love Fight Island, I’ll come here to fight anytime. It’s great, the island, the venue, the hotel, all of it. 

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he added. “I want to fight again soon, in a month. I’m tired of waiting. I’ll come back to Abu Dhabi, I’ll fight anywhere.”

The triple-header Fight Island now moves on to its second night on Jan. 20, before wrapping with Conor McGregor’s highly-anticipated Lightweight clash with Dustin Poirier at UFC  257 on the 24th.

“The fans were awesome,” White added. “They had so much energy. It sounded like there was more than there actually was. They went crazy at certain points and it was just so much fun. Very, very cool to have fight fans back.”