Final NBA play-in matchups: Bulls at Heat, Thunder at Wolves


MIAMI (AP) – It was October 19, the night the season started for most NBA teams. Chicago went to Miami, Oklahoma City went to Minnesota.

Nearly six months later, here they are again: Chicago at Miami, Oklahoma City at Minnesota.

This time, the season is about to end for two teams.

The NBA’s play-in tournament wraps up Friday night with a pair of elimination games – the Bulls at the Heat for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, followed by the Thunder at the Timberwolves for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. The winners go on, the losers go home.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Nothing about this season has been easy.”

Chicago and Oklahoma City have already won road games to stay alive, at Toronto and New Orleans, respectively. They became the first No. 10 seeds to win on the road in the three-year history of the play-in tournament – and if they do it again Friday, they’re going to the postseason.

“We know going there, it’s another great road test against a team that’s seasoned and is coming off a loss and will look to rebound and play to their identity and their style,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “We have a lot to get ready for.”

The Bulls were 3-0 against Miami in the regular season. Minnesota took three of four from the Thunder in the season series.

“This is a new opportunity, a new challenge in front of us,” Donovan said.

MATCHUPS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 10 CHICAGO (40-42, 1-0) AT NO. 7 MIAMI (44-38, 0-1)

Friday, 7 p.m., TNT

Season series: Bulls, 3-0

How they got here: Miami lost to Atlanta 116-105 on Tuesday, Chicago defeated Toronto 109-105 on Wednesday.

Previous play-in appearances: Both teams made their play-in debuts this week.

At stake: Winner plays Milwaukee in Game 1 on Sunday; loser’s season is over.

Outlook: Miami is trying to avoid becoming the first team to go 0-2 at home in a play-in tournament. … Chicago had the NBA’s best scoring defense after the All-Star break, and Miami had the NBA’s lowest scoring offense all season. … The matchup pits Heat guard Kyle Lowry against Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan, longtime teammates and backcourt standouts in Toronto. … Other ties that bind: Heat star Jimmy Butler faces his former team, Heat forward Udonis Haslem ( in perhaps the last game of his career ) facing his college coach in Donovan, and Bulls guard Patrick Beverley facing a team that he nearly made back during Miami’s Big 3 era in the early 2010s; he was an end-of-camp cut.

X-factor: Chicago held Miami to 34% shooting on 3-pointers in the three regular-season meetings. Heat are 19-24 this season when shooting no better than that from beyond the arc.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 10 OKLAHOMA CITY (40-42, 1-0) AT NO. 8 MINNESOTA (42-40, 0-1)

Friday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN

Season series: Timberwolves, 3-1

How they got here: Minnesota wasted a 15-point lead and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 108-102 in overtime on Tuesday, Oklahoma City won at New Orleans 123-118 on Wednesday.

Previous play-in appearances: Both teams made the play-in for the first time this season.

At stake: Winner plays Denver in Game 1 on Sunday; loser’s season is over.

Outlook: Minnesota had the upper hand in much of the season series, holding leads of 14 points in one game, 16 in another and 22 in a third. The Thunder’s biggest lead in any of the four games was 12, and didn’t lead by more than six points in any of the other three games. … Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had games of 35, 33 and 32 points against the Wolves, while Anthony Edwards had the high game for Minnesota in the season series with a 30-point contest. … The Wolves were 2-0 with Karl-Anthony Towns in the lineup against the Thunder. … Minnesota is trying for back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2003 and 2004. The Thunder haven’t made the playoffs since 2020.

X-factor: Minnesota center Rudy Gobert returns after his one-game suspension for the altercation with teammate Kyle Anderson. He’s surely going to face pressure; how he responds might be critical.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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