I hope y’all like Tex Mex, because the road to the NBA finals in the West runs through San Antonio.
Sure, the two seed Lakers and top seed Spurs play next Tuesday, but now people will want to see that game about as much as they want to listen to a new Go-Go’s album. Or a watch regular season Kansas City Royals game.
Mathmatically the Lakers are still alive, but the Spurs all but wrapped up the top spot in the West they beat the Atlanta Hawks 97-90 in a pretty sloppy game Tuesday. The win kept the Spurs (59-19) two games up on the Lakers in loss column — and three of San Antonio’s four remaining games are against lottery teams. They weren’t likely to lose those if they put out much effort, so even if the Spurs fell to the Lakers (and the Lakers won out) it wouldn’t matter if they won the other three.
Then the Lakers went out and played a sloppy, disinterested game against the Jazz and lost.
The Jazz were one of those lottery teams expected to roll over at the end of the season, but to quote Apollo Creed’s trainer from Rocky, “He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!” Gordon Hayward hit a game winning free throw, then Kobe Bryant fumbled the ball out of bounds on the last play and walked off the court staring at his hands in disbelief.
That puts the Lakers at 55-22, 3.5 back with four to play and three back in the loss column.
The Spurs magic number is 2 (any combination of Spurs wins and Lakers losses to reach that number and San Antonio clinches the West). Look for the Lakers to start resting guys as they realize they are the two seed (third seed Dallas is two full games back of Los Angeles and is not going to catch them).
San Antonio does have Chicago just 1.5 games back and the Spurs magic number for the best record in the NBA is 4. Meaning the Spurs still need to get some wins to lock up home court throughout (Chicago still plays Boston, Orlando and has a New York/New Jersey back-to-back left, so there may be losses in their future).
All hail the Spurs. They won the regular season prize. Which is not the big prize they covet, but it does come with home-court advantage. And Tex Mex.
Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.
Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.
Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.
Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.
Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.
Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.
The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.
Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCAR, including the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.
“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”
Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.
Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.
Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.
Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.
Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.
“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”
It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:
Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).
An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.
Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.
“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”
One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.
Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.
What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.
That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.
But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.
He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.
After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.
Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.
Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri…