Thunder come through late to get overtime win over Mavericks

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The Oklahoma City Thunder barely had any business staying in this game, considering the lackluster effort they brought to the floor for the majority of its first three and a half quarters.

But while Dallas had the energy, they simply didn’t have the execution when it mattered most, and OKC pulled away in overtime for the 111-105 victory.

This was a game the Mavericks should have won, plain and simple.

Dallas was the aggressor essentially all night long, with Darren Collison leading the way from the point guard position. He took it to the Thunder at every opportunity, and finished with 32 pints, five rebounds, four assits, and four steals.

None of Collison’s shots were bigger than his ridiculous one-legged three-pointer as time expired in regulation that sent it to OT, but it was that kind of night for him personally, despite his team’s ultimately negative result.

The Thunder were clearly experiencing a bit of an emotional letdown, after losing the Finals rematch to the Heat on Christmas Day and facing a Mavericks team at home who they would have had no real reason to fear coming into this one.

But Dallas likely knew that they’d have more of a shot than normal if they simply brought it from the opening tip, and were able to take advantage of a Thunder team that was likely to coast through the game’s beginning stages.

The Thunder had no interest in exerting the necessary energy to defend for the majority of this game, but the overall talent present in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook proved to be more than enough to make up for the lack of effort initially.

While the Thunder shot just 40 percent from the field through three quarters, the Mavericks were in attack mode, and led by as many as 10 with under eight minutes to play in the fourth. But some costly turnovers and some missed free throws late from O.J. Mayo really hurt his team’s chances on this night, despite his All-Star caliber play that carried Dallas offensively while Dirk Nowitzki was making his way back from injury.

Dirk came off the bench for Dallas, and finished with just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in 26 minutes of action.

Russell Westbrook didn’t have one of his better games offensively, and finished with 16 points on 7-of-20 shooting. But he seemed to find his way on the defensive end of the floor down the stretch, making some key plays which helped his team seal it.

Westbrook’s defense was enough to turn Mayo over twice with the game on the line — once near the end of regulation, and once near the end of the overtime session.

That’s the danger of the reigning Western Conference champions; the fact that they’ll find another way to beat you if their preferred method of transition offense isn’t having the success it’s accustomed to. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Kevin Durant scoring a smooth 40 points in 48 minutes, either.

Dallas deserved to beat the Thunder on Thursday, but as is often the case with the league’s elite teams, the longer the game continues, the less favorable the chance for the underdog remains.

The effort to even get it to overtime was impressive from Collison and the Mavericks. But in order to beat one of the top teams on their home floor, you need to execute for 48 minutes. Dallas faltered in this department down the stretch, and the veteran and more talented Thunder simply took advantage.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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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, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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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 NASCARincluding 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.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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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.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

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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