Baseline to Baseline recaps: Miami’s little slump getting serious

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while getting sucked into the “Good Will Hunting” oral history

Thunder 102, Suns 90: Kevin Durant is really, really good. Not sure if you knew that. The Suns were given a first-hand reminder when KD dropped 41 on the Suns in their home building. Brett Pollakoff was there for PBT and broke it all down.

Jazz 104, Heat 97: Dwyane Wade was benched the entire fourth quarter. Chris Bosh was benched for most of it and finished the game with one rebound. And Miami lost. Again. This slump is starting to get serious (Miami has lost three of four) and clearly coach Erik Spoelstra is getting a little frustrated and sent a message.

Meanwhile LeBron James might have had Cleveland flashbacks — him against the world without enough help. Monday night the Heat faced a Jazz team with a strong front line that was already a tough matchup because it would force Miami to defend and rebound, two things they haven’t done consistently of late. They didn’t again, and it cost them.

Miami got off to a good start on offense but didn’t bother to defend and it got them in trouble as the first half wore on — Utah put up 30 points in the first quarter (on 10 points by Al Jefferson), another 29 in the second quarter. Utah shot 67.6 percent in the first half. In the third quarter Utah kept stretching out the lead, it got up to 21.

LeBron led a late charge — a 21-5 run that got the lead all the way down to two points in the fourth quarter. LeBron finished with 32 points but made that run surrounded by the Heat bench players (Ray Allen had 8 in the quarter). It wasn’t enough — with the lead at two LeBron goaltended a Gordon Hayward shot (Hayward had 22 points) then committed and offensive foul and the Jazz held on for a key win. The Heat end up with a lot more questions.

Clippers 99, Grizzlies 73: Not having your star point guard against one of the league’s most opportunistic defenses would be a problem for most teams, but most teams don’t have Eric Bledsoe. The Clippers’ young, hyper athletic backup point guard picked up right where he left off in last year’s playoff series against the Grizzlies, flustering Mike Conley into another terrible performance (2-for-11) while controlling the game with 28 minutes of turnover-free ball, all in a dominant win in Memphis.

Without Rudy Gay and the steady diet of turnovers their offense feasts on, the Grizzlies offense sputtered completely. Repeated efforts to attack the Clippers in the post were denied, and any attempts to swing the ball around the perimeter were chopped off quickly. The Grizzlies shot 30 percent from the field, which was better than the Atlanta Hawks, I suppose, but still not nearly enough to take down a team that didn’t skip a beat without CP3.
—D.J. Foster

Bulls 97, Hawks 58: You are reading that right, 58 points for Atlanta. That happens when you score 5 points in the second quarter. Again yes, just 5 points. Atlanta was 2-of-21 for the quarter and scored 20 points in the first half. For the game they shot 29.3 percent. That’s not just the Bulls good defense, which is anemic. Carlos Boozer had 12 first quarter points, 20 for the game and looked pretty good for the Bulls.

After the game Hawks coach Larry Drew — who has seen his team lose four of five — said this was an embarrassment and that there would be changes.

Celtics 100, Bobcats 89: This makes six straight wins for Boston and they can thank Rajon Rondo for this one — 17 points along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He looked every bit the part of the elite point guard, which is easier to do against the Bobcats defense but still, a triple-double is a triple-double. Give Charlotte credit for not rolling over — they went on a fourth quarter run and got the lead down to four. Boston responded with a 9-0 run, and that was the ballgame.

Wizards 120, Magic 91: Don’t tell anyone, but this is three straight wins for Washington.

The Wizards led this one wire to wire and were clearly the better side, led by Emeka Okafor with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Orlando tried to make it interesting in the final five minutes of the first half when Jameer Nelson started hitting shots (14 points in the second quarter) and led a 13-0 run to make it a six point game at the half. But that was pretty much it — Washington got in a groove again and ran away to be up 22 again in the third quarter. Bradley Beal was 7-of-10 shooting for 17 points and six Wizards were in double figures.

Mavericks 113, Timberwolves 98: Two teams going in opposite directions continued those trends Monday night in a wire-to-wire Dallas win. Dallas blitzed the Minnesota defense all night — they shot 59.7 percent as a team. Minnesota did make a run late in the second quarter, got the lead all the way down to two, but Elton Brand hit the last four shots of the half for Dallas, stretched the lead out to 10 at the half and that was it. The lead got up to 23 in the third and the game was never really in doubt. Darren Collison led the way with 23 points for Dallas, both Brand and O.J. Mayo had 20.

Kings 124, Cavaliers 118: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense.

The losing team in this game had an offensive rating of 122.7 (points per 100 possessions) as both teams seemed to score at will (which made for a pretty entertaining game but a coach’s nightmare fuel). Sacramento led from the second quarter on fueled by DeMarcus Cousins (26 points, 14 rebounds and six assists) and amazing bench play (54 points on 60-percent shooting, led by Marcus Thornton with 20 points). Cleveland had six players in double digits but the steady diet of Kyrie Irving isolations down the stretch could not get it done.

This was the best game I’ve seen Dion Waiters play (admittedly I have not seen them all) — 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting. He had 16 points in the fourth quarter and while some of those were bad shots he was hitting them this night. I would have loved to see Irving give him a couple more shots late.

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

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

Michael Jordan NASCAR
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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

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
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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