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Brad Stevens gets Eastern Conference All-Star coaching job as Celtics beat Lakers 113-107

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BOSTON (AP) Isaiah Thomas isn’t the only Boston Celtics representative in the NBA All-Star Game anymore.

With Toronto’s loss to Orlando earlier Friday night, Brad Stevens was assured his spot as coach of the Eastern Conference and will join Thomas next Sunday in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Thomas padded his All-Star credentials by scoring 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter as the surging Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 113-107.

“(Stevens) should put me in that starting lineup,” Thomas joked. “That’s going to be good.”

It’s the first career All-Star appearance for Stevens, in his fourth season with the Celtics.

“What’s nice about it is there’s no politics and there’s no subjectivity,” Stevens said. “(It’s) what your team has accomplished and that’s a credit to the players in the locker room.”

Al Horford added 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as Boston (32-18) won its sixth consecutive game. Thomas logged his 34th straight game with 20 or more points and is six shy of John Havlicek’s franchise-record streak.

Jae Crowder had 18 points, Jaylen Brown added 12 and Terry Rozier scored 10 for the Celtics.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 21 points. D'Angelo Russell scored 20, Larry Nance Jr. had 18 and Nick Young 17 as Los Angeles (17-36) lost for the fifth time in six games.

“We stopped moving the ball. We stopped trusting each other,” coach Luke Walton said. “Because of it, we don’t make shots, and then our defense gets lazy.”

Thomas scored seven points in the third as the Celtics broke the game open and led by as many as 16. The Lakers cut it to 82-74 after three but couldn’t get the deficit below six.

“They were all making big shots tonight,” Nance said. “Hats off to them.”

Thomas had a chance to become the first player in Celtics history with three straight 40-point games, but said he wasn’t aware of that until afterward.

“I didn’t know about it or I would have taken the last shot,” Thomas said.

Boston opened the game on a 7-0 run before Russell’s 3-pointer put the Lakers up 15-14 with 7:34 left in the first quarter. Rozier’s buzzer-beating 3 drew the Celtics to 30-29 after one. Thomas had 12 points in the period.

Rozier’s floater a minute into the second put the Celtics ahead for good, and Boston stretched its lead to 62-51 at halftime.

The Lakers and Celtics meet again March 3 in Los Angeles.

TIP-INS

Lakers: F Julius Randle was out after playing sparingly in Thursday’s game at Washington as he recovers from pneumonia. Randle missed two games before logging six minutes against the Wizards. “Coming back from pneumonia, it’s not just a normal sickness,” Walton said.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley (sore right Achilles) missed his ninth consecutive game. Bradley felt good after working out and doing some on-court work Friday. “We’re still progressing at a conservative rate,” Stevens said. “We want him feeling 110 percent.” … F Kelly Olynyk played after sitting out Wednesday in Toronto with a sore left shoulder.

TIEBREAKER

Boston and Los Angeles began the night with with 3,252 wins, tied for the most in NBA history. Before their loss, the Lakers held at least a share of the league’s all-time victories mark since 2001. The odds of both teams entering Friday’s game with the same win total was 1 in 8,292.

“I think it’s a unique-enough rivalry that 100 years from now it will probably be tied again,” Stevens said.

MINI MAMBA

Lakers great Kobe Bryant had a knack for late-game dramatics throughout his storied career. Thomas is developing one, too.

Thomas leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring (10.8 points per game), but laughed off the comparison to Bryant, who retired after last season.

“Nah, you can’t put my name with Kobe,” Thomas said. “Maybe 15 years from now hopefully, but I’m not close to him.”

UP NEXT

Lakers: Continue a five-game road trip in New York on Monday.

Celtics: Host the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday in Paul Pierce‘s last regular-season game in Boston.

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