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Timberwolves fire coach/GM Tom Thibodeau

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Tom Thibodeau’s seat was known to be hot and getting warmer, but this was not expected to happen so soon.

The Minnesota Timberwolves — who are a disappointing 19-21 and out of the playoffs as of today — have fired coach and team president Tom Thibodeau. Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic broke the story, the Timberwolves have since confirmed it.

Scott Layden, who was the GM working under Thibodeau’s direction, will continue in that role.

Ryan Suanders is the son of legendary Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders and had been an assistant with the team. At age 32, he is now the youngest coach in the NBA.

“We would like to thank Tom for his efforts and wish him all the best,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”

As noted above, this was expected by executives and others around the league, although most sources said it would happen over the summer, or certainly at least after the All-Star break. Owner Glen Taylor decided not to wait that long, and certainly the business side of the operation — which had long clashed with Thibodeau — was supportive of the move.

One other note about Taylor: He is a big Fred Hoiberg fan, which has made the former Bulls coach getting one of Thibodeau’s jobs — coach or head of basketball operations — very likely. As a source told NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh:

“Glen loves Fred,” the source told NBC Sports.

We aren’t the only one hearing this.

Last season the Minnesota Timberwolves ended the longest playoff drought in the NBA, making the playoffs for the first time since 2004, also known as the Kevin Garnett era. Thibodeau had been brought in to elevate a young core with an elite center in Karl-Anthony Towns and former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Thinking the team needed defense and toughness, Thibodeau traded other young stars — Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and draft picks — to Chicago to bring in his old friend Jimmy Butler. It was a big bet by Thibodeau and it paid off in that the Timberwolves made the playoffs. They looked like a team on the rise, one finally starting to live up to its potential.

This summer everything came apart.

There had already been rumors all over the league that the Timberwolves locker room was a mess, with Butler not getting along with Towns or Wiggins and there being some battle for being the alpha on the team. Those rumors included Taylor considering firing Thibodeau over the summer, because he realized things were bad, then deciding he couldn’t do it after making the playoffs.

Once Butler decided he wanted out things got ugly. His decision may have been over a “whose team is this” argument, and Towns had just gotten a max rookie contract extension over the summer. Towns is the future of the franchise. (Sources have told NBC Sports Butler did ask for a massive contract increase — one to rival Towns — but it was not something Minnesota could do without gutting its roster.)

Whatever the reason, when Butler wasn’t traded fast enough for his liking he started a campaign to force a trade that demoralized and demolished Minnesota’s training camp, including saying he didn’t like the competitiveness and work ethic of Towns and Wiggins. Thibodeau dragged his feet on a trade, thinking if everyone started playing together it would work out, but even he eventually had to give in and traded Butler to Philadelphia.

By that point, Thibodeau’s fate was all but sealed. With the Timberwolves on track to miss the playoffs again, pressure was building in Minnesota to act.

The end just came sooner than expected.

Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time

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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo finished dressing, sat in front of his locker and looked up.

Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.

The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.

“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”

That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.

All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.

“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”

Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.

The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):

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Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

But Khris Middleton (20 points), Brook Lopez (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (19 points), Ersan Ilyasova (15 points), Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and George Hill (11 points) stepped up. The Bucks were +23 without Antetokounmpo – one of their best-ever marks while the superstar sat.

“It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.

For the Pistons, it wasn’t all about Blake Griffin.

Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.

In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.

But this record now falls on the franchise.

Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:

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With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.

“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.

For Detroit, a lot of them.

Nuggets beat Spurs 117-103 to tie series at 2-2

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 117-103 on Saturday night, rebounding from a flat performance tie the first-round series at two games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

The Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said prior to the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White‘s 36-point outing in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

White was limited to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Down by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio 69-45 in the second and third.

Aldridge had 13 points in the opening quarter, shooting 5 for 9. His final points of the quarter came when he grabbed a miss by Marco Belineli and slammed it back in. Denver rallied in the second, with Jokic and Murray combining for 15 points as the Nuggets outscored 34-22.

The Spurs stopped driving to the basket and the Nuggets began making their 3-pointers.

Denver finished 15-for-31 on 3-pointers.

 

Trail Blazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.

 

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan ejected after throwing ball at referee Scott Foster in frustration

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Scott Foster and his officiating crew refereed Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors Thursday night, and by the end players on both teams were frustrated enough with the tightly — but not consistently — called game they were ready to throw the ball at Foster.

San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t resist the urge.

Near the end of the Nuggets’ road win over the Spurs — which sends the series back to Denver tied 2-2 — DeRozan was given a charge call from Foster, then threw the ball in his direction out of frustration. When the notoriously short-fused Foster realized what happened, he ejected DeRozan. The league will back Foster on this, it can’t have players throwing balls at officials or making other grand gestures to show them up.

But DeRozan’s sentiment is easy to understand.

The Athletic did a survey asked about a quarter of NBA players a series of questions, including, “Who is the worst ref?” Foster came in second with 20.7 percent of the vote (Tony Brothers won the “honor,” and he is working the playoffs as well).

Expect Foster to keep working deep into the playoffs, he has officiated 18 Finals games in his career.