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NBA playoff picture after Sunday: Orlando, Brooklyn earn tickets to playoff party

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Every night between now and the end of the 2018-19 NBA regular season, we will take an updated look at the NBA Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, who moved up and down, all to set the stage for the NBA’s second season.

SUNDAY’S SCORES
Raptors 117, Heat 109
Spurs 112, Cavaliers 90
Thunder 132, Timberwolves 126
Hornets 104, Pistons 91
Nets 108, Pacers 96
Mavericks 129, Grizzlies 127
Rockets 149, Suns 113
Bucks 115, Hawks 107
Magic 116, Celtics 108
Knicks 113, Wizards 110
Warriors 131, Clippers 104
Trail Blazers 115, Nuggets 108
Pelicans 133, Kings 129
Lakers 113, Jazz 109

• The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic are going to the playoffs. With their wins and the Miami Heat’s loss, Brooklyn and Orlando have punched their tickets for the postseason. Neither were projected as likely playoff teams before the season and it speaks to the turnaround in both organizations that we are here.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s playoff movers and clinchers:

• The top five spots in the East are locked in place now: 1) Bucks, 2) Raptors, 3) Sixers, 4) Celtics, 5) Pacers.
• Boston and Indiana will face each other in the first round, starting in Boston.
• Brooklyn and Orlando have qualified for the playoffs. For both Brooklyn and Orlando, this represents a milestone in an effort to turn a floundering organization around and it should be celebrated. Coaches Kenny Atkinson and Steve Clifford did impressive work.
• Detroit, Charlotte, and Miami are in a fight for the final playoff spot, however, only Detroit controls its own destiny. If the Pistons win their final two games (Tuesday against the Grizzlies and Wednesday at the Knicks) they are in. The Hornets (who beat the Pistons Sunday to stay alive) and Heat need help, starting with the Pistons dropping at least one game.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s playoff movers and clinchers

• The Warriors have secured the No. 1 seed, meaning for the final time the West playoffs will go through Oracle Arena.
• That is the only seed locked in place in the West. We have known who the eight playoff teams are for a while but every other seed could still change.
• Denver rested its three biggest stars and lost to Portland, combine that with Houston’s sixth win in a row and the Rockets are just half a game back of the Nuggets for the No. 2 seed.
• Portland’s win and Utah’s surprise loss to the Lakers means the Trail Blazers have a magic number of one (Portland win or Utah loss) to secure home court in the first round. Those two teams almost certainly will meet in the 4/5 series, but it is not a lock yet.
• Wins by the Spurs and Thunder saw them jumping the Clippers, who fell from the six to the eight seed on Sunday. The Spurs and Clippers are now tied at 47-43 with one game to play, but since San Antonio has the tiebreaker it is the seven seed. Both of those teams are just half a game back of the Thunder, who have one fewer loss but two games to play still.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY:
Detroit at Milwaukee
Orlando at Toronto
Brooklyn at Philadelphia
Indiana at Boston — series clinched

L.A. Clippers at Golden State
San Antonio at Denver
Oklahoma City at Houston
Utah at Portland

TUESDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES:

• The NBA is dark Monday so the NCAA can have the floor for its championship game. Here are the big games for next Tuesday.

• Memphis at Detroit (7 pm ET). The Pistons control their own destiny in the race for the eight seed in the East, but they need to win out to secure it. Memphis is trying to win (they owe Boston a first-round pick and want to convey it this year, which means the pick needs to land outside the top 8, the odds of that improve dramatically if the Grizzlies keep winning) and will not be a pushover.

• Philadelphia at Miami (7:30 pm ET). Miami has to win to keep any dream of a playoff berth alive (and they need help, but lose and it doesn’t matter). The Sixers are locked in as the three seed, without motivation they may rest key players.

• Denver at Utah (9 pm ET). The Nuggets are just half a game up on the Rockets for the two seed, after resting key players and losing on Sunday the Nuggets may want to go hard for the win on Tuesday. The Jazz almost certainly are the five seed, but their slim chance of the four seed is alive only if they win out.

• Houston at Oklahoma City (9:30 pm ET, TNT). This is a potential first-round matchup (it would be the matchup if the playoffs started today). With a win, Houston would lock up at least the three seed and keep alive their dreams of wresting the two seed away from Denver. OKC could finish anywhere from 5 to 8, but it doesn’t want to lose and end up eighth and facing the Warriors in the first round, a win helps with that.

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