Three Things to Know: Sharp Celtics carve up flawed 76ers roster that looks defeated

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Day 3 of the NBA playoffs saw two series become even and two look like they will end quickly. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Sharp Celtics carve up flawed 76ers roster that looks defeated

It smells like the winds of change are about to blow through Philadelphia.

Philadelphia teases you with flashes of its potential. They did that Wednesday to open Game 2 against Boston. In the first quarter Joel Embiid owned the paint and had 15 points, Shake Milton couldn’t miss (3-of-3), and the huge contract players signed last summer — Al Horford and Tobias Harris — were a combined 3-of-5 shooting and making plays. The 76ers were up six after 12 minutes.

And as it has all season, reality set in as time wore on. The flaws in the Philadelphia roster were exposed.

Embiid shot 5-of-12 the rest of the way and looked worn down and beaten by the fourth quarter (although he did finish the game with a strong 34 and 10 line). Harris shot 2-of-11 in the final three quarters. Milton hit two more shots all game. Horford took just three shots all game. Rookie Matisse Thybulle tried, but right now nobody can slow down Jayson Tatum, who is playing like an MVP candidate. Ben Simmons is injured and out, and without him there isn’t a clear playmaker to step up. There isn’t enough shooting, Philly was 5-of-21 from three.

It was ugly, and it was a comfortable 128-101 Boston win.

This fan summed up the feelings in Philadelphia.

Boston took a commanding 2-0 lead in this first-round series. Philadelphia is not heading home to be lifted by its boisterous crowd, it is going to have to find something internal to turn this series around. And it’s hard to watch this team and think “they have what they need inside to fix this.”

The winds of change are blowing stronger and stronger each game.

Coach Brett Brown will pay the price for the 76ers shortcomings, and he’s far from blameless in the mess the 76ers have become. He doesn’t have the players believing this will work anymore. However, the bigger flaws are in the roster construction — GM Elton Brand and the front office bet big on size and defense last summer after Jimmy Butler left. Brand and company tried to zig while the league zagged toward more shooting, and going smaller with multiple ball handlers on the court.

The Celtics are an example of what shooting and multiple playmakers can do.

Boston watched Horford and Kyrie Irving bolt last summer and Danny Ainge retooled his roster to have versatility and shooting. The Celtics signed Kemba Walker to be their point guard, and trusted in the growth of Tatum and Jaylen Brown as playmakers and shooters on the wing. Those three combined for 75 points in this game. Tatum had 33 points and shot 8-of-12 from three on the night.

Boston’s bench outscored Philadelphia’s 41-20 in Game 2.

Philadelphia would be a better team with Simmons, their best playmaker and perimeter defender. However, he alone would not be the answer in this series, the way he was not the answer all season long. He doesn’t bring shooting and floor spacing to the table. He doesn’t bring enough to make this all work.

While watching the fourth quarter of Game 2, it was hard to envision how Philadelphia might turn this series around. Philly fans had even tuned out, some taking to Twitter to long for the days of Sam Hinkie.

The winds of change are blowing in Philadelphia.

2) The Clippers as title favorites? Not so fast. Luka and Mavs even series.

After the Lakers and Bucks lost their playoffs opener, the odds were changing in Las Vegas. These were the championship odds around Sin City before games tipped off Wednesday, and the Clippers were the new favorites.

• Clippers +220
• Bucks +340
• Lakers +350.

Then the Clippers went out and lost to Dallas 127-114 Wednesday night — and through two games the Mavericks have looked like the better team. So who is your title favorite now? (Maybe it should be Toronto, who has been the best team in the bubble and is now up 2-0 against Brooklyn, but that’s another story for another day.)

Luka Doncic and the Mavs ballhandlers beat the Clippers perimeter defenders one-on-one or off picks, then often got to the rim because the Clippers defensive rotations have been a step slow. The result was another monster game for Doncic, who had 28 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. The only player to ever score more points than Doncic through his first two playoff games (70 points) is George Mikan. Who played for the Lakers before they even moved to Los Angeles.

The Clippers offense is fine — Kawhi Leonard had 35 points and 10 rebounds, Lou Williams came off the bench to add 23 — but the defense needs to adjust. Dallas was the best offense in the NBA during the regular season, but the Clippers are loaded with wing defenders — Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley (who was out this game with a calf injury) — but through two games it has not shown the ability to slow Doncic. Doc Rivers is going to have to make adjustments.

Dallas is a good team with an elite offense and an MVP candidate player — they were never going quietly. The Mavericks drew blood, and now it’s on the Clippers to adapt and look like the championship team Vegas thinks they are.

3) Utah evens series with Denver; looks to be the better team

In Game 1, it was the Donovan Mitchell show for Utah, and while his 57 points forced overtime it was not enough. In Game 2, Mitchell still had 30 but the Jazz found space at the three-point line and let it rain — 20-of-44 from three as a team and it overwhelmed the Nuggets. Utah cruised to a 124-105 win.

The other big move in this game was Utah asking Royce O'Neale to guard Jamal Murray instead of veteran Joe Ingles, and it worked. Murray was not a factor in Game 2.

It’s up to Denver to adjust — and find a way to start playing good defense, something they have not done in the bubble — but through two games Utah has been the better team.

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