The Toronto Raptors didn’t have to look far to name their next coach. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Raptors are hiring current Raptors assistant Nick Nurse as their new coach.
Wojnarowski reports via Twitter that Nurse has agreed to a three-year deal to take over the reins in Toronto. The team has scheduled a news conference for tomorrow afternoon (2:30 ET) at Air Canada Centre to officially announce Nurse’s hiring.
The Raptors’ hiring of Nurse was also reported by Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
Nurse, 50, joined the franchise five years ago and was a longtime assistant under former Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Nurse spent a decade coaching in Europe and won to championships and a coach of the year award in the British Basketball League. He also won a pair of titles in the G League with two different teams and was coach of the year there, too.
Nurse was tasked with overseeing the team’s offense alongside Casey and played a key role in Toronto’s overhaul last season. After ranking 11th in True Shooting percentage and 21st in 3-pointers made in 2016-17, the Raptors moved up to fourth in both categories as the team enjoyed its best regular season ever.
In mid-May, the Raptors parted ways with Casey and were searching for a new coach ever since. Casey led the Raptors to a team-record 59-23 mark in 2017-18 and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But the Raptors were swept in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers, setting in motion an earlier-than-expected offseason for Toronto. Shortly after Toronto’s loss in Game 4 of the semis, Casey was named the NBCA Coach of the Year — an award that is voted on by a panel of his coaching peers.
As of Monday night, Nurse was one of the favorites for the job — along with San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina. Additionally, the Raptors interviewed Sarunas Jasikevicius for the job last week, per ESPN.
While the Raptors weighed their coaching candidates, every NBA team that had a coaching position to fill — the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks — has since found a new coach.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Wolves’ Towns questionable tonight vs. Knicks
The Minnesota Timberwolves begin the stretch-run portion of 2018-19 tonight, but their All-Star big man may not be available to play in that game.
Karl-Anthony Towns is listed as questionable against the New York Knicks (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass) after Towns was involved in a car accident on the way to the airport Thursday.
Per interim coach Ryan Saunders, Towns took a commercial flight to New York City but was excused from shootaround this morning. He is resting at the team hotel as the team continues to monitor how Towns is doing.
Coach Saunders told the media this morning that Karl-Anthony Towns was involved in a car accident yesterday on the way to the airport. He flew into New York last night and was excused from shootaround this morning to rest at the hotel. He is listed as questionable for tonight.
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) February 22, 2019
The Wolves officially list Towns on the injury report as questionable. The reason: rest.
— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) February 22, 2019
Towns’ teammates said Friday they were glad he was doing OK and wanted him to take care of himself rather than rush back into the lineup.
“That’s most important, that he’s healthy and he’s doing OK,” Andrew Wiggins said, per Chris Hine of the Star-Tribune. “Because a lot of things could’ve went wrong but God was watching over him. So we’re happy. We’re relieved.”
Backup guard Tyus Jones said he saw Towns this morning and that Towns was doing “all right.”
“It’s just a crazy situation, very blessed and fortunate that he was able to make it out OK,” Jones said, per Hine. “So that’s the most important thing. So, he’s in pretty good spirits.”
Minnesota is 27-30 and No. 11 in the Western Conference standings, trailing the No. 8-seeded LA Clippers by four games. The Timberwolves made the playoffs last season, but have a challenging schedule after the All-Star break with 11 of their next 16 games on the road.
Towns is averaging 23.3 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game this season and has played in every game to date.
Kia MVP Ladder: Fellow stars delight in Antetokounmpo’s superstar turn
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The top five this week in the 2018-19 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week: No. 1
Season stats: 27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks
With only 24 games left in the season, the Bucks have a finite amount of time to explore the possibilities with another giant floor-spacer (Nikola Mirotic) playing off Antetokounmpo. The All-Star Game — the defense-free exhibition that it was – proved a great reminder of how devastating “The Greek Freak” can be with better shooters and talent on his side. Make no mistake: Antetokounmpo was a dominant force for most of that game despite not winning MVP honors. Mirotic offers that help in smaller increments while changing things for these Bucks. Budenholzer’s ability to design schemes that play to the supporting cast’s strengths will only serve to boost Antetokounmpo’s stock. And with Harden, Curry, Paul George and the rest of the field breathing down his neck, Antetokounmpo will need every possible edge he can get to crash the MVP party he’s been on the outside of the past two seasons.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Last week: No. 2
Season stats: 36.5 points, 7.7 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals
As much as Harden would no doubt love to win a second straight Kia MVP, the Rockets’ star has bigger issues to deal with in the stretch run. “I’m not worried about MVP,” he said. “I’m just excited for the second half of the season, getting a full, healthy roster and taking it from there.” Harden is trying to secure a top-four seed in a rugged Western Conference playoff chase. The side benefit for his MVP chances is that to obtain that playoff goal, he’ll most certainly have to continue playing at the level that rescued the Rockets after an 11-14 start. He has more help now, what with both Chris Paul and Clint Capela back in the mix. And what better motivation for a player who has everything (short of an NBA title) than to see if he can keep his 30-point scoring streak rolling, too? Harden doesn’t have to favor one priority over another … they’re all intertwined until the very end.
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week: No. 3
Season stats: 28.7 points, 8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 steals
It’s a credit to George that the MVP chase is a legitimate three-player competition right now and not just an Antetokounmpo-vs.-Harden sprint to the finish. In terms of this season’s best two-way players, George is right there with Antetokounmpo. George’s improvement in that department from last season to this one is nothing short of amazing. He’s shooting an absurd 45.8 percent on 3-pointers over OKC’s last 13 games (in which it has gone 11-2). Toss in the fact that Russell Westbrook is a walking triple-double every night out and it’s easy to cast George in a new light. The challenge for George now is to hold onto this position as a pack of Kia MVP contenders like James, Curry, Durant, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and, to a lesser extent, Westbrook, make a late-season charge.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week: No. 4
Season stats: 28.8 points, 5.3 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals
Curry was the toast of his hometown during All-Star 2019 in Charlotte, even if his mom, Sonya Curry, made the biggest shot of the weekend. But now comes the real heavy lifting for Curry and the Warriors. They’ll have to work to keep the West’s No. 1 spot as Denver and Oklahoma City give chase, and strength of schedule will be a serious factor for each of those teams. But Curry and the Warriors have the strength of experience component over all comers, in the conference and beyond. A healthy roster, one refreshed from a week off for big men Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, will certainly aid the cause. Curry’s advantage in things is that there will be so much pressure applied to the Warriors’ other stars that he may find his spots a little easier (and certainly as often) as he’d like. This season has made it clear how crucial Curry is to the Warriors operating at their peak. If a third straight title is in the plans, it has to come with Curry playing MVP-level ball on the road to the playoffs and beyond.
5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week: No. 5
Season stats: 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks
It’s unclear how the news of Embiid’s week of rest with a sore knee is going to affect the 76ers and their chances of trying to climb in the Eastern Conference standings. The “load management” for “The Process” is no doubt going to impact Embiid’s status here, where a player’s availability during the stretch run is perhaps the most critical trait for staying in the MVP conversation. That would be a shame, because Embiid was enjoying the finest stretch of his NBA career. Plus, no team needs time for their newly formed core group to develop chemistry than Philly does. The one side benefit of adding Tobias Harris at the trade deadline is that there is a natural pecking order in place for the Sixers while Embiid rests. Harris will get many more reps as a main option with Embiid out, which should pay dividends when the league’s most dominant center in unavailable. Embiid should have plenty of time to stay in/fight his way back into the top-tier mix here — provided his load management period only lasts a week. Anything longer and it could end up costing him this perch.
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The Next Five
6. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
7. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
8. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
9. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
10. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
And five more: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
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The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
About Last Night: Bucks maintain control of East
No team in the NBA has beaten the Milwaukee Bucks twice this season. In a couple months, some lucky team will be tasked of doing it four times.
The Boston Celtics came close to earning their second victory against Milwaukee this season, but ultimately lost 98-97 after Kia MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
The Bucks held the Celtics under 100 points on Thursday, which had only happened once since mid-November. Kyrie Irving’s frigid shooting didn’t help the cause as the All-Star point guard missed 18 of his 27 attempts.
The Bucks’ biggest defensive play of the night came when Giannis violently chased down Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt.
Milwaukee officially won the season series to clinch the tiebreaker, though a chance at that even mattering at this point are slim. As it stands, the Celtics are fifth in the East and 7.5 games behind the Bucks.
The Bucks sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 44-14 record. When facing the East’s next top four teams ― Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston and Indiana ― Milwaukee boast a commanding 8-3 record.
Again, good luck beating them four times.
What was Buddy Hield doing?!
Buddy Hield, for whatever reason, passes up an open go-ahead 3 from the same spot he hit one 14 seconds prior. Drives into traffic, tosses up contested miss. Warriors survive.
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 22, 2019
Buddy Hield shouldn’t have second-guessed himself. He had a chance to snatch that win from Golden State by hitting a shot he can make. But he hesitated, then drove inside for a contested airball. For the Kings to fend off LeBron & make the playoffs, they’ve got to stay fearless
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) February 22, 2019
Buddy should have just taken that long shot.
— Akis (@Aykis16) February 22, 2019
Hield, who fans have enjoyed rooting for all season as part of the resurgent Kings, passed up a wide-open, go-ahead shot on the road against the defending champions and settled for a contested turnaround jumper.
Here’s the actual play, with Sacramento down 125-123 with 6.5 seconds left on the clock.
“I should’ve pulled it, man,” Hield said after the game. “I should’ve pulled it, no excuse.”
“I thought he was gonna shoot it,” Kings point guard De’Aaron. “We were like ‘You shoulda shot that (expletive).'”
Nonetheless, you have to love the fight in Hield and these Kings, who came into the season as the sixth-most inexperienced squad in the league and were projected to be in the lottery yet again.
Now they’re in a realistic battle for the playoffs in a cutthroat Western Conference. Sacramento is 1.5 games out of the eighth seed, stationed behind the LA Clippers. Landing at that spot would presumably set up a Warriors-Kings first-round matchup, which is one enticing possibility after seeing how these two teams played each other this season.
The Warriors won all four games, but three points was the combined margin of victory. Even Kevin Durant can admit neither of those were a given.
“That’s the fourth game that we deserved to lose against this team,” Durant said.
Lakers on Kings’ heels
What if Hield’s late decision eventually haunts Sacramento?
That’s obviously not quantifiable ― he truly could’ve missed the shot ― but it might certainly cross the sharpshooter’s mind come April if the Kings are stationed just outside the postseason (he said himself he’s always checking the standings and playoff race).
The Los Angeles Lakers, fighting from the West’s 10th spot, now trail Sacramento by one game after a 111-106 comeback victory against the Rockets.
LeBron James said earlier in the day that his playoff-mode has been activated. He continued that mantra after Thursday’s win.
”I need to be in that level right now. Knowing the circumstances we are in and kick starting something,” said James, who finished with a modest 29 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. ”I like where I am at and will continue to get better. Tonight was a step in the right direction.’
Curry still feelin’ it
Coming off his impressive dunk to close out last Sunday’s All-Star Game, Stephen Curry carried his momentum into some real action for his first dunk of the season.
Iverson’s tribute to Wade
Hall of Famer Allen Iverson delivered a tribute video to another player set to join him in Springfield, Mass., one day. Iverson recognized Dwyane Wade during the Heat legend’s final game in Philadelphia.
“You were so great for us fans,” Iverson said. “So entertaining. So exciting for us to watch. Definitely one of the best two guards to ever play the game.”
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 22, 2019
Wade recorded a team-high 19 points and six rebounds in the loss to the Sixers. The 37-year-old also added one bock to his stat sheet, swatting away former teammate and good friend Jimmy Butler with some solid help defense.
With Wade’s final post-All-Star-break here, it’s time to start counting down how many games the Heat’s all-time leading scorer has left.
There are just 25 more regular season games to watch one of the most tantalizing shooting guards the league has ever seen, who exchanged his jersey with an up-and-coming guard wearing No. 25.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 22, 2019
Enes Kanter made his debut for the Trail Blazers and was rather productive in Portland’s win over Brooklyn. The Turkish big man finished with 18 points (8-9 FG) and nine rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.
After spending the last season-and-a-half in New York, Kanter says he forgot how it feels to be in the win column.
Wow! That’s how winning feels 🤔
I can get use to that 😅#RipCity
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) February 22, 2019
Shabazz Napier diced up his former team in the first half, dishing eight assists in just eight minutes. For his eighth dime ― he finished with 10 in the loss ― the fifth-year point guard looked like a football center: hike it and protect the man behind you.
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