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OKLAHOMA CITY — It was supposed to be the kind of night that could jump-start the Oklahoma City Thunder. For a moment, it even appeared poetic.

On a night when the organization retired the jersey of Nick Collison, a prototypical glue-guy role player known for his charge-taking and backdoor bounce passing, the Thunder roared back in the fourth quarter to tie the Toronto Raptors on Russell Westbrook’s streaking layup with 4.8 seconds left. The Raptors cleared out for Pascal Siakam on their final possession. He drove hard at the basket, but Dennis Schroder stepped in and took a charge.

The Thunder’s first possession of overtime was a scrappy grind, but eventually Steven Adams connected with Westbrook on a backcut near the baseline. Westbrook didn’t quite handle the pass and dropped it off to Jerami Grant, who couldn’t finish at the rim. With Paul George fouled out, the Raptors eventually scored the first nine points of overtime, with the Thunder’s first basket coming with just 31 seconds left as Toronto handed OKC a fourth straight loss, 123-114.

Once viewed among the elite in the Western Conference only a month ago, a couple injuries and a few other setbacks sent the Thunder sliding to eighth in the conference based on tiebreakers. If the playoffs were to start today — OKC does have 10 games remaining — the Thunder would draw the first-place Warriors in the opening round.

“I knew it was close,” George said. “We know if we win, where we’re at. We know when we lose, where we’re at. Going into the game, we control our destiny.”

George has said he checks the standings and watches the scoreboard some. After the game, he looked up and saw the Thunder were now eighth. At the All-Star break, they were 17 games over .500, third in the West. They’re 5-10 since the break, with two separate four-game losing streaks.

There’s some context there, like George’s shoulder injury that left OKC without its MVP candidate for three games and has obviously affected him some since coming back. Or Westbrook’s one-game suspension served against the Miami Heat on Monday, a game during which the Thunder clearly missed his explosive energy and playmaking.

But that’s a self-inflicted wound, a compromised position Westbrook created himself after accumulating 16 technical fouls this season. After avoiding the topic following the game on Monday with only “next question” responses, he skirted past taking any responsibility for it again on Wednesday morning.

It’s somewhat indicative of what ails the Thunder: There’s an understanding of what’s going wrong — such as going 15-of-29 as a team from the free throw line against the Raptors — but an inability to course correct. In spurts, they’re very good. But it comes out of desperation, such as the frantic comeback that forced overtime with a 32-18 fourth quarter.

Westbrook was brilliant with 42 points on 16-of-29 shooting (5-of-10 from 3-point territory). But with teams loading up on George, the Thunder’s auxiliary players, much like over the past month, didn’t produce.

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In the meetings that led to him becoming the highest-paid athlete in the history of team sports, Bryce Harper kept coming back to one word: family. The protracted, bordering-on-interminable nature of his near-four-month-long free-agent odyssey never changed that. He knew what he was worth. He knew the teams courting him knew, too. He wanted to be paid, sure, but he also wanted to feel like his next team shared a shatterproof commitment.

So when Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton took his private jet from Florida to Las Vegas a week ago, he wasn’t alone. Accompanying Middleton was his wife, Leigh. They wanted to show Harper and his wife, Kayla, that family mattered to them as well — that they would compound years and dollars with actions that spoke to what he sought.

That alone didn’t convince Harper to agree to a massive 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies on Thursday. It did inform other elements of the contract, namely the lack of an opt-out clause and presence of a full no-trade clause. While opt-outs were discussed during the negotiations, Harper, in the end, said he didn’t want one. If he was going to convince others to join him chasing championships in Philadelphia, players needed to know he wasn’t going anywhere.

And thus came a record-tying number of years, a record-breaking number of dollars and a 26-year-old MVP-winning outfielder decamping from the only team he’d known, the Washington Nationals, for their National League East rival. The signing, which will become official upon the completion of a physical set for Friday, could tip the power balance in the division toward the Phillies, who put a cherry on top of an already-fruitful offseason with the game’s most recognizable player.

The deal is mutually beneficial. Philadelphia adds a middle-of-the-order bat to a lineup that already includes the homegrown Rhys Hoskins and a pair of dangerous trade acquisitions: catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura. It gets to sell tickets and sponsorships around Harper. And because the deal’s average annual value is $25.4 million, it gets flexibility to spend more in coming offseasons and not run the risk of exceeding the luxury-tax threshold. In other words: Yes, an outfield with Harper and Philadelphia-area native Mike Trout is realistic.

Harper wins by not just becoming the highest-paid team-sports athlete in history but by getting to spend 81 games a year in a stadium perfectly suited for him. While Harper possesses power to all fields, the vast majority of his 184 career home runs have gone to his pull side, and Citizens Bank Park’s right-center power alley is 369 feet and its right-field line 330 feet. His legacy is only one-third written, and the rest of it is primed to include balls flying into the second and third decks in Philadelphia.

Harper could have gone to San Francisco — its willingness to give him a double-digit-year deal convincing the Phillies they weren’t bidding against themselves — or Los Angeles, where the Dodgers were ready to offer him a record average annual value and the ability to opt out after perhaps two years. Harper could have easily exceeded Zack Greinke’s record $34.4 million average annual value on a short-term deal and had another bite at the free-agent apple before he hit 30 years old.

Right or wrong, that didn’t appeal to Harper. It didn’t matter that he was coming off a season in which his pedestrian outfield defense sunk his wins above replacement and had the opportunity to play a couple of years for an excellent Dodgers team, opt out, enter free agency again coming off a better season and hit an even bigger bonanza of a deal. He desired security and what came with it.

For now, he holds the title of Biggest Deal Ever. He’ll get $30 million this year ($20 million of it in a signing bonus), $26 million for the nine years after that and $22 million for the final three seasons. His grasp on the record could be short-lived if the Los Angeles Angels endeavor to keep Trout from reaching free agency following the 2020 season. Exceeding the $325 million deal Giancarlo Stanton signed in 2014 mattered enough that Harper was willing to miss nearly three weeks of spring training to ensure it happened.

At the same time, the notion of dedication, of loyalty, of all things familial came up often enough during his meetings with teams that they had to take it seriously. It was the Harpers’ way of saying that this pledge was ironclad.

Which, for now, it is. Harper will be all smiles at his media conference. Phillies officials will beam. The first day is always happily ever after. They’ll do everything shy of smearing cake frosting on each other’s noses. Then comes the hard part. A marriage between star and team isn’t easy, and it’s especially difficult when that star happens to be guaranteed $330 million in a market that does not suffer failure gladly.

At some point, the bond will be tested and the vow questioned, because no relationship can be perfect. And when that happens, both sides will remember that the old chestnut — you can’t choose your family — doesn’t apply to baseball. Bryce Harper chose his. And he can only hope it was for the right reasons.

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.The Lightning have won five straight games and have done so in dominant fashion. They’ve scored five-plus goals in four of the five wins, and have posted back-to-back shutouts, last allowing a goal in their 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Feb. 12. Tampa is 7-0-2 in the month of February (last regulation loss – Jan. 30 – lost 4-2 at PIT). With 92 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are 15 points ahead of the Flames and San Jose Sharks (77 points) for most in the league. They’ve been in first place in the NHL since Nov. 29 and are looking to capture the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

The Buzzer: Kucherov, DeBrincat each hit fivers; Thornton turns back the clock. Three stars: 1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. I mean, what is there to say about Kucherov that hasn’t already been said? Kucherov was in fine form again on Monday, scoring twice and adding three assists in a five-point effort that left him one-point shy of 100 on the season. He’s played 60 games now. The point totals are insane. He seems to be a lock for the Art Ross, and likely the Hart, too. The only real question is what that final total will be in 22 games’ time? With assists like these… ; 2. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. DeBrincat match Kucherov’s five-point total with a hat trick and two assists in a wild 8-7 win for the Blackhawks against the Ottawa Senators. In just his second year in the NHL, DeBrincat has 32 goals and 60 points in 60 games this season, surpassing his 28-goal, 52-point totals from his rookie season a year ago. He has six goals and 12 points in his past six games now. The Blackhawks are now just one point back of a playoff spot; 3. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks. Semyon Varlamov had a shutout, but 39-year-old Thornton grabbed his first hat trick since 2010 so he gets here by default. It was Oct. 27, 2010, against the New Jersey Devils, precisely, when Thornton last bludged the twine three times. There was no beard then, no gray hairs either. Just Jumbo Joe, only eight years younger. Thornton turned back the clock in Monday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Bruins. It won’t be as sweet, especially after how the Sharks ended up losing, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Add the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks to Stanley Cup Final matchups that would be epic. This game was great and ridiculous in so many ways. The Bruins led 4-2 at one point, trailed 5-4 in the third after going over 20 minutes without a shot on goal, tied the game on a goal that shouldn’t have counted and then won 6-5 in overtime to rub it all in the faces of the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN on Monday. Pete DeBoer coached his 800th game on Monday and it appeared he was headed for a nice win to cap it off. But he quickly turned incensed with 1:49 left in the third period when the Bruins tied the game 5-5. The goal was a clear high stick from Chris Wagner but the referees chose not to review the play, effectively sending the game to overtime. The goal flustered the Sharks. In overtime, Evander Kane was heading for a clear cut breakaway when the net behind Tuukka Rask was found to be off its moorings. The play was halted, further frustrating San Jose (even though replays show it was Kane who dislodged it earlier in his shift). And then Charlie McAvoy drove home the final dagger with 1:01 left on the OT clock.

The ending was so crazy that we haven’t even gotten to Joe Thornton and his hat trick.Yes, one of the NHL’s elder statesmen potted his first treble since Oct. 27, 2010, when his beard was merely stubble and all one color.Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Nope. Even at 39, Thornton continues to be a special player.The Bruins rolled in SAP Center in San Jose riding a five-game winning streak and a 10-game point streak and looked like they were heading, easily at first, to a season-long sixth straight winThey led 3-0 in the first period (and it could have been four if not for this save by Marc-Edouard Vlasic — which may have not actually been a save at all) before Thornton clawed one back with three seconds remaining in the frame. Jumbo Joe’s first sparked the Sharks out of the intermission and Joe Pavelski reduced the deficit to one with his 32nd on the power play. The Bruins answered four minutes later through Jake DeBrusk. With a 4-2 lead, the Bruins’ sticks fell silent.For the next 20-plus minutes, it was San Jose who dictated the play and all of the shots.By the time the Bruins had their first shot on goal in the third period, the game was tied. A few moments later, Thornton tallied his hat trick and the Sharks led 5-4.The Sharks dropped just their second game in their past nine, but the loss keeps them one point back of the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific Division. The Bruins, meanwhile, tighten their grip on second place in the Atlantic Divison. They now lead the Toronto Maple Leafs by three points, although Toronto has two games in hand.

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As the smoke cleared for the Dallas Stars (after streaming from CEO Jim Lites’ ears), the team has been riding great goaltending and Tyler Seguin’s brilliant work to maintain the playoff spot they were struggling to keep before that on-the-record meltdown. While strange things could always happen, the most likely question won’t be if the Stars can clinch a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but rather if they wrestle the Central’s third seed back from the Blues, or settle for a wild-card spot. This brings up inevitable questions, then: should the Stars be buyers at the trade deadline, and if so, to what extent? Stars GM Jim Nill told NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger that he’s interesting in adding offense, yet Nill also admits that other teams are going after the same thing, and that the market is pretty unpredictable right now. “We’re very open to anything,” Nill said. “I think there are a lot of teams, because of how tight things are in the standings, they’re waiting to see where it all goes. So over the next two weeks that’s something we’re going to watch. We’re very open to making a hockey trade if it’s going to make us better. If we stay in the hunt the way we are, we’re open to adding to our team.” The Stars are in an interesting situation as it comes to the 2018-19 season, but the future could be even brighter if they make the right moves. Let’s analyze the situation.

Keeping the goals down! One thing that jumps off the page is just how great the Stars’ goaltending has been. Between Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin (plus two effective Landon Bow games), Dallas’s team save percentage is at an outstanding .923, compared to a league average of .908. Is that the sort of thing that’s sustainable, though? There are a few arguments in favor of that continuing, and some points against it, too. While the Stars tend to lose certain possession battles according to measures such as Corsi/Fenwick, they’ve been the seventh-best team at preventing high-danger chances against at even-strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. The track records of Bishop and Khudobin are a mix, too. On one hand, Bishop’s had some great seasons, even if you ding him a bit for playing behind strong Lightning teams; meanwhile, Khudobin’s had quite a few strong years where he arguably should have been a starter or at least a 1B goalie on certain teams. The negative side is that injury concerns hover over Bishop, who’s a big goalie and is currently dealing with an ailment. Both goalies are 32. That’s not ancient, but as the league gets faster and more skillful, that number is more concerning. The Stars have enjoyed goaltending success with Norris-level defenseman John Klingberg out for a chunk of the season, and with Miro Heiskanen needing to gradually earn more and more trust from his coach. It stands to reason that those young defensemen might provide even greater value as time goes on. Goalies are unpredictable, and it’s tough for any group to play at the Stars’ level. There’s a decent chance they’ll be above league-average down the stretch, though — just maybe not to such an extreme.

A lane is opening up! There was a time when both Jamie Benn ($5.25M from 2012-13 to 2016-17) and Tyler Seguin ($5.75M from 2013-14 through this season) were dirt-cheap for the Stars, yet Dallas frustratingly failed to capitalize on such opportunities. You’d think that the Stars would be doomed starting in 2019-20 with Benn currently on a long-term deal at $9.5M and Seguin about to begin an extension that carries a $9.85M cap hit, but this team could be in a shockingly strong position if they play their cards right. And get a little luck. Between Jason Spezza ($7.5M), Marc Methot ($4.9M), and Antti Niemi‘s buyout ($1.5M), the Stars have a ton of bad money set to expire after 2018-19, and stinkers like Martin Hanzal‘s $4.75M evaporate after 2019-20. When you consider the Stars’ -1 goal differential and other telling stats, it’s probably not the wisest idea to go all-in this trade deadline. Instead, Dallas could be in a very interesting situation if they decide to let the chips fall, although they could be excused if they went after a cheaper rental. We’ve seen Matt Duchene with an acoustic guitar, so maybe he’d get on cowboy boots and settle in Dallas? Does Artemi Panarin consider Dallas the sort of city he craves? What’s Mark Stone‘s opinion about BBQ? Maybe the Stars could be proactive and creative in doing a sign-and-trade to land a Panarin or Stone now, using Spezza’s big contract or something else to make the money work now. But the point is that the Stars shouldn’t settle for short-term gains when they could swing for the fences mere months later.

Yes, there are some worries. The aging curve seems to be hitting Jamie Benn hard already at 29. Bishop’s deal might not age well, since it runs through 2022-23. Despite some concerns, there are scenarios where things work really well for Dallas. With Seguin settled, Klingberg on a bargain $4.25M deal through 2021-22, and Heiskanen’s entry-level contract running through 2020-21, Dallas has space opening up soon, without having too many big-ticket players to retain for some time. Nill might feel like he’s on the hot seat, but for the sake of this franchise, hopefully the Stars don’t mess things up with panic trades, because some Texas-sized opportunities could open up very soon.