Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards - Game Three

Randy Wittman goes from losingest coach of all time to… still losingest coach of all time, but also one of the postseason’s winningest

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WASHINGTON – Fourteen years ago, Andre Miller was a rookie playing for first-year head coach Randy Wittman’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Miller saw Wittman repeatedly get frustrated with a difficult roster, the coach frequently flashing what would become known as #WittmanFace.

But, sometimes, Wittman’s unhappiness went further.

“Temper tantrum,” Miller said.

Any signs of that in Washington, where Wittman now coaches the Wizards and Miller is again his backup point guard?

“No,” Miller said. “He gets frustrated, but he does a good job of mixing positive criticism with correcting things that need to be done the right way. So, it’s a good blend.”

Wittman and the Wizards have proven to be a good blend, but is Wittman a good coach? And more importantly, should the Wizards retain him this offseason when his contract expires?

By not only taking taking Washington to the playoffs – the franchise’s primary goal – but beating the Bulls in the first round, Wittman has probably ensured he’ll get a new deal. But whether or not he should is a different question.

Nobody has coached as many games and has as bad a record as Wittman, who holds a career record of 191-329 (.367) with Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington. Until this season, his BEST record was 32-50 with those 1999-00 Cavaliers.

On the other hand, maybe Wittman has turned a corner. He has spent most of this postseason – his first – as the coach with the all-time best playoff winning percentage. Even falling to 5-4 with three straight losses to the Pacers entering tonight’s Game 5, Wittman still ranks fourth third among active coaches in postseason winning percentage.*

*Behind only Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and Mike Brown

Wittman also led the Wizards to a 44-38 regular-season record – a 15-game improvement from last season.

Usually, that type of improvement warrants Coach of the Year consideration. But Wittman didn’t get a single vote.

Nobody has coached a team with such a big turnaround that finished with a winning record and not received a Coach of the Year vote in at least the last 14 years. It’s probably been longer, but I can’t find full voting further back. This is essentially unprecedented recently.

If nobody else has noticed Wittman’s coaching improvement, his players have.

“He’s a lot more assertive,” Miller said. “He knows what he wants to get done. I think he knew those things when we was in Cleveland, but it’s just a different atmosphere.

Wittman probably deserves credit for that different atmosphere. His best skill might be the consistency of his approach. Even last season, when the Wizards started 4-28 and seemed on the verge of total collapse, they still went 25-25 the rest of the way.

“His vibe is positive,” Miller said. “He has a good mixture of coaching and player relationships. He’s definitely prepared. You can see him studying film all the time and just assertive in what he wants to get done.”

It’s rare a coach has support of all his players, and even those who do don’t have total total support from each player. But Wittman at least has the support of John Wall, Washington’s unquestioned leader.

Wall spent a year and a half playing for Flip Saunders, who was assisted by Wittman before he took over midway through the 2011-12 season.

“All of us as a team respects everything he does,” Wall said of Wittman.

By preaching defense and pace, Wittman has guided the Wizards further than they’ve been in the last nine years. How much of that is Wall’s growth, and how much of that is Wittman? Maybe the answer is inseparable.

“Now, we basically run the same plays we had since my rookie year, but we’re focused as a defensive team,” Wall said. “I think he’s trusting me more with the ball and trusting the team in running it.”

Wittman is slow to take credit, though.

Asked whether this season has been personally satisfying, Wittman talked about all the tough times his players have faced. Pressed further about his satisfaction in light of his tough times, Wittman perhaps revealed why he’s achieving better results than ever.

“Sure,” Wittman said. “We’re all in one, one in all. So, we feel the same things.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo called for 10-second violation on free throw (video)

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This Giannis Antetokounmpo 10-second violation was a year in the making.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, it was too little, too late. Antetokounmpo still finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks and two steals in the Bucks’ 115-107 win.

Iman Shumpert injures hand while missing open dunk (video)

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Plenty went right for the Cavaliers in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but there were a few snags.

LeBron James and his teammates repeatedly failed the water-bottle challenge in the closing moments (though Kyrie Irving eventually nailed it).

Kevin Love‘s nose malfunctioned.

And Iman Shumpert injured his hand while missing an open dunk.

If Shumpert was faking as an excuse for missing, he sold it hard. Defending 4-on-5 on the other end, Cleveland ceded a 3-pointer. Then, Shumpert remained hunched over while the Cavs brought the ball up-court. It seems Shumpert might have been popping back in a dislocated finger, which jibes with him staying in the game – and shows his toughness.

But it also doesn’t erase the shame of hurting yourself while missing an open dunk.

Gregg Popovich calls coaching Tim Duncan-less Spurs a ‘refreshing’ and ‘fun’ challenge

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)–  For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been defined by their consistency, an unprecedented level of stability that has brought five championships and established the organization as a model franchise in professional sports.

The colors don’t change. The coach doesn’t change. The core never changed.

After 20 years and those five titles, change has finally come to San Antonio.

Tim Duncan, the tone setter from the moment he was drafted in 1997, retired last summer. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken reduced roles this season, and the Spurs brought in seven new faces as part of a rare roster shuffle as they try to retool around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s been at the same time a challenge and a refreshing sort of situation,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The team is changing personnel-wise and where the ball goes and a few different players so we have to do things a little bit differently. There’s a give and take, strategy wise, to fit the group. It’s been a lot of fun. Watching some of the young guys get minutes and develop has been fun.”

Fun because while the faces have changed, the results have not. The Spurs (18-4) have navigated the bumps in the road that come with unfamiliarity and have the second-best record in the league, tied the star-studded Golden State Warriors (18-3) in the win column. They have started the season 13-0 on the road and can match last year’s Warriors for the best road start in league history with a win in Chicago on Thursday night.

It hasn’t always been pretty for these Spurs. They’re not the same ruthless, precise machine that steamrolled the league during championship runs. They have had to muddle through things, overcome mistakes and struggle while they get acclimated to one another.

Newcomers like six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, steady veteran David Lee, Argentinian point guard Nico Laprovittola and shot-blocking center Dewayne Dedmon have had to work hard to integrate into a culture that is as enduring as any.

“You could see it in our games. Sometimes our offense is stagnant, our defense isn’t moving well or in our help positions,” Leonard said. “We have a big playbook on the offensive end. It’s just hard to learn it. It was hard for me to learn it. I didn’t get it down until probably my second or third year. We’ve just got to keep giving a consistent effort and being into the game and into our playbook and just keep moving from there.”

The result has been a team that tends to start slow, fall behind and then gradually digs its heels in. They are 5-4 at home, where they only lost once all of last season. They’ve lost to the Magic at home, were thumped by the Clippers and have not recaptured the breathtaking form they showed in a 29-point win at Golden State on opening night. But the wins keep coming.

“I think the first eight to 10 games was the coaching staff trying to figure out what lineups we’re going to play and there were a lot of changes, a lot of trying what works best,” said Gasol, who signed as a free agent this summer. “But now I think there’s more consistency, there’s more defined lineups. Guys know when to come in, when they’re going to play and what’s expected of them.”

The Spurs have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Popovich has leaned on his core more than he has in years to get them off to a good start. Leonard and Aldridge both average more than 33 minutes per game, the first time San Antonio has had two players averaging that much playing time since 2008-09.

“It’s been interesting to see how the team develops and comes together and who the leaders will be without Timmy being that overriding factor for so long,” Popovich said.

Leonard, for years the ultra-quiet storm trooper of the Spurs army, has been much more vocal this season. Gasol’s personality and approach have been a perfect fit as most expected and Ginobili and Parker are still there to help filled the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

And little by little, the new guys are getting up to speed.

“They’ve done a great job of making it easy for us and for Pop to throw them into the fire and trust them to know the system,” Green said. “We’ll continue to help them and they will continue to be sponges and absorb it.”

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!