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.”

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.