Kevin McHale, who coaches Dwight Howard, says Joakim Noah is the Defensive Player of the Year

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The Rockets are in Chicago to face the Bulls in a nationally televised contest on Thursday, and Houston head coach Kevin McHale paid the highest of compliments to the best active player on the opposing team, Joakim Noah.

That part wasn’t unusual, as head coaches will often times dole out honest and well-deserved praise to All-Stars around the league. But in this particular instance, McHale’s remarks seemed to diminish the contributions of one of his own players, if only slightly.

From ESPN Chicago:

Kevin McHale said Thursday that Bulls center Joakim Noah should win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award based on his performance this season.

The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. …

“He’s played very well,” McHale said after his team’s shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.”

McHale is a member of the Hall of Fame and one of the more savvy coaches out there in terms of being able to relate to his players. But the Rockets are ninth in the league in defensive efficiency this season, up from 16th a year ago — and James Harden certainly isn’t the reason why.

This is likely nothing more than a motivational tactic to make sure Howard brings it against a competitor as fiery as Noah tends to be.