PBT Awards: Coach of the Year

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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

2. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

3. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks

I think you can flip a coin between those two top guys. There is no bad call there. I want to reward Budenholzer for what was really a two-year process to get this team really playing in that Spursian style.

Brett Pollakoff

1. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

2. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

No one expected the Hawks to win 60 games this season and secure the top seed throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the equal-opportunity, Spurs-like offense that Budenholzer has installed is the primary reason why.

And speaking of the Spurs, Popovich has his guys peaking at the right time, laying destruction to all comers during an 11-game winning streak  — one that has reminded all of us that his team is the defending champions, and is very capable of repeating the feat this season.

As for Kerr, helping the Warriors leap from simply a 50-win playoff team to the league’s best squad in his first-ever season as head coach will get him plenty of consideration. But the unexpected rise of a less-talented Hawks team was more impressive, if only just slightly.

Sean Highkin

1. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

2. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

The only significant rotation player on the Warriors’ roster who wasn’t there last year is backup point guard Shaun Livingston. So with essentially the same roster, Kerr transformed the Warriors from a pretty-good 51-win team to a historically great one, the league’s best team at both ends of the floor.

Budenholzer got the entire Hawks’ roster to buy into his system and essentially created Spurs East, where every player is put in a position to do the one or two things they’re successful at.

Popovich is the LeBron of this category — if you’re judging by who’s the overall best, he should win it every year. This season, he just did what he always does.

Dan Feldman

1. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

2. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

The margin between the top two is razor thin, and I sided with Budenholzer, because Kerr seems more reliant on his assistants. Maybe I should credit Kerr more for hiring and enabling that staff, but it seems the Warriors were committed to doing that before hiring Kerr. That’s part of the reason I gave Executive of the Year to Bob Myers.

I’m not one of those “Popovich should win every year” people. It’s Coach of the YEAR, and there are some years he makes less of an impact – especially on a team with so little roster turnover. But just last year we all determined he was clearly the game’s best coach, and he gets the benefit of the doubt for the third spot. He has the Spurs peaking at the right time, and there’s nothing more important for this title-contending veteran squad.

Others who coached especially well this season but missed the cut: Jason Kidd, Quin Snyder, Brad Stevens, Frank Vogel, Kevin McHale and Tom Thibodeau.

Watch James Harden scores 49 points, lead Rockets past Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Undermanned and playing for the second consecutive night, the Houston Rockets still had plenty of reason to be confident.

“I would think it would give you confidence,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You’re playing with a bazooka out there.”

A bazooka named James Harden.

Harden unloaded Saturday night, scoring 49 points on a whopping 41 shots from the field to lead the short-handed Rockets to their seventh straight victory, 125-105 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With Russell Westbrook resting and several key contributors injured, the Rockets needed Harden to shoulder an even bigger scoring load than usual. The 41 attempts are the most in his career, and the most in the NBA this season, surpassing the 37 Golden State’s D'Angelo Russell took in an overtime loss Nov. 8 in the same building in Minnesota.

“It was a collective effort,” Harden said. “We’ve got six, seven guys out. So it could have been an easy game, where we just chalked it up and got ready for next game. We wanted to come here and win this game, and we showed it.”

Harden made 16 of the 41 shots, going 8 for 22 from 3-point range. He was 9 of 11 on free throws.

“He scored (49) on 41 shots,” Timberwolves forward Robert Covington said. “That’s what we want. But it’s just the other guys hurt us. We followed the game plan with him.”

Ben McLemore scored 20 points. Undrafted rookie Chris Clemons scored a career-high 19 off the bench for the Rockets, who broke open the game with a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter. Austin Rivers also scored 19 points.

 

Paul George’s 37 in home debut lead Clippers past Hawks 150-101 (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George scored 37 points in his Clippers home debut, Lou Williams added 25, and Los Angeles led all the way in routing the Atlanta Hawks 150-101 on Saturday night.

The anticipated first game with George and Kawhi Leonard in the lineup together didn’t happen when Leonard sat out with a left knee contusion.

But the Clippers didn’t need both of their new superstars on a night when George tied his career high with six 3-pointers and made all 11 of his free throws in the team’s biggest blowout of the young season.

George was clearly having fun in the fourth when he stole the ball, dribbled down and tossed it off the glass, setting up Montrezl Harrell for a two-handed dunk that ignited the crowd and pushed the Clippers’ lead to 36 points.

George sat down for good with 9:58 remaining in the game, having done all his damage playing 20 minutes.

Two nights after scoring 33 in his debut at New Orleans, George had it going from the start. He scored 15 of the Clippers’ first 22 points in a six-minute span. They led by 17 and shot 59 percent in the opening quarter.

George is the first player in franchise history to score 30-plus points in his first two games with the team.

The Hawks scored 11 straight points to close within four early in the second quarter, the closest they would come the rest of the game. The Clippers answered with an 18-6 run, fueled by George’s nine points, to go back up by 17 again.

George had 25 points at halftime when the Clippers led 74-62, shooting 52% and making all 16 of their free throws.

Leonard also sat out on Thursday when George made his Clippers debut in a loss to the Pelicans.

George missed the season’s first 11 games while completing rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I would love them to play every game and be out there,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “We knew early on this would be a tough go.”

Trae Young had 20 points for the Hawks, who dropped their second in a row. They trailed by 52 points in the fourth.

The Clippers dominated in nearly every category, with their bench outscoring the Hawks’ reserves 81-35. Los Angeles made 17 3-pointers and hit 33 of 35 free throws.

 

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, Tim Duncan takes over coaching, Spurs still fall to Trail Blazers

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan was back in charge in San Antonio and the Spurs were flourishing under his leadership again.

Duncan was directing players on defensive assignments, encouraging them and providing needed leadership. But in the end, he couldn’t provide the same late-game heroics from the bench that he long did on the court.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Spurs 121-116 on Saturday night to spoil Duncan’s first shot at coaching following Gregg Popovich’s ejection.

Duncan took over just 13 games into his first season as an assistant coach. Popovich was ejected after walking onto the court to berate official Jason Goldenberg over a non-call. Popovich calmly walked off the court following his first ejection of the season (you can see it in the video above).

On Twitter, this led to a debate as people tried to figure out who took over as coach. Assistant Coach Becky Hammon ran one time out, but it was Duncan — the assistant coach assigned to scout Portland on the staff — who was the main man. Duncan, Hammon and Will Hardy coached by committee, but it was Duncan calling the plays and screaming out instruction.

“It was cool,” Spurs guard Bryn Forbes said. “It didn’t really feel like a huge difference. I think he did a good job. He took control. He helped lead us to a big lead.”

Popovich was asked if he considered having Becky Hammon take over to make history as the first woman to lead an NBA team.

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds but the Spurs lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-8.

Damian Lillard added 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 21 points for Portland (5-8), which rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a four-game skid in San Antonio.

“We’ve blown leads before, so we kind of know what to expect,” McCollum said. “Once you do it, you’ve got to stay grounded, focus on the little stuff.”

Before the game, Popovich said coaching could only go so far and it was up to each player to take responsibility for his own mistakes and performance during this losing streak. Popovich put that responsibility squarely on the Spurs when he was ejected early in the third quarter.

McCollum had 23 of his points in the first half.

Bryn Forbes added 17 points and DeRozan and Rudy Gay added 16 apiece.

 

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.