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PBT Awards: Coach of the Year

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Kurt Helin

1. Brad Stevens, Celtics

2. Dwane Casey, Raptors

3. Quin Snyder, Jazz

This was the most difficult decision in all of the individual awards, and it started with just trying to narrow it down to three. Gregg Popovich led a Spurs team essentially without Kawhi Leonard to 47 wins and the playoffs. Brett Brown has spent years building a culture in Philly and it paid off. Terry Stotts, Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan and Doc Rivers all deserve credit. For me, Brad Stevens taking a team that lost Gordon Hayward five minutes into the season, plus had to lean on a rookie (Jayson Tatum) and a second-year guy (Jaylen Brown), and they got the two seed and had the best defense in the NBA speaks to the amazing job he has done there. He just nudges out Casey and Snyder.

Dan Feldman

1. Dwane Casey, Raptors

2. Brad Stevens, Celtics

3. Quin Snyder, Jazz

The Raptors’ eight-game improvement from last season underrates the job Dwane Casey has done. Remember, they were in line to take a step back this season as their core aged and they shed depth. But Casey implemented a new and improved offensive system (even if he deserves some blame for the previous iso-heavy scheme), got the defense cranked up and developed and empowered a mostly young and definitely elite bench. Brad Stevens nearly overtook him with a strong closing kick as the Celtics’ injuries woes continued to pile up. Quin Snyder’s coaching chops were evident in how his players trusted him – trusted him when Gordon Hayward left for (seemingly) greener pastures, trusted him when he handed the keys to the offense to rookie Donovan Mitchell, trusted him when the team dug a big hole early, trusted him when he demanded unselfishness. Not much separated the three coaches on my ballot and three others who fell just short. Getting James Harden and Chris Paul to mesh isn’t as easy as Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made it look. Doc Rivers did his best coaching work since the Clippers hired him. Gregg Popovich kept Spurs humming, especially defensively, without Kawhi Leonard.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Mike D’Antoni, Rockets

2. Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers

3. Dwane Casey, Raptors

Mike D’Antoni did the impossible. He melded two players that had usage rates of 31% or more last season, then turned them into a one-two punch that essentially made it so Houston has a Hall of Fame point guard on the floor for 48 minutes a night. Plus the Rockets jumped 12 spots in defensive rating year-over-year. D’Antoni is one of the most important coaches in NBA history — first for the SSOL Suns and now in Houston — and he deserves it. Stotts gets second for realizing and openly, sternly motivating Jusuf Nurkic, one of the key cogs to that 13-game winning streak. Casey goes third for making the Raptors quietly scary for the first time, well, ever.

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).