Programming note: Warriors-Spurs coverage gets underway today at 5 PT on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
We’re in the homestretch of the NBA’s regular season and some things are coming into focus. The Miami Heat, unequivocally, are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, despite having lost James Harden, are still very much capable of returning to the NBA Finals … and this year possibly winning.
Whatever you do, don’t count out the Spurs. And as long as we’re at it, the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets are all factors, too, though to a lesser degree. But one thing that’s unclear is which coach has done the best job this season. Who deserves the NBA coach of the year award? With less than a month remaining in the regular season here’s one view of the top-five candidates:
Lionel Hollins, Memphis: Slowly but surely, Hollins’ reputation as a coach continues to grow. The Grizzlies are not a very deep team, and they traded their leading scorer, Rudy Gay, at the trading deadline.
Still, Hollins’ steady hand has helped guide the Grizzlies to a 45-21 record and possible homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Interestingly, that was exactly the Grizzlies’ record after last season’s shortened lockout season. So … that’s pretty good considering Memphis lost an important sixth man in O.J. Mayo and Gay, who had been a franchise cornerstone.
Mark Jackson, Warriors: Before the season began, conventional wisdom was that the Warriors could contend for a playoff spot … if center Andrew Bogut remained healthy.
Well, Bogut wasn’t healthy for most of the season, and yet Jackson has had his Warriors firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff race from Day 1.
He’s got to get credit for that.
David Lee, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson all improved under Jackson’s watch this season, and the second-year coach also has milked important minutes out of three rookies: Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green.
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: Every year the Spurs are expected to slip a little bit and every year they don’t. Popovich is a big reason the Spurs continue to maintain a standard of excellence, though credit, of course, must also be given to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
How do you really know if Popovich is coaching better this year than he did last year or back in 2008-09? Who knows?
Nobody, but when it comes to year in and year out consistency, you could never fail by giving the award to Popovich.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami: Let me tell you what’s not the case: That any coach could coach the Miami Heat to a title or to a near title. I couldn’t disagree more. There’s no way someone such as, say, Randy Wittman, could ever dream of having the same kind of success as Spoelstra.
What makes Spoelstra an elite coach is his combination of knowing the X’s and O’s and also having the temperament to coach superstars.
The Heat are on a 23-game winning streak, the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. That’s impressive enough. But if they knock on the door of the all-time record of 33, or tie it or surpass it, how could you not vote for Spoelstra as Coach of the Year?
Tom Thibodeau, Chicago: By virtually every measure, Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the league. Whether you go by his record, by what his peers say about him or by what he’s done this year without Derrick Rose, it’s tough to make an argument Thibodeau isn’t top shelf.
No team plays harder or more consistently at the defensive end than a Thibodeau-coached team. His attention to detail appears to border on the unhealthy, but hey, it works for him and the Bulls.
That the Bulls, without Rose this season, have been as much of a factor as they have been is a testament to how good of a coach Thibodeau is. Others in conversation: Doc Rivers, Boston; Frank Vogel, Indiana; George Karl, Denver; Kevin McHale, Houston.