NBA begins its second season this weekend

Five teams still in the hunt for three playoff spots

SOECharlesHallmansquareThree Black coaches are assured to coach their teams later this week as the NBA playoffs begin: Jason Kidd (Milwaukee), Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers) and Dwane Casey (Toronto).

“No matter what our record says, we got to have a defensive approach and identity, and focus each and every night,” stated Casey, whose Raptors won the Atlantic Division for the second consecutive season and will play Milwaukee Washington in the first round.

Dwane Casey
Dwane Casey

Casey became Toronto coach in 2011 just days after he helped Dallas to the 2011 NBA championship as an assistant coach. In 19 of the past 20 NBA seasons he has been a head coach (Minnesota 2005-07, fired though the Wolves were in playoff contention with a .500 record at the time), associate head coach (Seattle, 2000-05), and assistant coach (a total of 14 seasons for Seattle and Dallas).

He’s mostly known for his defensive acumen — Casey was in charge of the Mavericks’ defense that was ranked top 10 in the league in lowest points allowed, and the Raptors last season finished 6th in points allowed and 10th in opponent field goal percentage. Nevertheless, “I’m a basketball coach,” he quickly pointed out.

“People say we couldn’t coach offense. [Toronto averages over 104 points a game.] They say we couldn’t coach defense. [Casey took over a Toronto club ranked near the bottom in virtually every defensive category, changed the culture, and finished as the NBA’s season leader for greatest defensive improvement in 2011-12.] I want balance. I want both sides to be balanced, because that is conducive to winning.”

At press time, with the regular season ending on Wednesday, three playoff spots still were available and five teams still in the hunt.

New Orleans, who’s vying for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, were scheduled to play San Antonio Wednesday, and Oklahoma City is scheduled to play Minnesota Wednesday. If both the Pelicans and the Thunder are still tied, New Orleans wins the tiebreaker because of their 3-1 season record against OKC.

“We get to play the [defending] champs on our home floor,” noted New Orleans Coach Monty Williams after his team’s win Monday at Minnesota. If successful, Williams will be the fourth Black coach to guide his club to this year’s post-season.

He was named the club’s head coach in 2010 after five previous seasons as an assistant coach for Portland. He also was on the San Antonio coaching staff as an intern when the Spurs won the 2005 NBA crown.

“The last month and a half for us have been like a playoff,” he told reporters Monday night. “Two weeks ago, we were three games out and everybody had counted us out.”

A former first-round pick (New York, 1994), Williams played nine seasons with five clubs before chronic knee problems forced him to retire from playing in 2003. “I played for Pat Riley and sat next to Patrick Ewing, Derek Harper, Charles Oakley and Herb Williams,” recalled Williams. “If you messed up, you got cussed out and taken out of the game.

“I went on after that and played with Avery Johnson and David Robinson — the same thing happened but a different language. My second year coaching and I’m with Pop [San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich], and we won a championship.

“You try to give your guys some of that,” said Williams. But when asked if he can rely on that experience, especially in sharing it with his players, the coach told the MSR, “I think it does help, but I am not playing. All I can do is help the guys as best I can as a coach to prepare and put them through the paces.”

Finally, the NBA’s second season begins this weekend, and all records and seeding has little bearing on the final result. “Anybody can beat anybody in this league,” concluded Casey.

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Edited 4/16/2015 10:30 am