Best of NBA: Bucks snap 4-game skid in Eric Bledsoe's debut

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Best of NBA: Bucks snap 4-game skid in Eric Bledsoe's debut

SAN ANTONIO -- Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points and 12 rebounds, and Milwaukee snapped a four-game skid with a 94-87 victory over San Antonio on Friday night in Eric Bledsoe's debut with the Bucks.

Bledsoe started in his first game with Milwaukee three days after being acquired in a trade with Phoenix. Bledsoe made his first attempt, a runner from 13 feet, and he finished with 13 points and seven assists on 6-for-15 shooting.

The Bucks won for the first time in November and snapped the Spurs' three-game winning streak.

Antetokounmpo and San Antonio forward LaMarcus Aldridge played to an early stalemate in a battle of the teams' star big men.

Aldridge muscled his way to the basket and scored 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Antetokounmpo elevated to the rim for a series of layups and dunks in shooting 12-for-24.

The Bucks' length and quickness, especially Antetokounmpo's, created havoc for the Spurs. San Antonio had 18 turnovers, two short of its season worst (see full recap).

Celtics overcome Irving injury for 11th straight win
BOSTON -- Jayson Tatum had 16 points, Shane Larkin added 16 off the bench and the Boston Celtics overcame an injury to Kyrie Irving and a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Charlotte Hornets 90-87 on Friday night.

Terry Rozier finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists, playing an increased role after Irving left the game in the first quarter after taking an elbow to the face. Jaylen Brown added 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Celtics extended their win streak to 11 games. Charlotte has lost four straight.

Celtics center Aron Baynes' elbow inadvertently struck Irving when Baynes was landing after a rebound attempt. Irving fell to the floor and was bleeding from the nose as he was escorted back to the locker room. Irving was ruled out for the rest of the game while he was monitored for possible concussion symptoms.

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 20 points and 11 assists.

Celtics trailed by 12 after three quarters, but opened the fourth on a 16-3 run and took the lead with 4:05 to play on a basket by Brown (see full recap).

George’s 42 points help Thunder snap skid
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Paul George scored 42 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Los Angeles Clippers 120-111 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

It was George's highest points total since joining the Thunder in an offseason trade. He made 13 of 22 shots and had nine rebounds and seven assists.

Russell Westbrook had 22 points and eight assists and Carmelo Anthony and Alex Abrines each scored 14 points in the Thunder's highest-scoring game of the season.

Lou Williams scored 35 points for the Clippers, and Blake Griffin had 17 points on 5-for-19 shooting. Los Angeles has lost four straight.

The Thunder led 63-55 at halftime behind 21 points by George and 17 by Westbrook. The Clippers shot 54 percent before the break, but they turned it over 11 times and were outscored 17-12 at the free throw line.

The Thunder continued their surge early in the third quarter. A 3-pointer by Anthony pushed Oklahoma City ahead by 15. The Thunder increased their lead to 20 before the Clippers chipped away late in the quarter to cut their deficit to 94-86 at the end of the period. A 3-pointer by Austin Rivers tied it at 105 midway through the fourth.

The Thunder held the Clippers to one field goal in the final three minutes (see full recap).

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

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Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell's 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs' 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah's 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Pacers use late run to edge Clippers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles' fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games (see full recap).

Jokic, Murray lift Nuggets over Wizards
WASHINGTON -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points to keep the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes alive by beating the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night.

The one-two punch of Jokic and Murray plus outside shooting from Will Barton allowed the Nuggets to withstand a third-quarter charge from the Wizards and maintain their sights on one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Denver went into the night two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz and shot 50 percent from 3-point territory to stay very much in the race with nine games remaining.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 24 points as it failed to gain ground in a competitive East where five teams are separated in the standings by four games (see full recap).

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

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Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

The Coach of the Year award in every sport typically comes down to: 

1. Which team overachieved the most?

2. Which team increased its win total the most?

3. Which team that fits both descriptions has a media-friendly coach?

Brett Brown is a deserving candidate this season. Not saying he'll win, or even that he stands out as the most deserving, but he's more than just "in the conversation."

Before getting to the other candidates and their likelihood of winning, let's acknowledge why Brown deserves serious consideration. 

We all knew the Sixers would be better this season. A second year of Joel Embiid and the first of Embiid and Ben Simmons. Finally, a good veteran shooter in JJ Redick.

But did you expect the Sixers to up their win total by 20 games? Currently, that's what they're on pace to do.

Did you expect them to pick up wins over the Rockets, Spurs, Celtics, Raptors, Cavs and Spurs again? Yeah, the Sixers have laid some eggs this season, but they have just as many high-quality wins.

Factor in the continued development of players like Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell and it should be clear that Brown has gotten a whole lot out of this team.

Now, on to the other candidates. The way I see it, there are six in addition to Brown: 

• Dwane Casey (Raptors)
• Nate McMillan (Pacers)
• Brad Stevens (Celtics)
• Mike D'Antoni (Rockets)
• Quin Snyder (Jazz)
• Doc Rivers (Clippers)

Just being realistic here, I think Casey wins it. The Raptors will be the 1-seed in the East and may even end up with the NBA's second-best record given the Warriors' injury report.

It goes beyond that, though. Toronto revamped its system to place less stress on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The result has been the emergence of the NBA's best bench. DeRozan is also now shooting threes, a big benefit to the Raps' spacing.

Lastly, Casey is a media darling. He's done the podcast circuit this season, and his long tenure as a personable NBA assistant will help him with voters.

Nate McMillan
McMillan's Pacers have overachieved, but that has so much more to do with Victor Oladipo than anything else. That's not meant to discredit McMillan, but the gap between expectations and reality for Oladipo is the reason the Pacers have surprised. Unless the Pacers finish several games ahead of the Sixers, I can't see McMillan finishing ahead of Brown.

Brad Stevens
The Celtics have faded of late, mostly because of mounting injuries to their backcourt. Stevens deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team 25-plus games over .500 with so many young pieces, but he won't finish ahead of Casey.

Doc Rivers
Rivers' case is dependent on whether or not the Clippers make the playoffs. The Clips, based on talent alone, have no business being 38-33 in a loaded West. They just play extremely hard and have been maybe the hungriest NBA team this season — so many contributions from guys on two-way contracts.

But LA is now 2½ games out of the 8-seed, so we can almost close the book on Rivers for COY.

Mike D'Antoni
The Rockets have been the best team this season and D'Antoni is a huge reason why. The Chris Paul addition is a bigger reason why, but the Rockets are where they are because of how Paul has been integrated into D'Antoni's system, and because Houston is finally focused on defense. D'Antoni should finish in the top three of the Coach of the Year voting, but it's hard to win when you add a veteran superstar in the offseason.

Predicted order of finish: Casey, Brown, Snyder, D'Antoni, Stevens, McMillan, Rivers