Hard to believe, but Pop was once unwanted - by Spurs fans
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By TIM REYNOLDS
Gregg Popovich was the coach nobody wanted.
It's hard to fathom now, after five NBA championships as coach of the San Antonio Spurs and with him now alone in fifth place on the league's all-time victory list. But it's true - Popovich's decision to fire Bob Hill and make himself coach and general manager in December 1996 was horribly received at first, leaving even some of his own players baffled.
The San Antonio Express-News took a poll after that season and found that 92 percent of Spurs fans wanted Popovich fired.
As Popovich would suggest now (on politics, one of his favorite topics), sometimes voters get it wrong.
"The pressure is always there for any coach," Popovich said. "You've got to get the job done. If you don't, you're not there. If you do get it done, you get to stay."
He said those words in 1997. He was right.
Popovich now has 1,176 wins. He's 34 away from No. 4 Pat Riley, 45 shy of No. 3 Jerry Sloan, and should catch both next season. He would need 156 to catch No. 2 Lenny Wilkens, and 159 to match No. 1 Don Nelson's record of 1,335.
"Doesn't mean anything, except I've had good players and I've been coaching for eons," Popovich said.
NEW KING OF NY
Indiana's Lance Stephenson is about to lose a record.
Stephenson is the all-time leading scorer in New York high school basketball, with 2,946 points - tops in a state that produced Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, Christian Laettner, Kenny Anderson and so many others.
Joseph Girard III of Glens Falls High School - only a junior - is on pace to pass Stephenson later this month. JG3, as he's known, has 2,592 career points and is averaging 48.3 per game this season. In December he broke the school record that was held by Jimmer Fredette, who played with four NBA teams over five seasons and is now scoring at will in China.
"I might definitely give him some props," said Stephenson, who set the mark in 2009. "It was tough scoring all those points and helping my team win, and he's about to do it as a junior. That's incredible."
Stephenson was a high school star at Abraham Lincoln, leading his team to four consecutive New York City championships and a pair of state Federation titles. He been keeping up with Girard's scoring on social media and hopes the young star also gets some state rings. (Girard, a quarterback who's getting both FBS interest as well as big-time Division I basketball wooing, won a state title in football in 2016.)
"I've been seeing this kid, he's been doing really good," Stephenson said. "I'll give him the utmost respect."
Girard is No. 9 on the state all-time list now, and could be No. 6 by week's end.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Some games to keep an eye on over the coming seven days:
- Golden State at Houston, Thursday: A matchup of the two best teams in the West, though a bummer since James Harden is out at least two weeks.
- Utah at Miami, Sunday: After this, the Heat will play 11 of their next 14 games on the road. Utah scored a season-low 74 versus Miami in November.
- Milwaukee at Indiana, Monday: Pacers started 4-1 in December, but finished the month 7-8. This'll be the second meeting of these teams in six days.
LeBron James turned 33 last week. Here's an alarming stat: 93 percent of the players in the league are younger than he is.
Out of the 476 players who appeared in at least one NBA game this season, only 34 are older than James. And of those, a mere 11 are starters.
But it also bears noting that James is still just the fifth-oldest player on Cleveland's roster, behind Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Dwyane Wade and Channing Frye. And as the season nears the midway mark, James is looking good as ever.
"I'm fresh," James told Dennis Scott during NBA TV's Players Only broadcast after Cleveland's win over Portland on Tuesday night. "I've always tried to stay fresh throughout the course of the game. Our bench has been very dynamic this year."
James will likely reach 30,000 points for his career later this month.
Durant is currently at 19,950 points, needing 50 (in the next four weeks or so) to bump Kobe Bryant down to the third-youngest spot on that list.
Golden State plays at Dallas on Wednesday and in Houston on Thursday - meaning there's a great chance Durant hits the milestone in Texas, where he attended college.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers: Tied his career-reserve-high with 40 points in the Clippers' 106-98 win over Charlotte on Dec. 31.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed.
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Updated January 3, 2018