Denver coach Michael Malone is headed to the All-Star Game, where he will coach the team that will be picked by Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.
Malone clinched his first All-Star coaching nod Saturday night, when the Nuggets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-106. The All-Star coaching gigs were determined by which teams have the best records in each conference through Sunday, and Denver (37-15) has clinched a tiebreaker over Golden State (also 37-15) by having a better record against Western Conference opponents.
Denver star Nikola Jokic is also going to the game, as one of the reserves. The All-Star Game is Feb. 17 in Charlotte.
“Obviously any time you can be a part of the All-Star weekend, that’s an honor not only for yourself but for your entire coaching staff and for your organization,” Malone said. “And that’s why we feel tremendous pride that Nikola was voted an All-Star reserve this year. His first time and our first All-Star since Carmelo Anthony. So we take great pride in that.”
His players were especially proud after the game, dousing him with water in the locker room in Minnesota to celebrate.
“There was a very small part of me that wanted just to relax with my family and be a husband, be a father for a few days,” Malone said. “But any time you can represent, your team, your city, your fans at the All-Star game is an honor. ... Our staff deserves a ton of credit. They work their butts off. Very thankful for everything they do for me every single day.”
Malone will become the third Denver coach to work an All-Star Game: Larry Brown did in 1977, and George Karl did in 2010.
If Denver had lost to Minnesota, Golden State’s Steve Kerr would have been the All-Star coach for the third time in five years. He and his staff will get a few days off instead of going to Charlotte for the festivities — although Warriors stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will be heading there to play in the game.
A beaming, laughing and fist-pumping Kerr said, “Take care, guys, have fun in Charlotte,” as he left the postgame interview room after hearing the Denver score.
Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer already wrapped up the other spot, with the Bucks atop the Eastern Conference. He’ll coach the team that will be selected by the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.
James and Antetokounmpo will choose their teams on Thursday night.
James will pick first in the opening round, where the pool of eight other starters will be divided. Antetokounmpo gets the first pick of the second round, where he and James will choose from the 14 reserves. And James then gets the first pick of the third round, where he’ll decide between either Dwyane Wade or Dirk Nowitzki — the two special additions to the game by order of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.