(AP) — Michael Malone might coach Nikola Jokic in the All-Star Game. He might get the rare chance to coach against him, too.
Malone and the staff of the Denver Nuggets have clinched their trip to Salt Lake City for All-Star weekend. Malone will coach Team LeBron — the team that will be drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James — in the Feb. 19 matchup.
Boston interim coach Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis, the team that will be drafted by Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Malone and the Nuggets’ staff were locked into the All-Star trip Wednesday night when Portland defeated Memphis. That ensured that Denver will have the top spot in the Western Conference when play ends on Sunday; the All-Star coaches are based off which teams have the best record in each conference two weeks before the game.
“I say it every year and I told our players this. There’s some teams that are dying for the All-Star break and can’t wait to go to Cancun,” Malone said. “No, we are keeping our eyes on the prize and we have to make sure we play all the way to the break.”
No guarantee Malone will coach Jokic
If Malone had plans to go to Cancun or anyplace else over the break, he’ll be leaving from Salt Lake City.
Jokic, the Nuggets’ center and two-time reigning NBA MVP — and certainly a candidate to make it three in a row — is the only Denver player who’ll start. The Nuggets may have more players selected Thursday when the NBA announces the seven Eastern Conference and seven Western Conference players that will be reserves.
But there’s no guarantee Malone will coach Jokic. That’s up to James and Antetokounmpo; one of them will draft Jokic, and if it’s James, he’ll be with Malone for the game.
It’s the second time Malone will have the All-Star coaching job. He coached Team LeBron over Team Giannis in the 2019 game at Charlotte, 178-164.
He’s one of three coaches to get to the All-Star Game as coach of the Nuggets. Larry Brown had the job in 1977 and George Karl had it in 2010.