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Popovich also steered the Spurs through what has typically been a death knell for them in recent years: injuries to their Big Three. Ginobili missed nearly half the season after breaking his hand, yet San Antonio still kept winning without their playmaking guard.

Popovich was aggressive as ever in keeping his stars healthy. He willingly surrendered 11-game winning streaks twice by playing without Duncan, Parker and Ginobili to avoid wear and tear. When he didn’t play them in Portland, a disgruntled fan chided Popovich in a letter for denying his family the chance to see three of the NBA’s biggest stars in person.

Popovich wrote the fan back. He understood, “but I have a different priority, a different responsibility. That rules for me.”

Duncan has said that kind of decision-making has made this Popovich’s best coaching season yet.

Popovich deflected the praise.

“Timmy just wants to get minutes,” Popovich said. “He’s just trying to ingratiate himself.”

Popovich has a record of 847-399 since 1996, making him the league’s longest tenured coach with the same team. He is one of only five coaches with four or more NBA championships, joining Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, John Kundla and Red Auerbach, whom the Coach of the Year award is named after.

A case also could’ve been made for Thibodeau to repeat as winner. The Bulls tied the Spurs with an NBA-best 50 wins even with reigning MVP Derrick Rose hampered by injuries all season.

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.