Terry Stotts got a nice 56th birthday present from his Trail Blazers Monday night -- a 102-91 victory over the New York Knicks at the Moda Center.
I'm proposing a belated gift from the NBA next week -- the Western Conference coach of the month award.
In six seasons as a head coach in Milwaukee, Atlanta and Portland, Stotts has never won a monthly conference coaching award. It's time for an addition to the trophy case at his Lake Oswego home.
The Blazers are 13-2, matching the most wins in November in franchise history. Even if they lose their final game of the month Wednesday night at Phoenix, Stotts should be a shoo-in.
"I'm definitely all for that," said LaMarcus Aldridge, who earlier in the day was named the West's player of the week. "He deserves it for where we've come from to now."
The Blazers were 33-49 in Stotts' first go-around as head coach last season, losing their final 13 games after staying in the playoff race until the final month.
Stotts was determined his team was going to do it better this season, particularly at the defensive end.
"Since day one of training camp, he said this year is going to be different," forward Nicolas Batum said. "He said, 'Last year was last year, but this year I'm going to be hard on you. I don't care about the contracts. If you deserve to play, you're going to be on the court.' "
Aldridge and Damian Lillard noticed a change, too.
"He came in with new ways to defend," Lillard said. "It made it easier on us, and it works better.
"When we all got to training camp, he pushed us hard. He got on guys more than he did last year. He wanted the best for the team, and that's what we all want. We want to be successful and win games. Once we saw he didn't care if we liked it or not, he pushed us, and right then we were on the same page."
"He has instilled some things that changed our defensive philosophies that have made a difference," Aldridge said. "He has given everybody the confidence and freedom to play like we have. Look at what Wes (Matthews) and Nic have done under him."
Matthews is off to an all-star-caliber start to the season, averaging 17.3 points, shooting .556 from the field and .506 from 3-point range and defending with vigor. Batum is one of the top triple-threat players in the NBA, averaging 14.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
"Terry is encouraging us to play basketball, play together, move the ball," Matthews said. "We're finding our identity and trusting each other. We know what everybody's going to bring to the table.
It's been another year of us getting a better chemistry."
The players enjoy playing for Stotts. The descriptive words you hear are "players' coach" and "communicative" and "gives us freedom."
"The No. 1 thing nowadays is communication," said veteran forward Dorell Wright, playing on his fourth NBA team and for his sixth NBA head coach. "When a coach is talking to you, letting you know different scenarios, it helps a lot. The old-school way of 'I don't have to explain nuthin' to you' can be hard to deal with. When a coach coaches like Terry does, he gains a lot of respect from the players. When it's time to go out there and play for him, guys are going to leave it on the court."
"I like how he is open with the players," seconded Lillard. "If he has something that involves me, he'll call me to the side and say, 'Damian, how do you feel about this?' And we'll discuss it. I understand it's ultimately his decision, but just the fact that he's willing to talk to me about it, that makes me respect him more."
Added Batum: "He give us some freedom, but he imposes his will at the same time. He lets Damian play, but reels him in a little bit, too. Wes and I can do what we want most of the time, but he has the ultimate control over everything."
Center Robin Lopez noted that Stotts is "pretty hands-on. He likes to be motivational. He always has a lot of quotes."
(I'm hoping Stotts will share some of those inspirational messages with the media at some point. Confucius? Plato? Mark Twain? Anthony Robbins?)
Lopez said during the second half of Monday's game, as the Knicks closed a 22-point deficit to seven, "we let off the gas pedal a little bit. He stayed on top of us and kept us focused. He's doing a really good job of keeping us grounded and consistent."
Aldridge struggled a bit to find the right relationship with Stotts last year after playing his first six NBA seasons for Nate McMillan.
"They are so dramatically different," Aldridge said. "I had already earned Nate's trust. He knew what I could do. He gave me the ball wherever I wanted it. We had a great understanding. I had to earn Terry's trust last year. This year, he's given me more trust and believed in me more."
Wright extended his plaudits to Portland assistants Jay Triano, Kim Hughes, Dale Osbourne, David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts. Wright said he told general manager Neil Olshey soon after he arrived how much he thought of the group.
"We have a great staff," Wright said. "I've never been around so many coaches who wanted to know your opinion and looks on the game. It's nice to express your feelings and tell coaches what you see out there.
"There aren't too many head coaches who let their assistants do as much as ours do. Some head coaches want to do everything. They don't give their assistants leeway. (Stotts) is letting them do their thing."
Stotts' birthday celebration was rather quiet. He and wife Jan went to dinner Sunday night, then to lunch on Monday, "which is not something we usually do," he said.
After Monday night's game, "I'll go home, have a glass of wine and we'll watch a show we have DVRed," Stotts said.
A coach of the month award would be icing on the cake.
NOTES: Batum led the way with 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Blazers, who extended their win streak to 11 games. That is tied for the fourth-best in franchise history, trailing only 1991 (16 games), 2007 (13) and 2002 (12). Lillard contributed 23 points and six assists, Aldridge had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Matthews added 17 points and six rebounds for Portland. Carmelo Anthony bombed in 34 points with 15 rebounds for the Knicks (3-10), who lost for the sixth straight time. "When you lose six in a row, you keep talking about effort," Knicks guard J.R. Smith said. "You can't coach effort, you can't teach effort -- that's just the game. If we don't come out and play hard, we're going to keep losing. If we keep losing, you know, make moves." Portland won the game at the foul line, making 19 of 22 to New York's 9 of 14. The Blazers were without sixth man Mo Williams, serving a one-game suspension for his involvement in a fracas during the Trail Blazers' 113-101 at Golden State Saturday night. In addition, Aldridge was fined $45,000, and Matthews $20,000 for their involvement in the incident.
New York was minus injured starters Raymond Felton (hip) and Tyson Chandler (leg). Knicks coach Mike Woodson, speaking pregame on the Blazers: "Their starting unit is as good as any in the league." Stotts and Woodson were teammates on the 1976 Indiana team that played Kentucky in the annual high school series. "I was at Bloomington High North, he was at Broad Ripple High (in Indianapolis)," Stotts said. "He was the star; I played a minute." Said Woodson: "Terry was a good player. Any time you make the Indiana all-star team, you have to be pretty good. Our team was loaded with a lot of talent, but we weren't expected to win the series against Kentucky, with Darrell Griffith and that group. But we won both games."