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Sixers vs Hawks Preview: Pop's Coaching Tree

While one team is atop the Eastern Conference as the other is valiantly trying to claw out of the conference's cellar, the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers meet Tuesday as two peaking teams coached by two Gregg Popovich disciples.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs were honored at the White House on Monday.

"I was considering having the Vice President cover these remarks so I could stay fresh for the State of the Union," President Obama said. "Taking an example off Pop who sits his stars sometimes, but I decided I actually wanted to meet them."

Resting players, limiting his entire team's minutes per game to less than 30 for an entire season and organizing endless off-ball movement are solely a few examples of the coaching greatness Gregg Popovich has brought to the NBA and the sidelines in San Antonio. He's guided the Spurs to five NBA championships since taking over the reins in 1996. With all of San Antonio's perennial success, it's amazing to think this week was only the first time the Spurs have visited the White House while Barack Obama has held office.

Pop's a coaching genius, installing what many consider to be the most aesthetically pleasing offensive scheme in all of professional basketball. Yet his most profound impact on the NBA coaching landscape might be his proteges scattered all across the league. There are currently seven NBA head coaches that have spent at least a year playing for Popovich or working under him as an assistant. Meanwhile, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro and Mike D'Antoni have also held head coaching positions in the NBA after spending time alongside Pop.

That brings our grand total of NBA head coaches that have studied under Pop to nine. NINE.

Which brings us to tonight's Sixers-Hawks game, where Brett Brown will coach against a fellow former Spurs assistant coach, Mike Budenholzer.

Both coaches left San Antonio in the summer of 2013 following the Spurs' collapse against Miami. Both experienced growing pains during their first season — you know what happened in Philly, meanwhile Budenholzer's Hawks went just 16-24 in 2014 after starting the season off 22-20 before the new year.

Flash forward to tonight and Atlanta enters the Wells Fargo Center boasting an eight-game winning streak with a four-game lead over Toronto, Washington and Chicago for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Sixers? Brown's club is riding a two-game winning streak of its own and has gone 4-6 over its last 10 games after starting the season 3-23.

It seems as though both teams are thriving as each coach has been able to utilize a roster that fits ideally to his scheme.

Budenholzer wants to run a fast-paced offense with an incredible amount of spacing thanks to running mostly lineups that consist of five players capable of knocking down three-pointers. Paul Millsap, who looks poised to make a second-straight trip to the All-Star game, has been an enormous key to Atlanta's success while Jeff Teague has blossomed into an All-Star caliber point guard as well.

Brown has turned a motley crew of long, freakishly athletic youngsters into a defensive juggernaut. Ok, the Sixers only rank 15th in defensive efficiency for the season, but they did rank seventh in defensive efficiency in the month of December.

NBA case studies don't result in conclusions based off of the transitive property. Just because Budenholzer is a Popovich disciple and has coached the Hawks to the top seed in the East doesn't necessarily mean that Brett Brown, because he's also a Popovich disciple, will one day lead the Sixers to the top seed in the East. However, Budenholzer's success with an ample roster full of high-caliber players has to make Sixers fans hopeful for Brown's future in Philly once Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, two 2015 first round picks and others join Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.

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