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Three things we learned Monday: I’d like to order one Cavs vs. Wizards playoff series, please

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While you were trying to come up with clever ways to get out of traffic tickets, the Wizards and Cavaliers were playing maybe the game of the year, so we have the takeaways from that and more around the NBA Monday.

1) If that’s what it’s going to look like, I would like to order a Cavaliers vs. Wizards playoff series. It was something I discussed during a recent PBT Podcast talking Wizards: Washington had moved up with Boston and Toronto into the discussion of who is the second best team in the East. Monday night on a nationally televised game, the Wizards got the chance to test themselves against the best.

Cleveland got the 140-135 win thanks to a ridiculous LeBron James shot to force overtime then Kyrie Irving taking over in the extra period. But the Wizards got respect. And if this is what a playoff series between these teams would look like, bring it on. I’ll take five, six, seven games of this.

The Cavs got the win in large part because LeBron was vintage and brilliant, with 32 points and a career-high 17 assists. But all anyone is going to talk about is this shot-of-the-year candidate to force OT — it starts with a brilliant pass from the best outlet passer in the game in Kevin Love (who finished with 39 points of his own), then LeBron called bank.

Forget just that shot, the entire end of regulation and highlights of overtime are worth watching.

For the Cavs, they went on the road against a quality opponent that had won 17 in a row on their home court and got the win. This team has stumbled with LeBron off the floor at times this season, but after he had fouled out in the overtime Kyrie Irving took over scoring 11 of his 23 points, and that got them the win. Also, Love was fantastic punishing the Wizards inside when Washington tried to go small. Cleveland is still the bar to clear, the best team in the East. Although, adding another playmaker wouldn’t hurt.

The Wizards had to like what they saw: John Wall getting into the lane, breaking down the Cavs defense and dishing a dozen assists (plus scoring 22); Bradley Beal scoring 41 and torching Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye for stretches; Otto Porter playing well in big moments and scoring 25; Markieff Morris making big plays;Kelly Oubre playing well off the bench. The Wizards looked legit and by all reports were brimming with confidence after the game despite the loss.

The playoffs in the East may not just be a coronation for the Cavaliers, they are going to have to earn it.

2) Trade rumors update. From now through the trade deadline this will be a semi-regular feature of Three Things, breaking down all the trade rumors out there.

LeBron rips report he pushed trade Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love rumors refuse to die, although most of the talking comes out of New York. Including the latest that none other than LeBron was pushing for the deal, something he vehemently denied after Love dropped 39 on the Wizards. I’m not going to pretend to know what LeBron is thinking, and no doubt he’d love to play alongside his friend Carmelo, but he’s too smart to think this trade is a good idea. This site’s own Dan Feldman and I debated whether adding Anthony for Love would improve the Cavs matchup with the Warriors this season — Dan thinks it does because ‘Melo matches up better against Andre Iguodala, I disagree — but while that is up for debate what isn’t is that Love is better against 28 other teams now, and will be better next season than age 33 and starting to decline, Anthony. Cavs management knows this, and this deal is dead. Not happening. It doesn’t mean the rumors will die, it just means be a smart media consumer and know that the basic facts of the deal are not happening. The Cavs will almost certainly add another playmaker one way or another before the deadline, but more Shelvin Mack than ‘Melo.

Pelicans talking trades for a big man, with Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor being the frontrunner. The Pelicans are better with Anthony Davis at the center spot, but he’s not built to bang down low in that role for 40 minutes a night. They need to use him in that role sort of the way the Warriors do with Draymond Green at center for the death lineup — 15 minutes a night or so. Finding the right big to play next to Davis the rest of the game has been a challenge, so now the Pelicans are thinking offense and the Sixers’ Okafor. No doubt Okafor can score inside, and the idea is Davis covers his defensive deficiencies. Maybe. I think the price of Alexis Ajinca and a 2018 first-round pick is fair, depending on the protections on that pick (New Orleans should say at least top 10, maybe lottery). But I think the Pelicans have far bigger questions out on the perimeter — like will they pay big to keep Jrue Holiday this summer? — than inside. The Pelicans have misfired in free agency — Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway — and they need more than one trade, they need a series of hits.

Kings GM Vlade Divac makes it clear: Kings have no intention of trading DeMarcus Cousins. Much like the ‘Melo to the Cavaliers trade rumors, DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors will not die despite the fact nobody with the team, close to the team, or on other teams thinks it’s going to happen. GM Vlade Divac said it again Monday. But it’s simpler than that: Owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to trade Cousins, and owners get their way. Trade Cousins and the Kings would be starting a multi-year rebuild process where the goal would be to get a player as good as Cousins — for a smaller market franchise like this, you don’t just move the star you have. This summer the Kings are going to offer Cousins a designated player max extension (the same one the Warriors will offer Stephen Curry) and Cousins will sign it. And Cousins will spend a few more years in Sacramento.

3) So is this rock bottom for the Knicks? Lakers coach Luke Walton said it’s time to bench his overpaid veterans — Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov — and play his inconsistent young stars such as Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle more. Time to think development over wins. But then that struggling young Lakers lineup goes out and just thrashes the Knicks. New York was down 27 in the second quarter, fans were booing the hometown Knicks throughout the game, and while they won garbage time late to only lose by 14, the game was never that close. After the game the Knicks were hard on themselves. As they should have been.

Trading Anthony for spare parts — which is all teams like the Clippers and Cavaliers are offering at the deadline — is not the answer for Phil Jackson. There is no simple answer, other than this summer stop going for the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah quick fixes and build a team around Kristaps Porzingis, filled with guys more on his career arc. Jackson has a lot of work to do on this team over the summer.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.