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Three things we learned Tuesday: Toronto makes its play, while Cleveland just wins games

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Most of the news around the NBA Tuesday happened off the court, but we’ve got your back there too, breaking down the big trade of the day. Plus giving you highlights. Just because we care.

1) The Raptors make a play, but Orlando gets win too with trade. Tuesday we had our first big trade — very possibly the only big trade — in the run-up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline: Serge Ibaka went to the Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick (the worse of the Raptors’ own pick or the Clippers’ pick, which the Raptors control).

The goal with any trade is a win-win scenario — and this comes pretty close to that.

For Orlando, they get a first round pick, which never hurts. In Ross, they get a guy that fits their needs and helps uncork the logjam up front. Ross was frustrating to Raptors fans because he never quite fit in or lived up to expectations, but for Orlando the fit is better — Ross is a swingman who could start at the three and allow Frank Vogel to slide Aaron Gordon back to his more natural spot at the four. Or, if Vogel insists on the Gordon at the three experiment, Ross could be a sixth man who would provide some scoring punch off the bench. Either way he fits better with what they want to do than Ibaka had.

Most of the talk about this trade, however, is what it means for Toronto: Will this snap them out of their recent funk? More importantly, where does this put them in the pecking order in the East? Are they contenders and a threat to Cleveland? I wouldn’t go that far (assuming the playoff Cavaliers are healthy), but this move does make them better. On offense, Ibaka is shooting 38.8 from three this season and hits his midrange jumpers, he can space the floor and give them a quality four next to Jonas Valanciunas (one who can defend and cover some of Valanciunas’ flaws), and once Patrick Patterson returns healthy it allows the Raptors to go a little smaller with Ibaka and Patterson up front — a lineup that seems better suited to taking on Cleveland. In the short term, it fills a real need until Patterson does get healthy. I’m not as high on this move as some because of Ibaka’s reduced athleticism and movement (he’s not the player he was three seasons ago) and what it will cost them to keep this summer (the Raptors are going deep into the tax). But this trade makes the Raptors better. It may push them back up to being the second best team in the East, it certainly makes a second-round matchup with Boston interesting (if the Raptors can climb past the Wizards and get the three seed). But I still don’t think Toronto threatens Cleveland if the Cavs have all their players healthy.

2) Cavaliers pick up win without Kevin Love. The news that Kevin Love is going to miss about 30 games following knee surgery (if he’s back on schedule) raised this question about the banged-up Cavaliers: Can they hold on to the top seed in the East? Not are they the best team in the East, when healthy they certainly are (even after the Ibaka trade by Toronto), but Boston is hot and entered Tuesday night just two games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the East.

Without Love, and for the next few weeks at least also no J.R. Smith, are the Cavaliers in danger of dropping out of that top spot? LeBron James says not to worry, he’s got this. And on Tuesday night against the Timberwolves he did. First off, LeBron did this to poor Andrew Wiggins.

LeBron also scored 25 points and led the Cavaliers to the 116-108 win. The Cavs are going to need a lot more nights like this from LeBron for the next six weeks — so much for tapering his minutes and getting him some rest.

3) DeMarcus Cousins 40-point, 12-board night leads Kings to win in Los Angeles. Kings ownership still is hell-bent on making a push for the playoffs this season — new building, new attitude, they want to snap a 10-year playoff drought. The Kings are just 1.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, and with a road win over the Lakers Tuesday Sacramento has won four in a row.

The reason they won? DeMarcus Cousins. Well, that and the Lakers deciding to single-cover Cousins most of the night, rather than daring any other King player to beat them. Cousins had 40 points, 16 of those in the fourth quarter, plus pulled down 12 boards, and looked every bit the best big man in the game. Lou Williams put up a fight for the Lakers scoring 29, but it wasn’t enough.

The Kings’ four-game win streak likely ends Wednesday against Golden State (the team the Kings are hoping to get the chance to get swept by face in the first round of the playoffs).

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.