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NBA Three Things to Know: Nets beat Cavaliers, messing up that first-round pick

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Wednesday night was the Night of the Living upsets — we’re not even going to get to Dallas handing Memphis its first loss, or the Suns going 2-0 since firing Watson/banishing Eric Bledsoe.

1) Cavaliers not named LeBron James take night off, fall to Nets. When the Cavaliers shipped out Kyrie Irving to Boston late in the summer, the most valuable thing they got back was the Brooklyn Nets unprotected 2018 first-round pick — the Nets were going to be bad, and this pick would help get the team grab young talent to go around LeBron/jumpstart the rebuilding process.

The Nets made that pick a little less valuable Wednesday — Brooklyn upset Cleveland 112-107.

This kind of loss has been a problem for the Cavaliers for a couple of regular seasons now — they take nights off (occasionally weeks off). Especially against teams they think are inferior, such as the Nets, who were without D’Angelo Russell. LeBron was brilliant — 29 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds — but he had eight turnovers, Kevin Love added six, and as a team Cleveland turned the ball over on one-in-five trips down the court. Kyle Korver pitched in 22 points off the bench, but the Cavaliers were not sharp on offense.

Brooklyn is 3-2 to start the season, and they are playing loose and free. They jacked up 46 threes (hitting 17, 37 percent), and they are playing so loose that with the game on the line Spencer Dinwiddie is willing to shoot from Stephen Curry range (and it worked).

We know the Nets aren’t going to rack up a lot of wins this season, but the way they are playing they will get more than some people expected. And certainly more than the Cavaliers’ front office wants.

2) Eric Gordon saves Rockets from upset with buzzer-beating game-winning three to knock off Sixers. Philadelphia is a young team looking for a confidence-boosting signature win — and they thought they had it Wednesday. The Sixers were up two with 6.4 seconds left and a chance to knock off the Houston Rockets.

But 6.4 seconds can be an eternity in the NBA.

The Rockets did not surprise anyone, they inbounded the ball to Ryan Anderson, who quickly handed it off to James Harden, who was isolated on Robert Covington. Harden drove and Covington didn’t give him much space, pushing Harden drove down the left side of the court. Joel Embiid rotated over and took away a lane, so Harden kicked it to the corner to a waiting Eric Gordon. The Rockets had struggled from three all night, and had hit just 25 percent on corner threes all game. Embiid did a good job closing out, forcing Gordon to put the ball on the floor and take a step right to create a little space.

That’s all he needed.

There are no moral victories for a team with playoff aspirations, but for the Sixers they can learn from these hard losses. They are just getting tired of the lessons.

3) Wizards don’t respect Lakers, pay the price with a loss. Earlier in the day, John Wall said he would show “no mercy” to Lonzo Ball after more comments from LaVar. Instead, he showed little interest. None of the Wizards did.

“We didn’t respect them from the get-go,” Bradley Beal said after the game. “We thought it was going to be easy, and that we could just come out here and beat them. These guys are professionals just as well as we are.”

Washington led by 10 in the second quarter, and by six with less than two minutes left, but in a sloppy game — Wall had 18 points on 22 shots, Ball has 6 points on 11 shots, and they summed up the inefficiency of both teams — it was an ugly but gritty play by Brandon Ingram that forced OT.

The Wizards’ struggles from three — not taking enough of them, not making them when they do — continued in this game as the team went 6-of-26 from deep. The Lakers were not shooting it better (7-of-30) but got a timely three in overtime from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who finished with 15 points and had a strong game. Down the stretch in overtime Lakers’ coach Luke Walton went young and small (no Brook Lopez, it was Julius Randle at center) and it worked — it was a confidence-boosting win.”

What do the Wizards need to do?

“Play defense,” Wall said.

“We play defensive basketball like we are supposed to read each other’s minds, and when you do that you get beat on switches,” coach Scott Brooks said. “You have to communicate and that has been slipping the last couple of games, and it showed tonight. We switched sometimes and the other player didn’t know we were switching.”

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.