Amir Johnson

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Young, athletic Bucks make Cavaliers look step slow in loss


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.

1) Milwaukee is young, long, athletic, and for a night that made the Cavaliers look a step slow in loss. The Milwaukee Bucks had lost three in a row coming into Tuesday night because their already not-that-good defense had been abysmal. That didn’t really change Tuesday against Cleveland, the Cavs had an offensive rating of 118.9 for the game. That is a win most nights.

Not this time, not against a Milwaukee team who was just faster and more athletic than the Cavaliers all night.

Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 27 points with 14 rebounds, the Bucks ran past the Celtics starting in the middle of the second quarter — on the night, Milwaukee had 24 fast break points to Cleveland’s three. The Bucks led by as many as 20 and seemed in control, until a 19-0 by the Cavaliers bench (with Jae Crowder as the lone starter) made it a game again. That meant LeBron James was back in and he had nine points in the final minutes of the game, he was an absolute force again on his way to 39 points on the night.

It was a back-and-forth ending, but a Tony Snell three (thanks to Eric Bledsoe pushing the pace) had the Bucks up two — more transition points the Bucks got in part due to Dwyane Wade not getting back fast enough to really contest. However, after a couple missed threes, it looked like the Cavaliers would have one more chance when LeBron stole the ball from Antetokounmpo — but the athleticism, speed, and long arms of the Greek Freak once again changed the game and sealed the win.

I did love that on their last chance, LeBron went playground inbounding the ball off the turned Antetokounmpo’s back so he could get it himself. It just wasn’t enough.

It’s one game in December, the Cavaliers have only lost two games in their last 20, and haven’t gotten Isaiah Thomas back yet (he’s got a G-League stint coming up first). Plus, there is no way I’d pick the Bucks over the Cavaliers in a seven-game series… but still, this was the kind of game that feels like it foreshadows things to come. The Cavaliers are older and slower than their rising challengers in the East, how many more years can they hold them off? And what does LeBron think about his future after games like this?

2) Kings beat Sixers, a reminder that when Joel Embiid sits the Sixers aren’t near the same team. When Joel Embiid is on the court this season, the Sixers have played like the equivalent of a 57 win team, but when he has sat they have played like a 23-win team. He means that much to them. So when Embiid sat out Tuesday night due to back tightness (the nearly 50 minutes he played against the Thunder had something to do with that), a game against the Kings went from what should have been an easy win to a real battle.

Philly still led by 16 in the third quarter and 10 at the start of the fourth, but couldn’t hold off the Kings, who got 10 points out of Buddy Hield in the fourth (and 24 for the night). Again it was turnovers that did in the Sixers when they blew the lead — Philly turned the ball over on 20.3 percent of their possessions in this game, one in five trips down the court. The Sixers lead the league in turnover percentage, and it’s not close. Simmons and Embiid’s replacement as a starter, Amir Johnson, were the big culprits. Mix the turnovers with inconsistent defense and a team that makes poor shot decisions down the stretch, and you get a loss. This time it was 101-95 to the Kings. The Sixers have now lost 7-of-8.

Also, with Embiid not patrolling the paint, the Sixers had no answer for Zach Randolph, and the old-school big man went off for 27.

3) The Wizards got an easy win because New Orleans had no answers for John Wall and Bradley Beal. When Washington is focused and brings its “A” game, they have one of the top backcourts in the NBA in Wall and Beal. That focus has been wildly inconsistent this season — if Washington wants to know why it’s not considered a threat to the top of the East it starts there — but those two brought it on Tuesday night.

And the Pelicans had no answers. Wall and Beal combined for 44 points and 14 assists, and that overwhelmed New Orleans (despite 63 points combined from Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins). Check out the Washington backcourt’s highlights from the 116-106 win.

Reports: Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas traded to Brooklyn for Trevor Booker

Getty Images

Jahlil Okafor is going to get his chance to prove he can contribute in the NBA.

For their trouble, Philadelphia is going to get some veteran depth up front.

The Sixers are sending Okafor and shooting guard Nik Stauskas, plus a second-round pick, to Brooklyn for veteran power forward — and impressive dunker — Trevor Booker, a story broken by Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Okafor has been on the trade block for more than a year, the Sixers finally found a deal they like. This was a good deal for both teams.

It’s good that Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft (one spot ahead of Kristaps Porzingis) who has battled injuries and an NBA game that has moved away from his skill set. Okafor is a project, he doesn’t have much shooting range nor can he defend very well (in space or at the rim). He plays below the rim. He may not be the star that he was projected to be, but in Brooklyn Okafor will get a chance to show he can get buckets around the rim and out of the post, and that he has a role in the league. There is potential for him in an Al Jefferson/Zach Randolph kind of role (likely off the bench).

Brooklyn also gets a shooter in Stauskas who was out of the rotation in Philly (with J.J Redick and Timothe Luwawu getting run ahead of him). The Nets are rebuilding, and taking a flier on a couple of former first-round pick is the kind of gamble they should be taking. The Nets now have two of the top three picks from the 2015 draft, they got D'Angelo Russell from the Lakers last summer.

Philadelphia is eyeing the playoffs, and Booker gives them a solid big man off the bench that they can pair with Amir Johnson and/or Richaun Holmes. Booker is a glue guy who plays with energy every night — exactly the kind of veteran the Sixers have tried to surround their young core with. The Sixers get better in the short term with this move.

Report: Jahlil Okafor trade could be based on second-round picks

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Jahlil Okafor wants the 76ers to trade him or buy him out.

76ers president Bryan Colangelo, as relayed by Okafor himself, refuses a buyout. But a trade? That would work for Philadelphia, which just declined Okafor’s fourth-year option.

What do the 76ers want?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Colangelo has remained determined to find an Okafor trade that will bring the Sixers back an asset, but the Sixers ultimate deal point could be centered on future second-round draft picks, league sources told ESPN.

Okafor reportedly believes the 76ers have passed on viable trades, and if they’re waiting for second-rounders – plural – they probably have. At this point, I’d take the best second-rounder I could get for Okafor, who’s definitely leaving Philadelphia this summer in unrestricted free agency if not traded first. And it’s not as if Okafor – behind Joel Embiid, Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes (once he gets healthy) in the rotation – will contribute much before then.

Okafor’s flaws – defense, floor-spacing – remain troubling. His trade value was low, even as the 76ers shopped him for more than a year. It got even lower when they declined his option for next season.

If Philadelphia can get a pick for Okafor, it’s time to do it.

(If the 76ers can’t get a pick for Okafor, they should hold him at least through the trade deadline in the hopes a suitable offer emerges. That might grate Okafor, but Philadelphia shouldn’t just dump a potentially positive asset in a buyout.)

Report: Jahlil Okafor believes 76ers have passed on viable trades, might push for buyout

Elsa/Getty Images

The 76ers declined Jahlil Okafor‘s team option for 2018-19, but that doesn’t end this saga. He’s still under contract for $4,995,120 this season.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Okafor clearly welcomes a trade from Philadelphia. He’s stuck behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson (and maybe Richaun Holmes once Holmes gets healthy) at center. There’s no future for Okafor there, as his declined option illustrates.

So, why would the 76ers reject a trade that brings any value for Okafor? They’ll probably lose him for nothing in unrestricted free agency this summer.

Maybe they value the depth he provides behind the injury-prone Embiid for now – even at the expense of sitting Okafor and delaying his move to a team that can actually use him. I’d see why that’d irk him.

It’s also possible the 76ers are burning an asset out of a grudge. Even if it’s just Okafor’s perception, something is amiss.

More likely, Okafor and Philadelphia have differing ideas of a reasonable trade for him. If he just wants out, why would he care if the 76ers would have to take back a costly negative contract? They obviously would, and that might be all they can get.

Any team that trades for Okafor would be able to offer him a salary up to $6,313,832 next season. Other teams could offer any salary up to the league-wide max. So, unless a team wants Okafor for the stretch run, why trade for him now? It’d be easier just to sign him in free agency without surrendering an asset to Philadelphia.

By declining Okafor’s option, the 76ers killed his trade value – and made it more likely this uneasy status quo continues.

Sixers do not pick up fourth-year option on Jahlil Okafor

Getty Images

After trying desperately to trade him for a year (an effort that is ongoing but fruitless), the Philadelphia 76ers are getting out of the Jahlil Okafor business after this season.

Multiple reports broke the news the Sixers would not pick up the fourth-year, rookie-scale option on Okafor for next season. That will make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The Sixers have since confirmed it.

A trade is still not out of the question.

Or, maybe the two sides agree to a buyout.

Okafor was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, but ahead of Kristaps Porzingis. Okafor had won a national championship at Duke and looked like a guy who could come into the NBA and get buckets right away.

His fall to not having the last year of his rookie scale contract picked up — and how now, finally healthy, he is on the outside looking in at the Sixers’ rotation — speaks to how fast the game has changed for NBA bigs.

The days of a player having high value just because he can get buckets in the post are gone, a throwback to a bygone era. And that’s what Okafor is — a solid low post big with an array of moves who also is good in isolation, but he stops the ball on offense. Plus, he has almost no shooting range, he doesn’t defend well, and he’s had a torn meniscus in the past.

The Sixers have a logjam up front — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Amir Johnson, Dario Saric — Okafor was the odd man out picking up DNP-CD’s nightly (he’s gotten 22 minutes in one game this season). Philly has tried to move him for more than a year, but no decent offer has come their way (at least from the Sixers’ opinion).

Okafor deserves a fresh chance in the NBA. His ultimate role will be scoring off-the-bench big, think Al Jefferson or a poor man’s Zach Randolph. Those guys have below-the-rim games like Okafor, but were able to carve out good careers. Okafor isn’t going to fit anywhere — he’d be a disaster in systems such as in Houston or Golden State — but a team that plays a little slower and needs some buckets off the bench might take a long look. Next summer, in a tight market, somebody is going to pick him up at a bargain price.

Then, when he finally gets some run, we’ll see if he can fit in today’s NBA or not.

That is just not happening in Philly.