Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Cavaliers finally care and win, Thunder care still lose

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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.

1) Eric Bledsoe finally traded, heading to Milwaukee. The Suns tried to get a good young player in a trade for Eric Bledsoe, but finally gave up and were willing to settle for a protected first-round pick. The Milwaukee Bucks, losers of three in a row (before the trade, now four) and without a secondary playmaker behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, needed to make a change.

And so, we have a trade. Bledsoe is now a Buck (he did not get to suit up Tuesday night), and in exchange, the Suns get Greg Monroe, an oddly-protected first-round pick, and potentially a second rounder.

This is a win for Bledsoe, he gets his wish and is out of Phoenix and playing for a team that should make the playoffs and play meaningful games (if they don’t, Jason Kidd will want to polish up that resume for the coming job hunt). This is an excellent move for the Bucks, who desperately needed another playmaker besides the Greek Freak, and they got a good one who also can defend and will just be a heady veteran in the locker room.

The Suns did about as well as they could realistically hope, considering GM Ryan McDonough had sent Bledsoe home and away from the team, killing most of his leverage. What the Suns got that was most valuable was the first round pick, but check out these protections: Phoenix gets the pick in 2018 if it is between 11-and-16; in 2019 the Suns get it if it falls between 4-and-16; in 2020 the Suns get it if it falls between 8-and-30; and if the pick has not conveyed before the 2021 draft it is unprotected that year.

Monroe is not going to be bought out by the Suns, rather they will rehab him and then try to trade him for another asset to help their rebuilding. He is now just a pawn in the game of life, a contract to be shuffled around (although he can score inside and help some teams off the bench).

2) Cleveland cares for a night, beats Milwaukee. Let’s take a look at the wins of the now 5-6 Cavaliers: Boston on opening night, then the improving Bucks, then after a little losing streak Wizards after John Wall and Bradley Beal talked some smack in the run-up to the game, then on Tuesday night the Bucks again. (There also is a win over the Bulls in there.) Notice a theme there? Any team that has the perception of being a threat to Cleveland come the playoffs, the Cavaliers rise up and play like they care and get the win. (For the record, the losses are to Orlando, Brooklyn, New Orleans, New York, Indiana, and Atlanta — all teams that are not seen as a threat to the teams at the top of the East.)

Kevin Love had maybe his best game of the year with 32 points and 16 rebounds (he seems to always play well against the Bucks), LeBron James had 30 points and nine assists, and J.R. Smith had 20 points and was 5-of-7 from three. Don’t think this was a sign things are turning around for the Cavaliers — they were still a mess on defense, allowing the Bucks to shoot 56.6 percent for the game, it’s just that their offense was good and covered up the problems. That is what we have seen in past years when the Cavaliers decided to take a break from defense in the regular season, they still won most of their games because the offense was that good. This season, with Kyrie Irving wearing green and Isaiah Thomas rehabbing still, the offense hasn’t been the same, and it’s not covering up the defensive flaws — but it did for one night Tuesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 40 on the Cavaliers while taking just 21 shots. He’s a big winner from the Bledsoe trade because the man needs some help with shot creation.

3) Oklahoma City cares plenty, but that’s not enough and they lose to Sacramento. Through 10 games and 200 minutes together on the court, when Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony share the floor the Thunder have outscored opponents by 5 points. Total. All season. They have a net rating of 0.0.

The new big three era in OKC is still a work in progress. The team’s floor spacing is bad, there is a lot of “you take a turn attacking one-on-one, then I’ll go” turn taking rather than playing together, and we have not seen much of Olympic ‘Melo because the ball is stopping in his hands. We saw a lot of all that on Tuesday night when the now 4-6 Thunder fell to a Kings team that was struggling and 1-8. In the loss, the Westbrook/George/Anthony trio shot 15-of-54 (27.7 percent). Let’s tip our hat to the Kings for a quality win, behind 21 from Buddy Hield.

But the Thunder should be better than this. They have the second best defense in the NBA this season, but the lack of shooting and depth is canceling out all that big-name firepower on offense.

We should officially note here that when LeBron returned to Cleveland (2014-15) they started 19-20 and made the NBA Finals. Same with his first year in Miami when the Heat started 9-8. Over the course of the long NBA season, those teams started to figure out how to make the necessary sacrifices to win — in Miami Chris Bosh changed how he played to accommodate LeBron, while Love and others had to do that in Cleveland, and those players were far from alone. Guys sacrificed touches and points to focus on other parts of their game to help the team win.

Will Westbrook/George/Anthony be able to do that in OKC? If so, will they do it fast enough that George is happy and decides not to explore his free agent options next summer? Those were the questions going into this season about the Thunder, and 10 games in we do not have a definitive answer — but the ones we’ve gotten are not promising.

Winners, losers from the Eric Bledsoe trade to Milwaukee

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Eric Bledsoe got his wish — he is no longer a Phoenix Sun. He has been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Greg Monroe, an oddly-protected first-round pick, and potentially a second rounder. Who came out on top on that deal, and who didn’t? Let’s make some flash judgments (which could look foolish in a few months) and say who won and lost in Tuesday’s trade.

WINNER: Eric Bledsoe. He asked for a trade, he wanted out of Phoenix and to play for a team headed to the postseason where the games would matter — he got his wish. Bledsoe landed in a spot at the top of his wish list in Milwaukee, a team with a top-five NBA Greek Freak player, but one who could use a secondary playmaker to take the next step. Bledsoe can be a good defender when he cares, he just hasn’t cared for a couple of years now. Can he still flip that switch? Either way, he forced his way out of a bad situation into a potentially very good one, that’s a win in any book.

WINNER: Milwaukee Bucks. Losers of three in a row before the trade and four in a row now (after a Tuesday night loss to Cleveland), it quickly became clear this season that the Giannis vs. the world offense was not going to be enough. Now the 4-6 Bucks have gone from “can they make the playoffs” to “can they contend in the East?” Probably not yet, but this trade certainly fills a need and creates the potential.

LOSER: Phoenix Suns. This isn’t a “Bucks trade Dirk Nowitzki to the Mavericks for Robert Traylor” level disaster, but they gave up the best player in the trade and when that happens you don’t get to call it a win. I’d grade them a “C” on this trade, really. Phoenix gets a very oddly protected pick (my guess is it doesn’t convey until 2020), maybe a second rounder, and Greg Monroe, who the Suns will try to flip again. It’s a trade that gets them a piece or two for their rebuild, but not true value back for a quality player.

WINNER: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has been a one-man show in Milwaukee in part out of necessity — they didn’t have another playmaker. Jabari Parker can create shots for himself, but he’s out injured, Malcolm Brogdon at the point is not a shot creator, and so it was all Antetokounmpo. No longer. Bledsoe is a good playmaker for himself and others, and it will take the load off and give Jason Kidd more options in calling plays and going after mismatches. Antetokounmpo could see his raw counting stats go down a little with this trade, but he should be able to be more efficient.

LOSER: Greg Monroe. The Bucks leaned on him in the playoffs a year ago, but he was never part of the future (especially with the emergence of Thon Maker). Now Monroe goes to a genuinely bad team in Phoenix, one that will use him as an asset to trade at the deadline for another pick. He shouldn’t unpack his bags, he’s just a pawn in the salary moving chess match that is the NBA.

WINNER: Jon Horst (the Bucks GM). Milwaukee’s young new GM saw a team once again stumbling and not taking a step forward — this has been a “two steps up, one step back” team for years — and he did something about it. The Bucks gave up very little and got a quality point guard and shot creator who can also defend. The most valuable asset surrendered was the future first-round pick, and it is so heavily protected it’s not a problem. The new guy did well.

LOSER: Matthew Dellavedova. He has been genuinely terrible this season — shooting 34.8 percent from the field with a PER of 5.9 — but coach Kidd played him because he didn’t have a choice. Now, he does. Soon Bledsoe will start, Brogdon will back him up at the point, and the feisty Dellavedova will be reduced to playing only garbage time.

GUY NOW FEELING THE PRESSURE: Jason Kidd. Milwaukee is a team that needed to take a step forward this year, and the 4-6 start they got off to is certainly not that. This trade means the Bucks have the talent to make the postseason in the East (and maybe even do some damage there), but if Kidd’s gambling defense and older-school offense doesn’t get them there he’s the one that pays the price. The Bucks have their GM in Horst, and he didn’t hire Kidd, which already put the coach on shaky ground. Now he has to get this team some wins or start polishing his resume.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Eric Bledsoe trade

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Eric Bledsoe finally has been traded from the Phoenix Suns, landing in Milwaukee for Greg Monroe, an oddly protected first-round pick, and maybe a second round pick.

Who wins? Who loses? What changed that this long-discussed deal finally got done?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman from NBC Sports break down why this is a good gamble for the Bucks, and why it’s about as well as the Suns could do considering the situation. There is also some Jahlil Okafor trade talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Dwight Howard fined $25,000 for obscene gesture toward a fan

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Dwight Howard still hears it from fans everywhere he goes.

In Minnesota, he let it get to him and made, how shall we put this… an impolite gesticulation toward one of those fans. Now it’s going to cost him.

The NBA announced it has fined Howard $25,000 for an “obscene gesture toward a fan.” There is not a quality video of this, but here you go if you care.

Howard has played well for the Hornets this year, filling the defensive and rebounding role they need, averaging 14.6 points and 13.6 rebounds a contest. The Charlotte defense is 4.2 points per 100 possessions better when Howard is on the court, and when Howard and point guard Kemba Walker are paired Charlotte is outscoring teams by 10.4 points per 100.

Three Things to Know: Nine wins in a row and Boston’s time might be now

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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.

1) Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum have Celtics thinking their time is now. The conventional wisdom coming into the season was Boston was a year away. They weren’t going to be good enough defensively (after moving Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder), their young stars such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown needed another year, and it was going to take time for Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to develop the kind of chemistry needed to go at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

After a stretching their win streak to nine games Monday night with a 110-107 win in Atlanta — a day after the Cavaliers melted down and lost there — the Celtics are sounding a lot like Zack de la Rocha: “What better place than here, what better time than now? All hell can’t stop us now.”

Irving sealed the win scoring 8 of Boston’s final 11 points to top off his 35 on the night. All game he was carving up the Hawks in a two-man game with Horford that has become fierce already, or he would just put on a scoring clinic himself.

The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA so far, allowing just 95.9 points per 100 possessions. They have done it by holding teams to 47.7 percent eFG%, limiting the number of threes allowed, and doing a good job contesting midrange jumpers.

When Gordon Hayward went down it thrust rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year man Jaylen Brown into the spotlight and many thought before they were fully ready. Nope, they are ready and their play is another key to the Celtics nine-game win streak. Against the Hawks, Tatum had 21 points, including a key late-game three.

The Cavaliers at some point will start to play like they care, and they will figure out some of their defensive issues, but they also have some serious systemic defensive problems (a lot of minus defenders are going to have to get heavy minutes for them). It’s early, but Boston’s time might well be now, not a year from now. This team is well ahead of schedule.

2) The speculation game…. is LeBron James frustrated? And if so, at what exactly? Not long after the Celtics won their ninth in a row, LeBron James posted this meme to Instagram.

Mood…

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

It’s a meme from Arthur meant to express frustration.

So what is LeBron frustrated about? That the Celtics are hot and look like a real threat to the Cavaliers? That Boston and its new players have come together quickly as a team while the Cavaliers look dazed and confused on the court? That Kyrie Irving has looked brilliant this young season and seems to have made a good decision for himself?

In the comments, Damian Lillard said: “This post hella funny.”

Also in the comments, Isaiah Thomas wrote, “Need me to handle somebody cuz?” No, I think he just needs you back on the court sooner rather than later.

3) Nike making substantive changes to jerseys after series of high-profile tears to them. LeBron James had his jersey split open on opening night on national television, right down the back. Later that night, Tyler Ennis of the Lakers had his jersey tear and basically come apart after a not-that-hard pull on it from an opponent. Last week it was Ben Simmons whose jersey tore apart after a not very aggressive tug from an opponent. Then Kevin Love just ripped his own jersey with no problem. The new Nike jerseys have looked like old football tearaway jerseys.

Monday night Nike — which took over the NBA apparel contract starting this season on an eight-year, $1 billion deal —  released a statement to ESPN’s Darren Rovell saying changes were coming to the jerseys.

“…we have worked hard to create the most advanced uniforms in the history of the NBA. They are lighter and deliver great mobility and sweat wicking characteristics, and the feedback from players has been overwhelmingly positive. However, during gameplay we have seen a small number of athletes experience significant jersey tears. We are very concerned to see any game day tear and are working to implement a solution that involves standardizing the embellishment process and enhancing the seam strength of game day jerseys.”

Exactly what form all this will take, and how long it will take to get the players is not known, but this is a good step. As the physicality of the NBA season picks up as it moves along (as it always does), this problem would have gotten worse.