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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.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.