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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.

Report: 76ers happy with GM Elton Brand, who’s drawing Knicks interest

76ers owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring 76ers general manager Elton Brand.

In New York, Brand would work under new Knicks president Leon Rose. Brand holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. So, Brand would likely go to New York only if fired by the 76ers.

Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

A team source on Wednesday confirmed Brand is under contract beyond this season and said the organization is very happy with his work since being named GM in 2018. The source cited Brand’s leadership and strong working relationships with players, agents, and executives around the league.

The 76ers are so pleased with Brand… someone said so without under the cloak of anonymity. If he wants to back Brand, 76ers owner Josh Harris can do so publicly. Otherwise, this is so weak.

Teams generally express support toward employees while the employees are still working for the team – whether or not the employees actually hold approval. A key way to tell whether the support is genuine? Check the source. Harris doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite. If he endorses Brand now then fires him soon, Harris would look silly. With this sourcing, nobody would get egg on his or her face if Brand gets ousted, because we don’t know the source.

I bet Brand does have good relationships with everyone. He has long connected well with others.

But his roster-building has fallen flat.

Inertia will probably keep him in his job. Philadelphia overachieving in the playoffs (whatever form they take) – certainly possible – would make that an easier call. It’s just difficult to build an affirmative case for Brand as a team’s lead executive.

Report: No chance of traditional NBA playoffs this season

NBA playoffs
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The NBA playoffs have a familiar format – four rounds, best-of-seven series, games in front of fans at home arenas.

But the coronavirus, which has forced the NBA into an indefinite stoppage and disrupted life around the world, makes that untenable. Don’t expect the league to wait until that’s workable, either.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out.

A shortened playoffs in Las Vegas is gaining momentum. It’d allow the NBA, hemorrhaging money, to draw revenue sooner. A reduced postseason would also minimize disruption to future seasons.

But even that comes with major complications, especially containing coronavirus from undermining the entire operation. It could be a long time until its safe to hold games, even in a centralized location without fans.

It could be so long… a traditional playoffs could be back on the table. Though I find that unlikely, I’m still not convince people have a proper understanding of how lengthy this hiatus could be.

Everyone wants to finish the season. The playoffs are the NBA’s most lucrative time, and it feels right to crown a champion.

So, it’s good the focus is on alternative formats. It’d be naïve to expect business as usual when the NBA resumes.

Who should be drafted No. 1? Podcast talking NBC Sports mock NBA Draft.

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Should Anthony Edwards be the No. 1 pick?

Or James Wiseman? How would Obi Toppin fit with the Warriors?

More importantly, how is anyone preparing for a draft when nobody knows when it will take place?

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports — who just completed his mock draft — joins me to discuss what they know and don’t know about the 2020 NBA Draft, starting with having no idea when it will take place. We discuss Obi Toppin, Lonzo Ball, sleepers to watch, and everything in between in a draft preview podcast.

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.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Bucks hoping to complete title pursuit after coronavirus stoppage

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks remain confident the coronavirus pandemic won’t put a permanent halt to the season and that they’ll get to resume chasing their first league title in nearly half a century.

The Bucks had a league-best 53-12 record when play was suspended three weeks ago. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having a potential second straight MVP season, the Bucks seemed poised to make a run at the title that has eluded this franchise since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led them to an NBA championship in 1971.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst thinks they will get that opportunity.

“We believe that we’re going to play,” Horst said Wednesday in a conference call. “Everything that we’re doing every day in our communications, in our preparations, everything we talk about is being prepared to play at some point, finish out the season and have a resumption.”

That’s why Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has spent part of this hiatus making sure the Bucks don’t lose their edge whenever they do get back on the floor.

He’s been studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams Milwaukee could see later in the postseason. He’s tried to learn from his experiences as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach during the NBA’s most recent work stoppages.

“One of my reference points with the coaching staff has been lockouts,” Budenholzer said. “Sometimes when you come out of a lockout, things have been kind of slow, you haven’t been able to maybe do your normal routines and preparation, and things happen really fast. Whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker.”

His instructions to his players have focused on conditioning while understanding they might not have as much time to spend working on their basketball skills.

“I think that we feel that there are things they can continue to do as far as continuing to stay strong, continuing to maintain a conditioning level and really just put a lot of time and effort and energy into their bodies,” Budenholzer said.

After blowing a 2-0 lead to the eventual league champion Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee appeared to have all the elements in place to make a serious championship run this year before the pandemic struck.

The Bucks had just returned from a winless three-game trip west when the hiatus occurred, but that was the first time they had lost as many as two straight contests all season.

Despite their optimism and their confidence that league officials will do what’s best for the safety of everyone, the Bucks realize that play might not resume. However, Budenholzer said they aren’t thinking about what impact canceling the season might have.

“If for some reason this season is not played or there’s nothing to look forward to or to complete, I’ll process it then,” Budenholzer said. “I would add that I don’t think it’s being totally head-in-the-sand. I think hopefully watching news, listening to the commissioner, listening to whether it be Tony Fauci or Dr. (Deborah) Birx or whoever it is, it does feel like there is I think some realistic hope and belief that we will get through this.

“I know that there are some negatives, some less optimistic modeling, but literally all we think about is we are going to play and we want to be the best team when we do play so how do we prepare for that, how do we get better? It’s a great way to get through this.”