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Three things we learned Tuesday: Toronto makes its play, while Cleveland just wins games

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Most of the news around the NBA Tuesday happened off the court, but we’ve got your back there too, breaking down the big trade of the day. Plus giving you highlights. Just because we care.

1) The Raptors make a play, but Orlando gets win too with trade. Tuesday we had our first big trade — very possibly the only big trade — in the run-up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline: Serge Ibaka went to the Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick (the worse of the Raptors’ own pick or the Clippers’ pick, which the Raptors control).

The goal with any trade is a win-win scenario — and this comes pretty close to that.

For Orlando, they get a first round pick, which never hurts. In Ross, they get a guy that fits their needs and helps uncork the logjam up front. Ross was frustrating to Raptors fans because he never quite fit in or lived up to expectations, but for Orlando the fit is better — Ross is a swingman who could start at the three and allow Frank Vogel to slide Aaron Gordon back to his more natural spot at the four. Or, if Vogel insists on the Gordon at the three experiment, Ross could be a sixth man who would provide some scoring punch off the bench. Either way he fits better with what they want to do than Ibaka had.

Most of the talk about this trade, however, is what it means for Toronto: Will this snap them out of their recent funk? More importantly, where does this put them in the pecking order in the East? Are they contenders and a threat to Cleveland? I wouldn’t go that far (assuming the playoff Cavaliers are healthy), but this move does make them better. On offense, Ibaka is shooting 38.8 from three this season and hits his midrange jumpers, he can space the floor and give them a quality four next to Jonas Valanciunas (one who can defend and cover some of Valanciunas’ flaws), and once Patrick Patterson returns healthy it allows the Raptors to go a little smaller with Ibaka and Patterson up front — a lineup that seems better suited to taking on Cleveland. In the short term, it fills a real need until Patterson does get healthy. I’m not as high on this move as some because of Ibaka’s reduced athleticism and movement (he’s not the player he was three seasons ago) and what it will cost them to keep this summer (the Raptors are going deep into the tax). But this trade makes the Raptors better. It may push them back up to being the second best team in the East, it certainly makes a second-round matchup with Boston interesting (if the Raptors can climb past the Wizards and get the three seed). But I still don’t think Toronto threatens Cleveland if the Cavs have all their players healthy.

2) Cavaliers pick up win without Kevin Love. The news that Kevin Love is going to miss about 30 games following knee surgery (if he’s back on schedule) raised this question about the banged-up Cavaliers: Can they hold on to the top seed in the East? Not are they the best team in the East, when healthy they certainly are (even after the Ibaka trade by Toronto), but Boston is hot and entered Tuesday night just two games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the East.

Without Love, and for the next few weeks at least also no J.R. Smith, are the Cavaliers in danger of dropping out of that top spot? LeBron James says not to worry, he’s got this. And on Tuesday night against the Timberwolves he did. First off, LeBron did this to poor Andrew Wiggins.

LeBron also scored 25 points and led the Cavaliers to the 116-108 win. The Cavs are going to need a lot more nights like this from LeBron for the next six weeks — so much for tapering his minutes and getting him some rest.

3) DeMarcus Cousins 40-point, 12-board night leads Kings to win in Los Angeles. Kings ownership still is hell-bent on making a push for the playoffs this season — new building, new attitude, they want to snap a 10-year playoff drought. The Kings are just 1.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, and with a road win over the Lakers Tuesday Sacramento has won four in a row.

The reason they won? DeMarcus Cousins. Well, that and the Lakers deciding to single-cover Cousins most of the night, rather than daring any other King player to beat them. Cousins had 40 points, 16 of those in the fourth quarter, plus pulled down 12 boards, and looked every bit the best big man in the game. Lou Williams put up a fight for the Lakers scoring 29, but it wasn’t enough.

The Kings’ four-game win streak likely ends Wednesday against Golden State (the team the Kings are hoping to get the chance to get swept by face in the first round of the playoffs).

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.