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NBA Summer League Sunday notebook: Dallas’ Dennis Smith is turning heads

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LAS VEGAS — There is so much going on at Las Vegas Summer League — it’s not all just the Lonzo Ball story — and we can’t get to it all, so here are some thoughts from my notebook on Sunday, in the time-honored tradition of bullet points.

• Dallas’ Dennis Smith has been a Las Vegas standout — he has been maybe the most buzzed-about player through the first weekend by media and team officials. Sunday, the rookie out of North Carolina State had 25 points on 14 shots (3-of-5 from three), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and the numbers don’t tell the story. He’s a floor general.

Of course, Mark Cuban says he knew this was coming, but Smith fell to Dallas at No. 9 in the draft because of questions about his ceiling. Coming off an ACL he hadn’t shown a ton of explosiveness last year in college, but he has plenty of it here — in his first game he finished an alley-oop pass that few guys here could have gotten, let alone a guy 6’1”, then on Sunday he absolutely blew by Dragan Bender to get into the paint. He is strong and has been aggressive, fearless, and willing to set guys up. You never want to read too much — positively or negatively — into a couple of Summer League performances, but Mavs fans optimistic. He has turned heads in Vegas.

Check out some highlights of his matchup with Josh Jackson, who was less impressive with 15 points on 18 shots.

• Josh Jackson also got rejected by the rim Sunday (a battle he has lost before, kind of stunning for a guy with his athleticism.

• On the flip side, Boston’s Jaylen Brown threw down the dunk of Summer League so far.

• Portland’s Zach Collins has potential, but he’s got to get stronger. He tried to back down second-round wing pick Semi Ojeleye (who is stout) at one point Sunday to create space and it was like he bumped up against a wall, which led to an ugly fadeaway.

“He’s a hard-working kid, he listens, he pays attention, he does what he’s told,” Blazers Summer Leauge coach Jim Moran said. “I’m excited that when he kind of gets around our weight staff and kind of has the chance to hit the weight room and bulk up, he’s really going to be able to expand his game.”

Collins struggled with his shot Sunday, going 1-of-7, but nobody doubts that will come around. On the bright side, he has shown real mobility and put that to work contesting shots on the perimeter, plus he will put the ball on the floor and drive if guys close out hard on him at the arc.

“I feel like my defense is going to be there consistently because that’s an effort thing, something I can control,” Collins said. “I think I got a lot of good looks offensively, sometimes I was rushing it, I rushed a couple shots under the rim, I think I need to get to the basket a little bit more, but that will come.”

• Best stat line of the day goes to the Spurs’ Bryn Forbes, who had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three.

• He has been highly anticipated by Celtics fans, but Ante Zizic has work to do to find his way in an NBA-style game. He has a below-the-rim game that’s about skill, and that’s not easy to adapt to the speed and athleticism at Summer League (which is not NBA level). He showed some craftiness to his game, he hit a running hook and drew some fouls. He pulled down 11 boards and gets in good position, but got beat to some (even by teammates) who were just able to elevate higher.

For guys with his style of game, it’s tough to judge them at Summer League, which often resembles a glorified pickup game. The big men who stand out are bouncy. Zizic may fare better in a regular NBA setting, but it still looks like he has some work to do to figure out how to fit his style into a more athletic league.

“He’s going to be fine,” Jaylen Brown said of Zizic. “If he just does his job, starting the roll, rolls hard, rebounds the ball, I think he’s a good rebounder.”

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.