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.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.