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Three Things to Know: Young, athletic Bucks make Cavaliers look step slow in loss

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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) Milwaukee is young, long, athletic, and for a night that made the Cavaliers look a step slow in loss. The Milwaukee Bucks had lost three in a row coming into Tuesday night because their already not-that-good defense had been abysmal. That didn’t really change Tuesday against Cleveland, the Cavs had an offensive rating of 118.9 for the game. That is a win most nights.

Not this time, not against a Milwaukee team who was just faster and more athletic than the Cavaliers all night.

Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 27 points with 14 rebounds, the Bucks ran past the Celtics starting in the middle of the second quarter — on the night, Milwaukee had 24 fast break points to Cleveland’s three. The Bucks led by as many as 20 and seemed in control, until a 19-0 by the Cavaliers bench (with Jae Crowder as the lone starter) made it a game again. That meant LeBron James was back in and he had nine points in the final minutes of the game, he was an absolute force again on his way to 39 points on the night.

It was a back-and-forth ending, but a Tony Snell three (thanks to Eric Bledsoe pushing the pace) had the Bucks up two — more transition points the Bucks got in part due to Dwyane Wade not getting back fast enough to really contest. However, after a couple missed threes, it looked like the Cavaliers would have one more chance when LeBron stole the ball from Antetokounmpo — but the athleticism, speed, and long arms of the Greek Freak once again changed the game and sealed the win.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoptObezZAs?start=85%5D

I did love that on their last chance, LeBron went playground inbounding the ball off the turned Antetokounmpo’s back so he could get it himself. It just wasn’t enough.

It’s one game in December, the Cavaliers have only lost two games in their last 20, and haven’t gotten Isaiah Thomas back yet (he’s got a G-League stint coming up first). Plus, there is no way I’d pick the Bucks over the Cavaliers in a seven-game series… but still, this was the kind of game that feels like it foreshadows things to come. The Cavaliers are older and slower than their rising challengers in the East, how many more years can they hold them off? And what does LeBron think about his future after games like this?

2) Kings beat Sixers, a reminder that when Joel Embiid sits the Sixers aren’t near the same team. When Joel Embiid is on the court this season, the Sixers have played like the equivalent of a 57 win team, but when he has sat they have played like a 23-win team. He means that much to them. So when Embiid sat out Tuesday night due to back tightness (the nearly 50 minutes he played against the Thunder had something to do with that), a game against the Kings went from what should have been an easy win to a real battle.

Philly still led by 16 in the third quarter and 10 at the start of the fourth, but couldn’t hold off the Kings, who got 10 points out of Buddy Hield in the fourth (and 24 for the night). Again it was turnovers that did in the Sixers when they blew the lead — Philly turned the ball over on 20.3 percent of their possessions in this game, one in five trips down the court. The Sixers lead the league in turnover percentage, and it’s not close. Simmons and Embiid’s replacement as a starter, Amir Johnson, were the big culprits. Mix the turnovers with inconsistent defense and a team that makes poor shot decisions down the stretch, and you get a loss. This time it was 101-95 to the Kings. The Sixers have now lost 7-of-8.

Also, with Embiid not patrolling the paint, the Sixers had no answer for Zach Randolph, and the old-school big man went off for 27.

3) The Wizards got an easy win because New Orleans had no answers for John Wall and Bradley Beal. When Washington is focused and brings its “A” game, they have one of the top backcourts in the NBA in Wall and Beal. That focus has been wildly inconsistent this season — if Washington wants to know why it’s not considered a threat to the top of the East it starts there — but those two brought it on Tuesday night.

And the Pelicans had no answers. Wall and Beal combined for 44 points and 14 assists, and that overwhelmed New Orleans (despite 63 points combined from Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins). Check out the Washington backcourt’s highlights from the 116-106 win.

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

Milwaukee Bucks
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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.”