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

Associated Press
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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.