While most were caught up in March Madness, the knees of star NBA point guards Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving became news, and you never want to hear about anyone’s joints doing that.
Heavyweights Golden State and Boston will likely be without their floor generals when the playoffs began, which caused a slight altering of the futures market.
When Westgate provided its updated odds on Monday afternoon, the Warriors remained the favorite, but went to 11/10 from 2/3, the first time their implied probability had dipped below 50 percent.
For perspective, Golden State was 5/9 coming out of the All-Star break, while Houston was listed at 9/4 and Cleveland was listed at 10/1.
The Cavs are hanging tight at that same number, but the Rockets are now 5/4, just behind the defending champs. The Warriors are 4/5 to win the West, while Houston is 11/10. That’s not quite a dead heat, but it’s close.
From that standpoint, you’ve likely missed your window to get value on the Rockets barring some injury or early deficit in an opening round series, which is now increasingly unlikely since they’re almost certainly going to be the Western Conference’s top seed.
As far as Boston is concerned, news of Irving undergoing “minor surgery” described as “minimally invasive” so close to the start of the postseason isn’t necessarily being viewed as a potential deal-breaker.
Westgate gave Boston 4-to-1 odds to get out of the Eastern Conference before Irving’s surgery and moved them back to 9/2 on Monday, which is where they resided at the All-Star break. They remained at 25/1 to win a championship.
The NBA schedule stops for no one, and it is looking increasingly likely that Boston will tip off Game 1 of the playoffs at home without its top two offseason acquisitions, Irving and Gordon Hayward, who went down in the regular-season’s opening minute.
Boston has been cursed by injuries this month, the latest of which is the most significant since the team was counting on Irving’s championship pedigree to help serve as the stabilizing force for a young roster. Al Horford is capable of leading the group in that capacity, while Marcus Smart’s return from a broken thumb should help the team get out of a first round where they likely won’t be able to count on Irving’s contributions until late in a series.
“We hope. Who knows? Marcus was six to eight weeks before basketball activity and Kyrie is three to six before basketball activity,” Stevens told the Boston Herald prior to Sunday’s game in Sacramento. “Again, that’s basketball activity. There’s a big difference between that and playing, so we don’t know when we’re going to have those guys back.
“I’ve texted with him. Left him a message this morning and haven’t heard back. But the timeline will be determined on how he feels and how quickly he can get back out on the court and everything else. There’s still a process after that, too, to be ready to play in a game.”
Smart tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right shooting hand upon diving for a loose ball against the Pacers on March 11. Second-year wing Jaylen Brown has missed time due to a concussion and is just getting back in a rhythm. Promising German big man Daniel Theis after undergoing knee surgery early in the month. After coming out of the All-Star break with four straight wins, bad breaks have put a major damper on their aspirations of winning another Eastern Conference title.
Considering they’ll be shorthanded throughout April, it’s unlikely that Boston will be able to catch Toronto for the top record in the East. The teams will meet at TD Garden on March 31 and at the Air Canada Centre on April 4, so they will decide things on the floor. The Raptors appear to have a significant edge, carrying a 3.5-game cushion into the week in addition to a completely healthy roster despite losing at home against the Clippers.
Toronto will also have three full days without action to prepare for the Celtics, who are continuing a four-game road trip with tonight’s second of a back-to-back against depleted Phoenix. Boston will face Utah on Wednesday and is currently in a stretch where it is playing eight of 10 games away from home, so we’ll see how resilient they are.
Boston won its 50th game of the season against Sacramento and is closing in on its projected win total (53.5) in spite of March’s attrition. Even if they collapse in April, the Celtics are unlikely to finish any lower than second in the East, which would currently draw Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee. Miami, who is 2-1 against the Celtics and have received a boost from Kelly Olynyk of late, is another potential first-round foe, sitting in eighth place as the week begins.
Terry Rozier provided some confidence for Celtics fans by exploding for 33 points in a weekend win over the Kings, but at this point, little has gone according to plan in March for a Boston team that looked like it could contend for a title given Cleveland’s struggles.
Golden State has also had ailments ravage the team this month, although the team has erred on the side of caution with Kevin Durant’s ribs, Klay Thompson’s thumb and a number of issues Draymond Green has been dealing with. Curry’s ankle issues also fell in that category, but he returned on Friday night with a productive effort cut short when center JaVale McGee fell into his knee.
While Nick Young and Quinn Cook will now get more opportunities to grow as playmakers entering their first postseason with the team, an experience that can only help get them more comfortable, the Warriors will still miss Curry. He makes the game easier due to how far out he stretches a defense, so it will be interesting to see who the Warriors draw in the first round as the likely No. 2 seed. Will it be a team that will make them work significantly harder than they want to right out of the postseason gate?
The NBA is never boring. I won’t say it’s not predictable given that we’re still likely to get a fourth installment of the same Warriors-Cavs finals, but the road it takes to get to June is always filled with twists you don’t see coming.
Golden State overcame a Kevin Durant injury on the road to last year’s playoff glory and saw him return to win Finals MVP. If you’re of the belief we’ll see a similar outcome with Curry, now is the time to get in on the favored Warriors, since the odds haven’t been more lucrative than they are right now.