The first two nights of the NBA season were marred by season-ending injuries, the first to a player on a contending team and the second to a player on a team expected to show improvement after being near the bottom of the standings over the past several seasons.
Barely minutes into their season opener in Cleveland, Boston’s highly prized off-season free agent signee, Gordon Hayward, suffered a broken ankle that is expected to sideline him for the entire season.
Considered one of the favorites to challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference title (and picked in this column last week to be successful in that quest) the Celtics will be hard pressed to earn a Top 4 seed in the Playoffs barring some major player acquisitions orchestrated by Celtic’s exec Danny Ainge.
Toronto, Washington and Milwaukee are now the most likely teams to fill out the top half of the Eastern Playoff bracket. Boston is still good enough to make the Playoffs in what is projected as a very weak Eastern Conference but the loss of Hayward makes Boston’s chances for a deep post season run extremely difficult.
The next night Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee and is out for the season. Unlike Boston, the Nets were not expected to be contenders, not even to make the Playoffs. Yet the injury will be a setback in Brooklyn’s rebuilding attempt with a host of new players seeking to establish an identity.
Over the first week of the season teams have played 2 or 3 games; there are six teams unbeaten and none of them is named Cleveland or Golden State.
In the East both Toronto and Washington have started 2-0 while in the West, Houston has started 3-0 and the LA Clippers, Memphis and San Antonio are 2-0 through Sunday.
Dallas, Philadelphia and Phoenix have each started 0-3 and both Chicago and New York have started 0-2.
And although the season is not even a week old the first coaching casualty has occurred. A 2-point home loss to the Lakers last Friday was sandwiched between a 48-point home loss to Portland to open the season and a 42-point loss at the Clippers last Saturday. That was too much for Phoenix and coach Earl Watson was fired on Sunday, replaced by associate coach Jay Triano on an interim basis. It’s a messy situation in Phoenix and any degree of success over the next few months could earn Triano the permanent gig.
Here’s a look at three games this weekend.
Oklahoma City at Minnesota (Friday): Carmelo Anthony and Paul George are still getting acclimated to playing with Russell Westbrook, and having just faced Minnesota should work in their favor. In what should be close to a pick ‘em game, the preference is to see revenge exacted. OKLAHOMA CITY
Cleveland at New Orleans (Saturday): New Orleans is an improving team with Anthony Davis the next great superstar who now has DeMarcus Cousins for support from the start of the season. That duo combined for 70 points and 31 rebounds in a 128-120 home loss to Golden State last Friday. To Cleveland this may be just another game. For New Orleans this is another test. NEW ORLEANS
Washington at Sacramento (Sunday): Bradley Beal and John Wall – the Wizards – have the capability to score points in bunches. They played at Golden State on Friday night so this will be a drop down in class. A win over the Warriors would bolster their confidence while an expected loss would serve to provide focus for this contest. WASHINGTON