With the Super Bowl set to end the football season, the NBA is stepping right in to fill the sports entertainment void. Complete with college basketball, that’s enough to do the trick for me. Bettors and the more casual fan base may have a more difficult time being satisfied.
The biggest winners of the final pro hoops weekend in January were the Golden State Warriors.
The franchise that has won two of the last three titles not only beat back a challenge from Boston at home in front of a primetime Saturday night audience, but also got a disappointing boost they neither wanted nor needed as a massive favorite to win the Western Conference (2/7) and NBA title (2/5), per the Westgate Superbook.
Oklahoma City and New Orleans, teams that could have presented difficult matchups that would’ve at least made Golden State’s path to another title more challenging if nothing else, suffered massive setbacks.
Andre Roberson, OKC’s standout defender and starting wing opposite Paul George, ruptured his left patella tendon in the third quarter of a Saturday night win in Detroit, slipping violently as he cut underneath the rim. His feet came out from under him, he landed on his backside and quickly flipped over and slid himself forward out of bounds about 10 feet. He was carried off on a stretcher and will be lost for the remainder of the season.
The previous night, DeMarcus Cousins was helped off the floor with 10 seconds left, tearing his Achilles attempting to chase down his missed free throw in a 115-113 Pels win over Houston. He finished with a triple-double to help earn a season-best fourth straight win, but his injury ends any possibility of the Pelicans being a factor in the postseason.
The Anthony Davis show is nothing new and the likeliest course of action since there isn’t much maneuvering the Pelicans’ front office can do. Unfortunately, that production has only generated one playoff berth since he was drafted in 2012. Rajon Rondo started strong but can’t be counted on to physically bring it night after night until deep into March. Jrue Holiday and E’twuan Moore will have to carry even more of an offensive load, and a lack of frontcourt depth masked by the most prolific big man combo in the game will be exposed for everyone to feast on.
The Westgate SuperBook dropped New Orleans’ odds from 150/1 to get out of the West to 250/1. The situation isn’t as dire for the Thunder, but Roberson’s loss is immense, since they went 5-5 in the 10 games he had been sidelined with knee tendinitis. His return this month helped produce a five-game winning streak that reached six with Sunday’s win over the 76ers, but even that success produced a reminder that OKC will have to be a far different team without him.
OKC has surrendered 112 or more points in five of the 11 games Roberson has missed entering the week. Opponents managed to score that much on the Thunder in just seven of the 39 contests he worked in, so expect their game totals to increase. The Over is 6-5 in games he’s missed, but the players remaining to help fill the void, 19-year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson and older vets Jerian Grant, Patrick Patterson, Josh Heustis and Alex Abrines, are nowhere near as reliable on the defensive end. Roberson made George and Anthony more effective on that side of the ball and consistently took pressure off Westbrook.
Although Westgate kept the Thunder’s odds to win the West (10/1) and the Finals (20/1) the same after the injury, the team’s challenge has gotten far more taxing. They were counting on his defensive prowess to be a driving force in a series win over the Warriors, Rockets or Spurs, teams with elite wings. What will Plan B be? His impact on the rest of the team as a guy who didn’t need the ball and did all the dirty work on defense can’t be replaced by a single guy and may require GM Sam Presti bringing in another wing to aid the cause.
The Thunder will move forward with a new starter opposite the Big Three and invaluable center Steven Adams, turning to young Ferguson first since he filled in well while Roberson sat. The rookie will get three regular-season tests against the Warriors going forward since the teams meet twice in February and again in early April. Oklahoma City won the first meeting on Nov. 22 by a 108-91 margin, getting invaluable contributions from Roberson at both ends of the floor. Ferguson played two minutes.
Healthy and intact, the Warriors became the first NBA team to reach 40 wins over the weekend, accomplishing the feat in 50 games. Despite taking everyone’s best shot on the road, they’ve won 21 of 25 games outside of Oakland. It seems inevitable they’ll be adding to their ring collection come June, which is fine since they’re an all-time great team.
It’s just a shame the entertainment value of watching the Dubs conquer other contenders at full strength was diminished greatly in less than 24 hours, strengthening their position by subtraction. Considering what the East looks like again, the Western Conference playoffs will again be providing the best product basketball has to offer. Hopefully San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard can get back to 100 percent and star-studded teams like the Rockets and Timberwolves can stay healthy enough to offer Golden State some resistance.