While the severity of Durant’s injury is not yet known (he’ll be re-evaluated at the end of March), the door is certainly ajar for teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets to possibly get through a loaded Western Conference.
Let’s take a look around the league.
The Dallas Mavericks are two games behind the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets in the loss column, so there’s still hope for Mark Cuban’s men – and certainly more hope than prevailed on January 9, when the Mavs were 11-27. But Dallas has gone 15-9 over its last 24 games (18-6 ATS!), including 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS its last five games.
The Nuggets are also playing really well so they will be difficult to catch, but that will ensure that the Mavericks will play with maximum effort over the next few weeks.
Up next for the Mavericks are three home games against the worst the NBA has to offer: the Lakers, the Nets and the Suns. Certainly, if Dallas is going to make the Playoffs, a 3-0 sweep at home this week is required. One wouldn’t think the Lakers would provide much resistance, especially after suffering their worst loss in franchise history (49 points) back on January 22 to Dallas. That 122-73 blowout was Dallas’ 13th straight victory in the series (10-3 ATS) – the fourth longest active streak by one team over another in the league.
The Lakers have also dropped their last seven games in a row (1-6 ATS) but don’t be surprised if the Lakers hang tight on Tuesday night. Indeed, teams playing with revenge from a loss by 34+ points are 78-49 ATS if they’re not getting more than 13 points, and they’re also off a SU/ATS loss in their previous game.
The new-look New Orleans Pelicans have been an ATM machine for Totals players – at least for those who have been playing the Under. New Orleans has gone Under the total its last four games, and 6-1 Under since the trade for big man Boogie Cousins. Going back further finds the Pels on a 9-1 Under streak, and it certainly makes sense.
New Orleans’ twin towers of Cousins and Anthony Davis provides great defense on the interior but the Pels had to trade away Buddy Hield and Tyreke Evans to snag Cousins, so their lack of talent now on the perimeter is hurting their offense (not to mention the unfamiliarity of the new guys playing together).
This week, the Pelicans will host Toronto on Wednesday, before traveling to Charlotte on Saturday. Like New Orleans, both of those teams have been playing relatively low-scoring games, of late. The Raptors have gone Under in seven of nine, while the Hornets have gone Under in nine of 12 (and 17 of 24).
Will the Pels’ streak of Unders continue? It likely will – for one game at least – when they host Toronto. The Raptors, of course, are currently trying to adapt to the loss of their floor leader, Kyle Lowry (they’ve scored 100 points in just one of their last four games). Moreover, the Raptors have gone Under the total in 15 of their last 23 road games. Look for a low-scoring game on Wednesday.
Kevin Durant suffered an MCL sprain in last week’s loss to the Washington Wizards, and has been ruled out for at least the rest of March. He may return toward the end of the regular season, however, it’s also entirely possible that he will miss the remainder of the regular season and some, if not all, of the playoffs.
This was the scenario most feared by Warriors execs when they went “all in” on Kevin Durant. Yes, they accumulated (by far) the most elite talent to ever grace a basketball court. But the risk of being top-heavy is that if one of those stars suffers an injury there is little depth to pick up the slack.
Compare the Warriors’ situation to that of the team stalking them – San Antonio. The Spurs only had one All-Star this season (Kawhi Leonard) but have, perhaps, the best bench in basketball. San Antonio could suffer an injury to any player not named Kawhi and would simply keep on rolling.
Golden State finally got a pointspread victory when it won by eight (as a 5.5-point favorite) at Atlanta, on Monday. That ATS win snapped the Dubs’ six-game ATS losing streak, but one ATS win doesn’t change the fact that the Warriors’ offense has been out of synch since Durant went down.
So, this week will provide a true test for Golden State as it has a home game vs. Boston and then road tilts at Minnesota and San Antonio. Boston has won 14 of 20, Minnesota has won six of 10, and the Spurs have won eight straight.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have, somewhat shockingly, lost four of their last six games. Of course, LeBron James didn’t play in two of those defeats. Cleveland’s home loss to Miami on Monday, with a relatively healthy squad, had to raise some eyebrows. The Cavs are four games ahead of Boston in the loss column, so are still in good shape to finish No. 1 in the East, but Cleveland is now solidly behind the Warriors and Spurs, but also percentage points behind the Rockets, in the league’s overall standings. With the injury to Durant, it’s possible that the Rockets could sneak out of the West, so Cleveland surely would want home court advantage should those two teams battle in the finals.
This week, coincidentally, the Cavaliers will visit the Toyota Center on Sunday to take on James Harden & Co., but it’s a brutal scheduling spot for Cleveland. The Cavs will be unrested and also playing their third game in four nights. Meanwhile, Houston will be rested and playing with revenge from an eight-point loss in Cleveland. The Rockets are 17-7 ATS in the last 24 meetings vs. Cleveland, and also 11-2 SU/8-5 ATS their last 13 vs. unrested foes. Expect them to blow out the Cavs.