What a crazy basketball season

The NCAA and the NBA had massive favorites to win their respective championships.

Both were upset. They let down the wise guys in Las Vegas and other legal-gambling ports of call who thought they could make easy money betting on the chalk.

First, Duke got upset in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament by Michigan State. The Blue Devils were 2/1 favorites to win the title at the beginning of March Madness. They were such a prohibitive favorite that oddsmakers were offering wagers that gave gamblers two choices: Duke or all the other teams in the tournament.

Golden State was an even bigger odds-on favorite. The Warriors were 1/2 favorites to win the title at the start of the NBA playoffs. Toronto was 14/1.

And you can make the argument that the NBA is weighted more heavily toward the favorites since, unlike the NCAA, one loss does not automatically eliminate a team. Every series is the best-of-seven.

What happened to the Golden State Warriors in their 4-2 series loss to Toronto in the NBA finals?

In short, the basketball gods played nasty with them.

The injuries to Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and, finally Klay Thompson in Game 6 on Thursday night, stacked the odds too heavily against the Warriors, even with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala playing like heroes. Injuries are part of sports and while we can debate for months what would have happened if both sides had been healthy, the fact is they weren’t.

In the end, Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors treated the Warriors like vultures treat a raccoon that has had an unfortunate meeting with a Mack truck.

As coaches and players have been saying for decades, this is why they play the games.

No matter how much a team may seem dominant on paper, there are no guarantees in sports. A year ago, Leonard was still a San Antonio Spur. He didn’t get traded to Toronto until mid-July and he arrived in Canada as a bit of a polarizing figure because it meant the Raptors had to jettison the wildly popular DeMar DeRozan to acquire Leonard.

All Leonard did was help bring the Raptors the first ever championship ever claimed by a team not based in the United States.

And by the way, the Raptors were 30/1 long shots to win the NBA title before the season — even after they acquired Leonard. They were 25/1 when they were down 2-0 to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals.

And yet, here they are.

What this proves is that there are no guarantees. Teams can be stacked with oodles of talent and there is always a chance they won’t win the ring because of circumstances that arise that nobody can foresee. Maybe it’s health. Maybe it’s chemistry issues. Maybe it’s age.

It can happen. And that’s also why the Mavericks are right to have a pushing-the-red excitement level about next season and beyond.

They have hope. They have two young players who might be superstar-level talents in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. They have money to spend in free agency, which they could spend on a third star-level player or a package of solid second-tier contributors. They have some smart, productive role players. Their time is all in front of them and watching it grow is going to be fun.

Doesn’t guarantee anything. Doesn’t mean the Mavericks of 2020 and beyond are going to be contending for the championship every season.

But they will be fighting for it. And when you are in that position, you never know what’s going to happen.

Just ask the Golden State Warriors or the Duke Blue Devils.

Or the Toronto Raptors.

Twitter: @ESefko

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