SACRAMENTO – As the dust settled on the NBA trade deadline Thursday, we got a little clearer view of what happened, particularly in the Western Conference.
To summarize: the Mavericks turned the West on its head.
For about two days.
The San Antonio Spurs made a big splash gathering future assets that lasted less than an hour. The Clippers tried to get better with under-the-radar moves.
And yet, it all got obliterated in the explosion that the Phoenix Suns pulled off. They rearranged the power structure near the top of the West with a blockbuster that topped even the Mavericks’ bold move of obtaining Kyrie Irving.
Just another trade deadline gone bonkers.
So who thinks that come playoff time there will be nine teams clumped within a game of each other in the loss column like there was earlier this week?
It’s not going to happen. The lines of separation no longer are all that blurry.
Rather, the big dogs are getting a little easier to identify in the West. Denver remains one of the favorites. But the Mavericks moved up a few pegs because of the move to get Irving, whose first game after the trade could not have gone more smoothly. And his first coupling with Luka Dončić could come Friday night against the Sacramento Kings.
But the move Phoenix made to get Irving’s former Brooklyn teammate Kevin Durant clearly was an all-in move that will not be deemed a success unless a championship is delivered to the desert.
Durant and Irving both moving to the Western Conference? Life just got tougher for everybody.
“It’s not the first time we’ll be in competition as brothers,” Irving said after hearing of the trade. “I’m just praying for his happiness and his well-being. We had a lot of conversations throughout the year of what our futures were going to look like. There was still a level of uncertainty. But we cared about seeing each other be places where we could thrive. I’m just glad he got out of there.”
After so much talk for the first two-thirds of the season about how the Eastern Conference was the hub of the NBA, that no longer applies. Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia still are strong. But Brooklyn is no longer in the conversation and Cleveland may be a year away.
So what did the trade deadline do to the odds for contenders to win the Western Conference? Glad you asked.
The top six, according to Fanduel Sportsbook: Phoenix +210, Denver +320, LA Clippers +500, Golden State +700, Memphis + 750, Mavericks +750.
All of those teams feel now like they can be legitimate contenders to make a deep playoff run. And, by the way, the Kings that the Mavericks will see on Friday and Saturday still feel like they are on a solid playoff track.
And the star power is incredible. While Luka and Kyrie figure it out, the Suns will pair Durant with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul. The Lakers still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Golden State has Steph Curry (when he returns from injury) and Klay Thompson. And Denver has Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
No nights off in the future for the West contenders.
So where will the Mavericks be when things shake out? Much will depend on how quickly they can become the proverbial well-oiled machine.
They have four games in six days before the All-Star break, which will be a much-needed exhale moment for Luka and Kyrie.
But if they can have a strong finish in the four remaining games in the next week, then it sets up the Mavericks for a strong charge to a top-four seed.
As coach Jason Kidd said before the win over the Clippers, the key is to stay out of the play-in tournament. But if you can avoid the seven-through-10 spots, you might as well start the postseason on the home floor.
“The playoffs will arrive early,” he said. “I think the league and the players will be up for that. Each game and possession will mean something after the break, which doesn’t happen a lot of times. A lot of times, you’ll have four teams clinch and they’re trying to stay healthy and get a rhythm before the playoffs start. But I think the playoffs are going to arrive a little earlier than normal.”
And they are going to be as cutthroat as ever.
Share and comment