It is the time of year when every injury report causes eyebrows to raise.
D'Angelo Russell, not in Golden State’s lineup at Washington on Monday?
Tristan Thompson, scratched by the Cleveland Cavaliers for their game against New York the same night?
That’s because it’s the week of the NBA trade deadline, when teams need to be careful with the health of players they might be trying to deal.
The deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. EST. It arrives quickly now, once the NBA moved it from its longtime spot on the calendar after the All-Star break to its current one the week before. It allows traded players to use the break to acclimate themselves to a new situation, rather than returning to a team that might deal them a couple days later.
Russell could be making that adjustment. He’s been considered a trade possibility since virtually the moment the Warriors acquired him from Brooklyn in July in the sign-and-trade transaction that sent Kevin Durant across the country. He’s a point guard coming off his first All-Star season, is under contract for a few more years, and plays in a backcourt where the Warriors will eventually have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson again.
So it was hardly a surprise when word came Monday that Russell wouldn’t play. The depleted Warriors know as well as anyone how quickly injuries came pop up and wreck things.
They hadn’t made a trade during the season under coach Steve Kerr until dealing Willie Cauley-Stein to Dallas last month. The buzz remains around Russell, leading Kerr to have conversations with his players he never had to consider before.
“It feels different this year obviously, because of the circumstances that we find ourselves in,” Kerr told reporters in Washington. “Definitely different set of circumstances, so I have to address those circumstances as a coach in terms of what that means for our team, for individual players.”
A former Kerr player, the NBA Finals MVP from his first season, could be available by trade. Andre Iguodala is still on the roster of the Memphis Grizzlies, who haven’t played him this season.
The Grizzlies made a deadline deal last year that made a massive impact on the championship chase, when they traded Marc Gasol to Toronto. He became the starting center on their first NBA title team.
It’s unclear if any big moves are left for February after nearly half the players in the league changed teams in the summer. But, without a clear-cut favorite like the Warriors of recent years, more teams who believe they are contenders could be enticed to swing a deal.
A player like Tristan Thompson, with NBA Finals experience but now a veteran on a losing team that’s committed to youth, is the type of player who teams could call about. And a team like the New York Knicks, with a number of veterans on short-term contracts but mired near the bottom of the standings, could have reason to be active before Thursday.
In the meantime, keep an eye on the lineups.
FLYING INTO FEBRUARY
Portland’s difficult four-game week includes games at Denver and Utah, two of the best in the West.
Good thing for the Trail Blazers they have basketball’s hottest player to lead them there.
Damian Lillard averaged 45 points and 11 assists in leading Portland to a 3-0 record last week. He finished that stretch off with 51 points and 12 assists against the Jazz on Saturday, giving him three 50-point games in his last six outings.
Lillard has made at least six 3-pointers in six straight games, setting an NBA record, and has been the Western Conference player of the week the last two weeks.
The All-Star guard insists he's not doing it alone. The Blazers have won four straight to pull within a couple games of the final playoff spot in the West.
“Of course everybody is going to look at the crazy numbers and what I’m doing because that’s a story, but you don’t win a game scoring 50 points," Lillard said. “We’re scoring 130 points.
“So I think maybe outsiders might overlook it, but we watch film and we talk and we know what’s going on with our team and we’ve just got to continue to do that."
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
Milwaukee at New Orleans, Tuesday. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson, there might not be this much athleticism again in one place until the Olympics.
Portland at Denver, Tuesday. Lillard needs just 45 points and 10 assists to match his average of the last six games.
Golden State at Brooklyn, Wednesday. Will DÁngelo Russell play in the arena where he became an All-Star?
Indiana at Toronto, Wednesday. Opener of a home-and-home series for a couple of tough Eastern Conference teams.
Houston at Lakers, Thursday. Local All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook play in Los Angeles for the first time since Kobe Bryant’s death.