By Dan Walk
1 The Western Conference favorite took a big hit a few days ago when Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook injured his knee and will be out until next season. It’s a huge blow for the Thunder, who lose their second-best player and offensive catalyst. So what does it mean? It means that Kevin Durant is going to have to score at least 40 every night if OKC has any hope of even getting out of the second round this season. We’ll truly see how great Durant is over the next few weeks now that his right-hand man is out.
2 It’s clear if you read this every week that I enjoy watching the NBA playoffs. But there are two things the media and TNT do in promotion of the games that have to stop. First, when a team is down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series, Game 3 is not a “must-win.” I understand that going down 3-0 makes a comeback highly unlikely. But until one team has won a third game in the series, there is no “must-win” situation for the group that is in need of a comeback. And this “must-win” trend extends to other sports — not just the NBA.
3 Then there’s TNT’s promotion of the playoffs. Year after year, the network continues to say that the postseason is “win or go home.” But it’s not. Football is. Baseball, basketball and hockey are not. You can’t promote the sport as “win or go home” if you have to lose four out of seven games to be eliminated. It’s basically “win or you’re down 1-0 in a series that will take two weeks to complete.” You’re not fooling anyone with your false sense of urgency, TNT.
4 Remember when Stephen Curry was leading an unknown Davidson team to the Elite Eight not too long ago? Back then, he was the best player in the nation. But many said he was much too small to have similar success in the NBA. Well, look at him now. Even without Golden State’s second most important player, forward David Lee, the Warriors are a win from reaching the second round of the NBA playoffs. When Curry warms up, he’s the best shooter in the NBA.
5 Unfortunately for the Warriors, the NBA doesn’t re-seed in the second round of the playoffs. And assuming they win one of their next four versus Denver, they’ll face the Spurs next. San Antonio just made short work of the Kobe-less Lakers. For as much as I’ll be rooting for the Warriors, they’ll need a Herculean effort out of Curry to win. But knowing Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, they’ll have an answer for Steph; something similar to the 2007 NBA finals against LeBron James. The Spurs earned a 4-0 sweep that year — their most recent championship.
6 Here’s some random thoughts from the NBA playoffs: Congratulations, Dwight Howard. You won as many playoff games as the Orlando Magic: zero. While the Magic are very likely to have a top-3 pick in the NBA draft, the Lakers’ backcourt of the future might just be Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock. Who? ... Meanwhile, veteran Tracy McGrady played five minutes on Sunday during the Spurs’ win over the Lakers. The only thing that has to be going through his head is “It feels good to get into the second round.”
7 So the draft came and went last week, and as I thought, one team would reach on a quarterback in the first round. Thank you, Buffalo Bills, for not letting me down. But the thing that interested me the most this past week in the NFL was that Barry Sanders was named the cover boy of this year’s Madden game. I guess that’s truly the end of the “Madden curse,” unless you count the Lions drafting Sanders in 1989 his “curse.” EA Sports should have put Pat Summerall on the cover; talk about a fitting tribute to John Madden’s late, great broadcast partner.
8 Hopefully you didn’t miss ESPN’s latest “30 for 30,” which chronicled the NFL’s 1983 draft and is a big reason why the draft is such a large event to this day. The first round of the draft created three of the greatest quarterbacks ever and included a situation similar to what we saw from Eli Manning’s draft day in 2004. John Elway was selected by the Baltimore Colts; even after warning them weeks beforehand that he wouldn’t play for them. But my biggest takeaway from the 30 for 30 is the Steelers’ ignorance of hometown boy Dan Marino. Had Pittsburgh drafted Marino, Steel City would have at least eight rings right now.
9 College football held a number of meetings this past week, and we learned two, albeit boring things: The four-team championship playoff will be called the “College Football” playoff, and we know what the site rotation will be for these “playoff” games. The big, unanswered questions are how and who will decide which four teams will compete for the title. Whatever happens, the college football gods would be remiss to take away the BCS-style rankings that previously began to be released in October. As a fan, keeping track of those “BCS rankings” for the final six weeks of the season were very intriguing as we headed into the bowl season. I hope they don’t just pick four teams in December. The buildup is half the fun.
10 After what was the weirdest UFC card I have ever witnessed, one thing is apparent: Jon Jones is the best mixed martial artist in the world right now. And if he’s not the greatest right now (Anderson Silva, after all, may disagree), the 25-year-old Jones has a chance to someday become the most decorated fighter the sport has ever seen. Over the past two years, I’ve had trouble leapfrogging Jones over Silva and Georges St. Pierre because the latter two were elite, and have since remained elite, before Jones was competing in the UFC. But even in a sport where you’re one punch away from losing everything, Jones appears to not only have no weakness, but also no peers. Here’s hoping we get a Silva-Jones super fight in the next year. Frankly, I don’t think Silva has a chance.
The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.