SportsPulse: Trsyta Krick takes a stand on a number of topics and scenarios dominating the headlines as we push through the back end of the NBA season.
Nowhere in sports does star power exude more sparkle than in the NBA, which found a formula for marketing individual excellence a generation ago and has ridden it to global success.
Basketball’s small collection of most celebrated deities sell tickets, boost ratings, alter franchises and are rewarded with extraordinary wealth and fame.
But they’re not magicians, and losing a front-line standout, to injury for a day or a week, is far less catastrophic to the balance of the win column than you might think.
Maybe it is a temporary trend, but recent times have thrown up some rather remarkable outcomes. On Saturday, the Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors, a noteworthy result simply because it’s news whenever the Warriors lose and even scarcer when it happens at home.
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It wouldn’t have caused so much head shaking, except that it came without James Harden, who sat with a neck injury and flu symptoms, following his incredible run of 32 straight games of 30 points or more.
With Harden, whose ongoing scoring exploits put him in the rarefied company of Wilt Chamberlain, the Rockets had surrendered three of their previous four games, despite him twice topping 40 points and averaging 36.3 points per game. Without him, they beat a team that is in the midst of a dynasty and was at full strength. Go figure.
“(Golden State) might have not seen Harden and gone ‘Oh,’ ” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Sometimes you have a letdown.”
One of those recent Houston defeats came a couple of days earlier against the Los Angeles Lakers, who burst out of the All-Star break with a stellar performance that pointed to a playoff push.
However, also on Saturday, the Lakers lost in New Orleans against a Pelicans team that was missing Anthony Davis and was supposed to be devoid of hope for the rest of the campaign.
There are great philosophical divides about whether New Orleans should sit Davis for the remainder of the season after his trade request came to nothing. But everyone was in agreement with this — if Davis sat, the team would get worse.
Yes and no. When Davis was out amid the fuss of a possible Lakers trade, the Pelicans went 2-6. Since then, however, they seem to have figured it out, winning twice since Feb. 6 without him.
In Toronto, Kawhi Leonard is given much of the credit for the Raptors’ outstanding season, but similarly, don’t be fooled into thinking they can’t play when he’s gone. In the absence of Leonard, Toronto was 13-3 until an untimely defeat to the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
Well, despite how much we have become conditioned to think otherwise, basketball is still a game comprised of five important players per side.
Having great, transcendent, influential players matters, but it is not the only thing. Losing Harden doesn’t automatically make the Rockets 30 points worse, because other players step into the breach. Having had their roles previously curtailed, many relish the chance to do so.
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In Indiana, Victor Oladipo’s season-ending January injury looked to be season-ending for the Pacers too, such was the dynamic guard’s influence in a run of form that earned him an All-Star selection.
It looked even more like it when the Pacers dropped their next four straight. But they have adapted — and the results since? Eight wins from nine, while solidifying third spot in the Eastern Conference.
Sometimes it is about matchups. The Warriors were actually not the worst opponent for Houston to be without Harden for one game, as it gave Chris Paul the freedom to move and work and torment Stephen Curry’s limited defense.
This is not an attempt to suggest that teams should start ditching their stars and pinching pennies in the expectation that it won’t make any difference. More than anything the recent results are just a timely reminder that it is a team game, and while star power is one factor in helping a team become successful, it is not the only thing.
Follow columnist Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.