By Brent Musburger
LAS VEGAS--We have not seen any NBA basketball in nearly one week – and yes, I am counting that All-Star Game that was not basketball at all. The drought ends tonight.
It looked like the headline game of the night would be the Clippers at the Warriors, with Golden State a 12-point favorite. But that was before Sunday’s eye-opening trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to New Orleans, turning two games that were of no interest into the games that carry some intrigue tonight.
Now all eyes are going to be back on the same arena where Sunday’s defense-less exhibition gives way to tonight’s matchup of the Houston Rockets and the new-look Pelicans. In New Orleans they are calling the big, new pairing of Cousins and Anthony Davis “Boogie and Brow.” As NOLA.com put it, “they could be New Orleans’s best combo since red beans and rice.”
In one sense Cousins and Davis bring the game closer to the baseline than teams are used to playing, so that will create a challenge on defense for the Rockets. But Cousins and Davis are very similar in style, and it may take a while for them to mesh and find their comfort zones.
“I think we can wreak havoc,” Cousins told reporters in New Orleans. “The potential is scary.” Statistically, there is some evidence of that. He and Davis are the only players in the NBA to average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game each of the last four seasons. The last time two big men of this caliber suited up together was when Tim Duncan got together with David Robinson. This is not to say that the Pelicans are about to become the Spurs, but this is a pairing that cannot be ignored.
Davis and Cousins played together for Mike Krzyzewski and Team USA on the gold-medal team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. And they have no doubt been on the same side in countless pick-up games when they have gone back during the summer to Kentucky. But Cousins is only just getting acquainted with Alvin Gentry’s system and point guard Jrue Holiday – let alone Davis. They will have had only one practice and one walk-through together before Cousins makes his debut wearing his new number “0” for the Pelicans.
So how many points was the trade worth here in Vegas? South Point oddsmaker Chris Andrews said the addition of Cousins was worth about three points to tonight’s spread, cutting it in half from what the Rockets would have been favored before the deal was made.
Either way, gamblers, beware. It may take a little time for this combo to gel.
Tonight’s other game with new-found interest is at Sacramento, where what is left of the Kings are a 7½-point underdog hosting Denver. In case you had not noticed, since the Nuggets opened the season 10-17, coach Michael Malone made Nikola Jokic his starting center. Jokic has since averaged 20.6 points and 10.3 rebounds, and the Nuggets have gone 15-14 to move into the last playoff spot in the West. According to NBA.com/Stats, since Denver made the switch Dec. 15, the teams with the most points per possession are the Warriors and the Nuggets.
In case you are looking for an angle exiting All-Star weekend, combine all 30 teams’ first game coming out of the break over the last three years, and apply it to the over-under. The over has come in 54 times, the under 35, and there was one push. Who knows? Maybe the arcade nature of the All-Star Game rubs off on the resumption of the regular season.
NBA bettors on alert
Vegas bookies are growing increasingly uneasy about the public not finding out early enough about NBA teams resting stars – or not resting them.
This became a glaring problem two weeks ago, when Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he would probably hold the big three out of a home game against Oklahoma City. Bettors reacted accordingly only to be surprised to see LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin combined for 61 more points than the zero they were expected to contribute. The Cavs still lost 118-109, and the Thunder covered the 1½-point spread. Still, this created a bad-looking situation.
There is a reason why the NFL reports injuries as early as Wednesday, and it is a good one. The commish should tell NBA teams that they must reveal players who are resting early on gameday.
Green flag for Vegas
NASCAR’s favorite sons from Vegas will certainly be factors Sunday in the Daytona 500. But believe it or not, neither Kyle nor Kurt Busch has ever won the Great American Race. This weekend Kyle is a 10-1 choice at South Point; Kurt is 25-1 to change that.
There is a third driver from here in Las Vegas who is also in the field – Brendan Gaughan. Andrews makes him a 75-1 long shot.
Keep in mind that the final grid will not be set until tonight’s 150-mile qualifiers. The exceptions are the front row – with Chase Elliott on the pole for the second straight year and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. next to him. Junior is the 5-1 favorite.
Brent Musburger's SiriusXM show "My Guys in the Desert" starts on Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. ET/ 3 to 5 p.m. PT.