By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and Cleveland will be without both head coach Kevin Stefanski and star left guard Joel Bitonio during this weekend’s rematch against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both tested positive for COVID, creating a considerable advantage for Pittsburgh. Bitonio was looking at a significant role in the game as a critical piece to handling the Steelers’ dominant pass rush. It’s also unclear whether or not cornerback Denzel Ward, who missed Week 17 with COVID, will be able to return. Cleveland’s first playoff appearance in nearly two decades is undoubtedly off to a rough start.
On the injury front, the Seattle Seahawks are looking at potentially being without star safety Jamal Adams for Saturday’s showdown against the Rams. Adams, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, is expected to be a game-time decision. Even if he suits up, Adams will likely be at less than full strength. Going against a Rams offense without quarterback Jared Goff will help dampen Adams’ possible absence, though L.A. fill-in quarterback John Wolford performed well in relief in Week 17. Adams’s status for Saturday’s game will be worth tracking heading into the weekend.
Also facing a potential absence due to injury is star Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, who suffered a knee injury early in Sunday’s win. Evans was present at Tampa Bay’s practice on Tuesday, a positive sign for his availability for Saturday. Should Evans miss the game, however, Tampa Bay will likely again shift the focus of its aerial attack toward Antonio Brown, who had a massive afternoon following Evans’ early exit in Week 17. Going up against a stingy Washington Football Team defense, Tom Brady and company will have to work for points.
Houston is off to a slow start in the standings in the NBA, but that is through no fault of off-season acquisition Christian Wood. The 25-year-old big man has been a revelation for Houston, showing massive improvement from his breakout season with the Pistons a year ago. Wood has scored at least 20 points in each of Houston’s games, and he’s proving to be a perfect complementary piece alongside James Harden and John Wall. The three-year deal Wood signed with Houston this fall always seemed to be favorable to the Rockets. Now, it’s looking like an absolute bargain.
Indiana is sitting pretty in the East so far, and the big reason for it has been the continued evolution of guard Malcolm Brogdon. On Monday night, Brogdon led the Pacers with 21 points, 11 dimes, and seven boards in an overtime win over the Pelicans. Brogdon even capped off the performance by knocking down the game-winning shot. The Pacers’ success through two weeks of the season is made even more impressive by coming without a healthy T.J. Warren (foot). Tonight, in a treat for basketball fans, the Pacers will face the Rockets, letting Christian Wood and Malcolm Brogdon share the court and the spotlight.
While the Pacers are surging, the Toronto Raptors are sinking. Toronto is 1-5 on the season, owners of the second-worst record in the East. Toronto has played a few close games, but there is cause for concern surrounding the Raptors. Pascal Siakam’s struggles from the bubble remain an issue, with his shot being inconsistent and his attitude being a problem. A turnaround from Siakam, in the long run, is all but guaranteed. However, without a rapid return to form, Toronto may be too far gone to make a charge for a spot in the top half of the East.
With Kevin Durant sidelined due to a COVID exposure, Kyrie Irving ran the show for the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night. Irving was, in a word, unbelievable. He scored 22 points in the first half, 29 in the game, and his efficiency had Brooklyn in possession of an insurmountable lead over the Utah Jazz in the first quarter. The Nets have already been hit hard by injuries, losing Spencer Dinwiddie for the season, but Irving has reasserted his claim to be a superstar, Durant is back in All-Star form, and Brooklyn finally seems to have realized Jarrett Allen deserves a starter’s load of minutes. Brooklyn’s in a great position to challenge for the top of the East.