By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and before jumping into a preview of Sunday’s Super Bowl, Thursday was the NBA’s trade deadline, and frankly, to say it was eventful would be an understatement. So often, trade deadlines are loaded with rumors and minimal action, but the final day of dealing kept up the pace set across the past few days that found Domantas Sabonis, CJ McCollum, Tyrese Haliburton, and Caris LeVert all change teams.
Headlining Thursday’s trades was the long-rumored deal between the 76ers and Nets that ended Ben Simmons’ tumultuous tenure in Philadelphia while sending James Harden to join Joel Embiid. It’s a real blockbuster deal as the Philadelphia 76ers go all-in on winning a championship in the short-term, adding Harden at the expense of a package centered around Simmons and includes Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and a pair of future first-round picks. It is a massive gamble for the 76ers.
For Brooklyn, dealing an unhappy Harden for a package centered around the flawed but talented Simmons is a win on its own. Also, adding a shooter of Curry’s caliber, frontcourt depth in Drummond, and a pair of first-round picks make it a borderline steal for the Nets. There’s no disputing that the Nets included the trade’s best player in Harden, but depth has been the biggest issue for Brooklyn. Provided Kevin Durant returns at full strength, the Nets remain a legitimate championship threat, and that’s without knowing anything surrounding Simmons’ ability to contribute this season.
A surprise trade found the Washington Wizards deal guard Spencer Dinwiddie and wing Davis Bertans to the Dallas Mavericks, receiving Kristaps Porzingis in return. It’s a head-scratching move for the Mavericks from an on-court standpoint. Dinwiddie is redundant on a team with Jalen Brunson, while Bertans has regressed to being an unreliable outside shooter on a sizeable contract. Porzingis has struggled to stay healthy, but when he is on the court, there’s no denying he makes the Mavericks a better team. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether or not the same can be said about the incoming duo of Dinwiddie and Bertans.
While the headlines for the past few days have been dominated by the NBA, that will change on Sunday with the Super Bowl finally arriving after a seemingly-endless two-week hiatus of NFL action. The Bengals are coming off back-to-back road wins over the favored Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, and now Cincinnati will be facing the Los Angeles Rams at the Rams home stadium. By all accounts, the deck is stacked against the Bengals to pull off a third straight upset, but Cincinnati has defied logic for weeks, in large part to the growth and brilliance of second-year quarterback Joe Burrow.
On Sunday, Burrow will have the difficult task of facing L.A.’s Aaron Donald-led defense behind an offensive line that has struggled this season. So far in the playoffs, Burrow managed to overcome his line’s struggles against excellent pass rushers like Maxx Crosby, Harold Landry, and Chris Jones. The Super Bowl represents the most challenging task for Cincinnati’s blocking unit. To have any hope of keeping pace with the Rams on the scoreboard, Cincinnati’s offensive line is going to need to step up and provide better protection for Burrow.
For Cincinnati’s defense, as is often the case against Matthew Stafford-led offenses, the path to a win is simple: force a mistake. Stafford is prone to drive-killing, momentum-shifting errors for all his strengths, and Cincinnati’s rebuilt defense needs to capitalize on this habit. In addition, the defense is likely to key on limiting Stafford’s connection with Cooper Kupp, setting the stage for midseason acquisition Odell Beckham Jr. to have a big night. The Rams will also need to avoid head-scratching decisions surrounding timeout usage. On multiple occasions this postseason, the Rams have made baffling challenges, squandering timeouts. So far, those decisions haven’t haunted the Rams, but in a close game on football’s biggest stage, L.A. cannot afford such mistakes.
And that’s that. Joe Burrow, a young quarterback on the verge of superstardom versus Matthew Stafford, a veteran looking to cement his legacy. Aaron Donald, the best player in football, leads a pass rush against one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines. Jalen Ramsey matched up against Ja’Marr Chase. Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates-led secondary looking to slow L.A.’s myriad of weapons in the passing game. It is going to be fun.