NBA's March Madness Good Enough For Me
I usually find myself sitting alone this time of year. I know most fans are caught up in the NCAA Tournament, but I'm not in any pool and I haven't filled out a bracket in almost 10 years. I know somewhere, somebody is already balling up their bracket and preparing to throw it at the television because of some upset or some upset that wasn't. Me, I don't even pay much mind to March Madness.
I think it's mostly because in my six years covering the league, I've become a real NBA snob. I watched the college game with a pair of Jerry West logo-covered glasses. I check to see which players have pro potential, the ones whose games will translate at the next level. I really don't get too excited with the outcomes or the buzzer beaters anymore, which might explain why the only first round game I really care anything about is the one that pits two of the top prospects - Kansas State (Michael Beasley) vs. USC (O.J. Mayo).
I think the other problem I have is with the NCAA. I'm really upset that the representative from my college conference - the MEAC - is always in that stupid play-in game on the Tuesday before the round of 64 begins. It's so crooked; some small school wins its conference tournament but doesn't have an automatic bid to the Thursday and Friday games because the NCAA wants to give an at-large bid to some big conference school and generate more money. What a joke. But I digress.
Fortunately, this season in the NBA provides so much excitement that it rivals the action of the NCAA Tournament this month, especially out West, where every loss for the playoff contenders has an apocalyptic feel to it.
There are some great games on tap this weekend. Tonight, the Boston Celtics will attempt to become the first team since November 2001 to sweep the Texas Triangle against the suddenly fueding Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers are in Utah, where Derek Fisher gets no love after helping the Jazz reach the conference finals. Tomorrow, Houston is in Golden State and Philadelphia is in Orlando in a possible playoff preview (if the Wizards don't hold on or move up). On Saturday, Boston is at New Orleans and Houston plays Phoenix. Then, on Sunday, the Spurs are in Dallas and the Warriors play the Lakers. Good stuff.
I was in Philadelphia last night for Allen Iverson's return and it was one of the most exciting regular season games that I've ever watched in person - and that was because there was so much emotion in that game, from the fans, from Iverson and Iverson's current and former teammates.
The Denver Nuggets are in the ninth spot out West because they continue to struggle on the defensive end, letting their opponents get quick baskets so they can get the ball back and score right back. Philadelphia shot 60.3 percent from the floor last night. The night before, Detroit shot 60.4 percent. I know the Nuggets scored a season-high 168 points against Seattle on Sunday, but in their past three games, they have allowed 367 points (an average of 122.3). I know that the pace of the game has a lot to do with it, and their games have a lot of possessions, but my goodness.
I found it really odd that the Nuggets had Marcus Camby guarding Andre Miller for a good portion down the stretch. Are they that lacking in perimeter defense that they have to use a 6-11 center? It's really hard for me to come down hard on the Nuggets when they are 12 games over .500 and would be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Watching that game, though, it got me to thinking that it would be awesome if the Nuggets could just swap rosters with the Knicks or the Bulls, so that the East could be a bit more exciting and unpredictable this postseason.
Anyway, one of the biggest surprises out West has been the struggles of the San Antonio Spurs. The defending champions are in seventh - yes, seventh - and have lost four in a row and six of seven overall. This is an uncharacteristic late season lull for the Spurs, who are historically pretty awesome in March.
Last season, they went 13-2 in March, and they haven't lost more than five games in March since the B.D. (Before Duncan) Era in 1997. That year, the Spurs were in full shutdown mode and sat David Robinson in an effort to get more ping-pong balls.
But this recent slide is odd, and a bit disconcerting. I watched them in Philadelphia on Saturday and I couldn't believe how composed and steely the 76ers were, while the Spurs never made a serious run. (That has a lot to do with how good the Sixers have become. I've seen them play live three times in the past two months, and I still cannot believe that this team is getting it done, but they are. The Wizards have to keep winning).
After the loss, I asked Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich how he felt about his team: "You'd rather win than lose, but I'm not too concerned about that," he said. "I'm more concerned about playing consistently and competing, no matter what the situation is, learning getting smarter and I think we've done that every game. I'm really proud of what they've done, even though the record doesn't show it. We just move on from there. There is a lot of time before the playoffs, and you just want to get better."
Popovich was then asked if he was worried. "Worry isn't something that you do," he said. "You just go out and play. You try to improve. You don't have time to worry."
I talked to a Western Conference scout after the game and he told me, "The Spurs look old." I know that folks have been saying that about the Spurs for years, and they keep finding a way to get it done. But during a time when they usually make their run, the Spurs look like they are moving with the assistance of a walker. How often does San Antonio blow a 22-point lead at home, like it did on Monday against Boston? I'm not ready to write off the Spurs, because that would be foolish. They can get rolling again, beginning tonight against in Chicago.
They finish the month with games against Sacramento, Dallas, Orlando, the Clippers, Minnesota and Houston, so the Spurs can right the ship before the end of the month. But they'll need to get it together with a rough April that includes two games against Utah and more against Golden State, Phoenix, the Lakers.
This should be fun, folks. March Madness, NBA style.
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