March Madness is here and not just college basketball. The NBA has their own version of insanity as teams are hustling to the finish line. It’s a relief. The 82 game schedule can be mind numbing, like when Orlando is playing Brooklyn. The season being a gatekeeper for the playoffs is a false but common perception. That implies regular season games don’t really matter. They do. Sure, games on the schedule on Christmas day and other prime spots are entertaining, and it can be monotonous waiting for the calendar to change. I mean, who cares about a February game in Minnesota, the fourth game in five nights. Except, all roads point to March. Getting in the playoffs or getting into the lottery.
For five months there was competition and apathy. There were incredible records and performances. Young players improved. Experienced players aged, were beat up with the fatigue bat and had to sit out games or deal with injuries; it impacted wins and losses. Boogie tore his Achilles. Kevin Love broke his hand. Kawhi didn’t heal right.
It has been a season where the catastrophic Lakers were 20-12 in 2018. The Clippers stayed relevant after trading Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. The Raptors changed their pace, offense, Kyle Lowry as playmaker and number one option. Without Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are who we thought they would be with Gordon Haywood. Anthony Davis can be Russell Westbrook on many a night when he sets his mind to it.
But all that was prolouge. With 15 or so games left, two games separate seeds 4-9 in the West. In the East, three games separate seeds 4-8. The tankers are performing beautifully and on schedule as this is a draft of big men.
There is a case to be made for every team not making the playoffs except for those seeds who have clinched (Raptors, Celtics) and Houston and Golden State. It has to do with road losses, injuries, hitting a wall, bad luck. Step back from the best four teams and there are a lot of shortcoming and fragilities.
The Cavs don’t have size. The Wizards don’t have Wall. The Pacers are depending on Oladipo. The 76ers are thin once you get past Embiid, Simmons and Saric. The Heat are depending on an old Wade. The Bucks play too slow.
The Blazers are too dependent on their backcourt. The Pels are praying Davis can stay healthy. The Timberwolves can’t guard my grandmother and she’s dead; plus they signed Derrick Rose. The Thunder have a miserable bench. The Clippers are overachieving.
This is where the NBA finds itself as college basketball takes center stage, teams gutting it out. It wasn’t that long ago that the Cavs won a game 7 championship on the road, a last second shot. Three years before that, the Heat beat the Spurs at home in a game 7 that went down to the final minute with a Tim Duncan missed layup. Three years before that, the Lakers beat the Celtics at home in a game 7 after the Celtics had a 13 point lead and the Lakers needed two Sasha Vujacic free throws to ice it in the closing seconds. Teams need home court and you get home court by winning games in the regular season. It’s March so everyone is playing desperate.
No one on planet earth thought the Raptors would have the best record in the east. Before the season started everyone was penciling in the Cavs for the two seed because of LeBron and Isaiah. Isaiah looks like he will never be healthy again. James Harden couldn’t even make All-NBA two years ago and now he is the hands down should be unanimous MVP winner.
The Jazz were the consensus pick to fall apart but who saw Donovan Mitchell coming except for Chris Paul. When the Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler on draft night everyone was talking 50 wins and top-4 seed. Their defense in 2017-18 is broken just like it was in 2016-17. The Pacers were supposed to be in rebuilding mode not Victor Oladipo save us mode.
The point is the NBA regular season has been theatrical and entertaining and not predictable but in March it is insane. Everyone is trying to win or everyone is trying to lose.
The regular season has given us Russ and trying to make a Big Three work, James Harden and his D’Antoni reincarnation, Kawhi salty- if you believe in gossip- with the Spurs, LeBron’s two teams, KD doing usual KD things. Isaiah Thomas has mostly been broken and, at times, angry. John Wall is injured and his team doesn’t really care. Giannis is less a freak and more a bona fide star. The Clippers overachieved and bored everybody, and the Hornets were so horrible they fired their GM. Paul George proved why the Lakers want him so bad. Nikola Jokic is the best player no one talks about. The 2017-18 season has answered the question about parity.
But now it’s about madness of March. It’s almost midnight. We still don’t know the details. If the Rockets top the Warriors. Will the Cavs keep their top-4 seed? Can the Raptors hang on? Can Russ, Melo and PG will the Thunder up the standings and not the other way around? Will a superstar be sulking in a month? Can Kawhi save the Spurs?
Poet T.S. Eliot famously said April is the cruelest month. In the NBA, April brings joy and tears. In March, it’s flat out chaos.