With a little break in the action between the opening rounds of the NCAA March Madness tournament and the upcoming, super-hype Sweet 16, now might just be the best time to quickly circle back around to the NBA.
It’s easy enough to lose track of the league in March. Hell, it’s easy to lose track of any league where the major storyline of the past month has been key players sitting out games to rest their bodies. It’s highly practical, it’s far from incendiary, and if you hadn’t bought a ticket to that Saturday night ABC Primetime special, chances are you just don’t give a crap.
No, with the postseason fates of all but 4 or 5 teams decided, the road ahead should be clear to keep resting those starters in preparation for April or just full-steam ahead tank, tank, tank. The Knicks, bless their hearts, have graciously embraced the latter, with Hornacek telling Carmelo and Derrick Rose that he plans to cut their minutes down for the final dozen games of the season. Ostensibly, Horny would be giving the younger Knicks a little run to see which of them might be future fits for the triangle offense, though more realistically, they sit 1 1/2 games ahead of Orlando and could easily slide their way down to the 4th worst record in the league with a little bit of diligent suckery. But this article isn’t about the Knicks, or how weird it is to get sucked into watching a game where you’re actively rooting for your team’s failure. This article is for those 4 or 5 teams that are still fighting to establish something before they close out the season.
There are some excellent articles about exactly where each team is now in terms of playoff seeding, and how many games they need to clinch homecourt or that wonderful four game sweep from the 8th seed. Instead of going through all those scenarios, though, just get out and watch some of these games.
On Tuesday night the Bulls faced down the Raptors in Toronto. For Chicago, every game is make or break to chase the 7th or 8th seed in the East, while the Raptors arrived just a half game back of the third-seeded Wizards. In addition to the added bonuses of Toronto’s incredible alternate, Huskies court and a total throw-down between Serge Ibaka and Robin Lopez, this game was excellent. The Raptors went on a 14-0 run down the stretch in the fourth quarter, ultimately taking back control of the game before Jimmy Butler went super saiyan to force overtime. He and DeRozan traded enough incredible shot-making and athletic plays on defense to fool you into thinking that this was a playoff game. And, while Toronto might have had a little extra motivation outside of that 3 seed (they hadn’t beaten Chicago in 11 straight games, or since 2013) that didn’t make the outcome of this game any less exciting.
Or, flip over to Portland, where a red-hot Blazers team was taking on the surging Milwaukee Bucks, currently 7th in the East. Damian Lillard and company have been on a tear to overtake the 8th seed from Denver and they opened the game quickly, using guard penetration to collapse the swarming Bucks defense. Milwaukee got back on track, using their length and athleticism to attack the basket and suddenly the game was off to a series of sloppy, exciting runs that culminated in a final, fateful missed three pointer from Dame. While neither of these may have featured the most exciting teams in the league, or the big-time high profile players, take a look behind the margins. Seek out these seeding-showdowns, and realize that there is still some fiery basketball going down in March.