Thursday, March 28, 2013

March Isn't Just for the Young Bucks This Year

March is the month where production at work goes to die. The four weeks that begin with NCAA basketball conference tournaments quickly transitions into the anticipation of Selection Sunday and finally the sixty-five team NCAA tournament. The NBA takes a backseat to the purity of the college game and the unpredictable nature of the tournament, where any team can win on any night. Most of all, the fans care about the college games, but this year the NBA has found a way to remain relevant even in March.

NBA fans (and haters) have long lamented that the regular season doesn't matter. Common complaints include:

"The best teams get a comfy lead and rest their starters at the end of the season."

Tell this to the Miami Heat. Yes, it could have been because of their monumentally impressive twenty-seven game win streak, but they certainly did not let their foot off the pedal up until last night's loss against the Chicago Bulls. They had nights where they seemed off, but turned it around just in time to salvage the streak. Their multiple late game comebacks are nothing short of remarkable, all led by the efforts of one LeBron James. Without him, this team would be lucky to win two thirds of the twenty-seven games. They rested Wade for two games due to injury, but even he came back last night against the pesky Bulls.

Over  in the Western Conference, the Spurs are finally getting to full health again after the return of Tony Parker. Coach Greg Popovich wants to finish the season strong even though he himself has a reputation for resting his players.

"The worst teams just stop caring and tank in order to get a better draft pick."

Did you hear that, John Wall? You need to stop trying and playing out of your mind as of late. You aren't supposed to. The point guard phenom seems to play with a chip on his shoulder, still bitter about missing the majority of the season due to a leg injury. Since he has returned, the Wizards have played above .500 ball and he is averaging 16.6 points, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He also set a career high with 47 points against the Grizzlies, while also dishing out 8 assists and grabbing 7 rebounds. The pride Wall is playing  with is really inspiring and  makes him the undisputed leader for a team that lacked any sort of guidance all season.

"The real season doesn't start until the playoffs, anyway."

The NBA playoffs go from April until June, yet it feels like August since each series is seven games and many complain it just drags on. The pessimists will tell you there's too many regular season games (hockey has the exact same amount) and that players don't always give it their all. This could happen in any sport - coughRandyMosscough - not just basketball. People who use this line of rationale often forget how close the races get at the end of the season, and how a couple wins or losses can be the difference of playing the Spurs or the Warriors in the first round, or missing the playoffs altogether.

"The players are selfish and I don't like the NBA's style of play."

While there are parts of this that ring true in years past, this year teams seem to be playing with a renewed vigor. They care less about gaudy individual numbers and more about getting the almighty "W". The Heat became their poster boys for this. While LeBron put up 27 points per game during their streak, he also averaged eight assists per game and it became infectious. Players like Norris Cole and Shane Battier became integral in the offense, spreading the floor with Ray Allen and making any insurmountable deficit seem like a few baskets. The "hockey assist" (the pass before the pass that leads to the basket) should be a new stat in the NBA. Superb ball movement is a dying art in a league known for being cenetered around superstars, but it's a joy to watch. Other teams like the Spurs, Thunder and Rockets also show  that it doesn't matter who scores, as long as it leads to a win.

Sometimes it takes something transcendent  such as a long win streak or chase of a four-decade record to bring back the casual NBA fan and remain relevant at a time when college basketball is king. I for one enjoyed the  up and down ride, but I'll be staying on it until the park closes in June.

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