While most of America's been distracted by March Madness, the NBA season is hitting the home stretch, and the playoff races are beginning to take shape in both conferences. So as the seeds fall into place on both sides, who's looking like title contenders? Well, we'll get there.
But before we do, let me vent for a second. Since December, everyone's been touting the San Antonio Spurs as the "best team in the league" and a legit title threat. Their arguments usually center on how nobody's touting the Spurs. See, NBA title conversations usually go something like this. "Who do you like for the 2011 title?" someone will ask. "Celtics? ... Lakers? ... Heat? Bulls?"
"Well I think the Celtics can do it if they stay healthy," someone else says. "But otherwise..."
Then a third person interrupts.
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?"
"DO YOU REALIZE THE SPURS HAVE THE BEST RECORD IN THE NBA RIGHT NOW?"
"DO YOU EVEN WATCH THE GAMES?"
It's so, so obnoxious. You can't talk about the best teams in the NBA without someone popping up with sanctimony on San Antonio's behalf. "DO WINS AND LOSSES MEAN ANYTHING?"
...All of which leads to Tuesday's news. I'm not saying it's San Antonio's fault, but the lede to this article is a pretty good example of why some of us waited to take San Antonio seriously:
The Portland Trail Blazers took down the San Antonio Spurs, 100-92, last night and it's no wonder: The Spurs had four starters out of the game with injuries. Tony Parker, Antonio McDyess, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan all sat on the sidelines watching.
There's still time for the Spurs to get healthy, and at 57-17, San Antonio should be able to hang onto the best record in the NBA. But headed into the playoffs with your four best veterans banged up and nursing injuries... That can't be a good thing, can it?
No, but the past few years, it's definitely been a Spurs thing. It's like a celebrity drug problem. Every time you think they've turned a corner, it all comes crashing down. You want to believe in them, you try to be positive, but it just keeps happening the same way over and over... To the point where it's actually a little bit insane to think they'll ever turn the corner.
Anyway, this is your annual reminder as the playoffs approach: Regardless of their record, the NBA team relying on the legs of three aging, injury-prone superstars might not be the best bet in the field.
If all things were equal, then yes, San Antonio could run with anyone. That's been true the last few years, too. But with Manu, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan all banged up (again), and Gary Neal, George Hill and Dejuan Blair carrying the torch, all things are NOT equal among the best teams in the NBA. It's not a crime to say as much; if anything, we stupidly gave the Spurs the benefit of the doubt earlier this season. And in the end, the Spurs are exactly who we thought they were.
AS FOR THE TITLE CONTENDERS... Chicago looks great, Boston will not go quietly, and Miami and Oklahoma City both have legitimate shots. But did you know that since losing three straight games at the end of February, the Lakers have won 15 of their last 16?
While everyone's been distracted by March Madness, the Lakers have beaten Portland twice, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas, Orlando, and... Yeah, the back-to-back champs are playing better than ever about two weeks before the playoffs get started. Be very afraid.
THE NBA: IT'S FAAAAAAANTASTIC... Courtesy of The Basketball Jones, here's 76ers guard Louis Williams explaining his team's letdown vs. the Kings on Sunday:
"We took a chance [Saturday night] by going to the Lil Wayne concert. I don’t know. That’s just a matter of opinion. You had guys that went that played well, you had guys that went that didn’t play well."
See, this is why gambling on regular season NBA games is so impossible. You just never know when a team is going to have a group outing to a Lil Wayne concert the night before a game... It's what a lot of people hate about the NBA, but weirdly, I kinda love it.
There are so many extra factors in play with NBA teams. Did a guy get served with a paternity suit before the game? ... Is he playing for a contract? ... Is there a love triangle that'll divide the team? Or does the love triangle involve an opponent, giving them extra motivation? ... Does the star player secretly hate his coach? ... Is Kobe trying to prove a point by being irrationally unselfish, or will he take 30 shots tonight? ... Did the whole team go to a weed-filled rap concert the night before?
You just never know.
THE 76ERS STILL LOOK DANGEROUS THOUGH... They took down the Bulls on Monday night, and it's still early, but if depending on who they draw in the playoffs, Philly could be a pretty tough out in the first round. Look at where we are right now: The Heat and Celtics are currently tied for second in the East. If Miami jumps ahead and the Celtics get stuck with the third seed, you'd be talking about Celtics-Sixers in the first round.
I'm not saying it would be an upset, but with Williams, Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Jodie Meeks, and Evan Turner, the Sixers have A LOT of perimeter guys that could harass Boston.
Throw in Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes as capable bodies to handle the Celtics up front, and the Sixers could be pretty dangerous. They beat the Celtics earlier this month at home, and their two earlier losses to the Celtics were by a combined five points. It's something to watch as the seeding shakes out over the next few weeks. The Sixers have a two game lead on the Knicks in the sixth spot, and how much damage they do depends entirely on who draws the three seed.
Against a team like the Heat--who want to play small and fast--Philly's 0-3 in the regular season and wouldn't stand a chance in the playoffs. But if they draw the aging team that struggles guarding the perimeter (Boston), the Sixers could surprise some people.
You know, provided Weezy's not touring in Boston next month.
CHECKING IN WITH DAVID STERN'S PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 ... I touched on Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and his ongoing feud with David Stern last week, so we won't go into it too much here. But just for posterity's sake should Wojnarowski mysteriously disappear one day, let's all remember March 29th as the day he subtlely alleged that an NBA game was fixed to help David Stern exact revenge on Stan Van Gundy:
FINALLY, THIS IS NEITHER HERE NOR THERE... It was brief, but for about 25 games, two accidental geniuses were united under one roof. It's an oft-forgotten era that really deserved its own behind-the-scenes book, or at least a Real Sports segment. Instead, we get nothing, and so many questions have gone unanswered. Like, when Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson played together on the Pacers, they definitely had their own secret language, right?