Posted Mar 17 2010 10:09AM
The NCAA Tournament is a lot like the Super Bowl in that almost all other sports are basically ignored due to all the Madness. Last week, people were too busy concentrating on seedings and conference tournaments to notice that, finally, the New Jersey Nets broke ground in Brooklyn.
After years of, "It's on ... no ... wait ... it's off ... wait ... it's back on" stories of the Nets crossing the Hudson and gaining enormous prestige by setting up shop in New York City's hippest and dopest borough, we got our first, "No, it's really on, now" moment. Yet, a Georgetown vs. Syracuse upset in the first round of the Big East tournament got more pub. The Nets to Brooklyn alters that franchise for decades to come. The 'Cuse upset just meant the Orangemen couldn't play at home in the East region of the NCAA Tourney.
I'm just here trying to remind you hoopheads that you can get your tourney on without completely ignoring the NBA for the next three weeks. Trust me, you don't want to do that. You'll look up and it'll be the first week of April, we'll have less than two weeks of regular season games left and you'll be out of the loop. Don't get me wrong -- I don't expect you to spend Thursday through Sunday watching Pistons vs. Pacers games. There are, however, some NBA-related things you'll want to keep your eye on as this season's stretch run gets overshadowed by the NCAAs.
Things like ...
Are the Spurs done?: After going 6-5 in February, San Antonio has kicked off March fairly well, despite the news that they may have lost Tony Parker for the rest of the regular season. But the cupcakes are out of the way for a while. Starting with Wednesday's game in Orlando, San Antonio has it about as tough as it can get. The Spurs play the Magic, Hawks, Thunder, Lakers, Cavs and Celtics in less than a two-week span. I'm reluctant to prematurely count out Popovich, Duncan & Co. But if they mess around and lose, say, four or five of those games? We can go ahead and start preparing the coffin for one of the great franchise runs in NBA history.
Is OKC ready?: I keep waiting for this team to crash and burn a la the 2008 Trail Blazers, a similarly young squad that flirted with contention and then faded down the stretch. But Brandon Roy in 2008 is no Kevin Durant in 2010 ... and Portland didn't have anything close to a Russell Westbrook, either. This young squad seems for real. Fifty wins are a very realistic goal. OKC is easily the biggest surprise of the season and is only a game back of Utah for the a fourth seed (and home-court advantage) in the first round. Let's see how they handle the Lakers, Spurs, Blazers, Celtics and Mavs over the next couple weeks.
Steph vs. Reke: As recently as a month ago, the Rookie of the Year award was a non-issue. It was Tyreke Evans' award and no one else was even in the discussion. Then, around January, when Stephen Curry's minutes increased, things started changing. Steph started balling and kept balling. Forget their season stats for a moment, because it took a while for Steph to earn minutes, a starting position and, most importantly, Don Nelson's trust. Think of it this way: Evans was significantly better in November and December, they both played at about the same level in January and Curry has outballed Evans in February. (And Evans shoots just as much as Curry, so don't fall into the, "Well-he-plays-in-Nellie's-system" argument). If Curry gets the best of Evans in March, it's going to come down to how they close out the season for the ROY. One thing that Curry has on his side: He captures the imagination. Opposing crowds don't "ooh" and "ahh" for Evans when he's in a zone.
First-round intrigue in the East?: The No. 7 and 8 seeds in the East seem like they'll be duds, but what about these nifty win streaks Milwaukee and Charlotte have run off recently? With the Hawks still in Jekyll-and-Hyde mode and the Celtics trying hard to keep from reeling, one wonders if the Bucks and the Bobcats might be primed to pull a first-round upset.
Laker Mojo: Last week, Lamar Odom commented on how teams are getting a little too confident when they play the Lakers. In short, he basically said he wants L.A. to get back to the days when teams expected a loss when they went to Staples or when the Lakers came to town. L.A. has two games against the Spurs, a date with the scrappy Rockets and games against Atlanta, OKC and Utah between now and the NCAA Tournament's end. Either they'll have returned to form or we'll still be wondering if they're back-to-back material.
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