WEST SIDE STORY
With our apologies to some writer named Shakespeare (every Click and Roll should include an apology to Shakespeare, Hemingway, Hughes, Morrison or anyone else who could string together sentences), but NBA beat writers should beware the ides of March.
For this is the time of year when they tend to die of boredom. The special events (All-Star) and deadlines (trade) have passed and all they have to watch are games, games and more games.
To which we say: Good. We like the games. For ESPN's David Aldridge, this is the best time of year in the NBA. This is when the good separate themselves from the bad and the ugly.
As for the bad and the ugly, we won't talk about the East outside the top five teams. (The sixth and seventh place teams in the conference -- the Knicks and the Raptors -- have lost six and nine consecutive games, respectively.)
Ah, we're just going to head west this week. And why not? The conference is tight as the top five teams west of the Mississippi are within five games of each other.
Such close quarters should make for a great race for home court advantage in the first round (not to mention throughout the playoffs) considering one of those teams -- Minnesota, San Antonio, Sacramento, L.A. Lakers or Dallas -- will be on the road for the first round.
So, let's look at the team, as of today, that would be the team on the outside looking in for home court advantage in the first round: the Lakers.
Once again, they are ensconced in drama. Another of the Lakers' Fab Four has made noise about leaving. Now, Gary Payton is unhappy with his playing time and the triangle offense. (Gary, sorry about the minutes, but that's like choosing to move to Florida and then complaining about the humidity.)
And Payton's not the only one with issues.
Such egotism! Such theatrics! Such conflict! Rick Fox loves it. In fact, the Lakers seem to thrive on discord.
Meanwhile, Shaq wouldn't mind making personnel decisions one of these days. Better this than letting him run a movie studio. Kazaam!
Even without the Lakers' backstage shenanigans, the action on the floor out West is compelling. The Timberwolves lead the scintillating Midwest Division and have the top MVP candidate in Kevin Garnett.
Steve Kerr says the one of the reasons the Kings lead the Pacific Division is they have the best shooter in basketball.
The Mavs are 18-4 since Jan. 12 and have won their last five in a row by an average of 18.8 points.
Even the Spurs, who put Tim Duncan on the injured list, rebounded without him to clobber the Nuggets on Saturday night.
Still, anomalies have cropped up. For example, the Kings, without Chris Webber, Brad Miller and Bobby Jackson go into STAPLES Center on Feb. 26 and slay the great Lakers dragon for one of the best regular-season wins in Kings history.
Then, back in ARCO the next night, the Kings suffer the classic letdown, losing to the Jazz at home.
The Wolves, who beat the likes of the Kings and the Nets en route to a 10-4 February closed out the month with an ugly 81-74 loss to the Sixers, who were without Allen Iverson and Glenn Robinson. After the game, Wolves coach Flip Saunders said they played like an AAU team, with one exception: there were no shoe company representatives hanging around.
The biggest question down the stretch, besides whether or not everyone can stay healthy, will be: Which team can separate itself from the West pack? If one team can, they would be the favorite to win it all. If not, well, then we're going to have one heck of a race to the Finals.
Last week, we headed east to the Hudson River valley to see what was going on.
And for a while, things looked to be OK. The Nets had reeled off 14 wins in a row and looked like world beaters. Then, the Nets promptly lost to one of the West's best teams, Minnesota, on Feb. 25, barely beat Miami, then were crushed by the Lakers 100-83 at home on Feb. 29. (Cliché alert) Jason Kidd added injury to that insult when he bruised his left knee in the loss.
An MRI Monday, revealed no structural damage to the knee and he is day-to-day.
PROFESS YOUR LOVE
We've heard why Will Ferrell ("Because you get to wear a helmet!"), Ray Romano ("Because, when I'm around sweaty men, I smell better!") and Oscar the Grouch ("Because of all the trash talk!") love this game.
Now, Click and Roll would like to hear your reason why you love this game. E-mail us one reason why you love this game and we will print the best responses next Monday.
European leagues are a strong, strong draw for college players, especially college players who are sick of, well, college.
-- San Jose Mercury News
My Forrest Gump link: That's all I have to say about that.
-- New York Daily News
Players escape the tyranny of the tucked-in jersey.
Ain't technology grand? SI.com's Marty Burns reports that the Rasheed Wallace trade was done almost entirely by Blackberry.
Speaking of technology, the decision to light the backboard when the clock reaches zero is the best and smartest decision since the 24-second shot clock.