This March, the NBA has the madness
- Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesThe artistry, effort and excitement of a typical Suns-Warriors game is the real deal for NBA fans.
My editor sent down a list of games for me to cover, and that March 21 Rockets-Warriors assignment didn't bother me at all. Yes, I know the significance of the date. It's the first Friday of the NCAA tournament. One of the best days on the sports-viewing calendar. When I bought my comfy leather theater seats, I envisioned this day, the hours I would spend staring at the screen. Only this time, I don't mind missing that sport's holy day one bit.
I'm not as excited about the road to the Final Four as I am about the final eight weeks of the NBA regular season. This year the pro game doesn't just offer better players, it offers better games and better story lines.
As soon as Tennessee ended Memphis' quest for an undefeated season, this year's festivities became Just Another Tournament. We won't get a chance to see perfection. There's no fully loaded Florida, Duke or UNLV going for a repeat. There are no truly great teams that will be remembered by anyone but their fans a few years from now.
In the NBA, the Rockets are working on the league's longest winning streak since 1972. The Lakers are trying to lay the foundation for a new dynasty. The Spurs are trying to put a cap on theirs. The Celtics are trying to do their banners proud. LeBron James is walking across the bridge from potential to reality.
For a change, none of these stories can simply wait until the playoffs. There's too much on the line right now, when seeds can be gained or lost, pathways determined. All you need to know about the importance of this month is that Kobe Bryant would rather play with an out-of-whack finger than get surgery and miss any of these games.
Not that there's anything wrong with the tournament. I love filling out my brackets. I even love it when they get shredded by an out-of-the-blue upset. I love getting off a plane in March and seeing people crowd around the airport bar TV sets, with the sound of high-tops squeaking on the court coming from the speakers. But my first love is the game of basketball, and it's being played at a much higher level in the NBA.
Instead of watching Derrick Rose and imagining how good a point guard he might be, I'd rather witness the mastery of the position demonstrated by Chris Paul and Deron Williams right now. Michael Beasley can be. Tim Duncan is.
Ultimately it comes down to this: The pros make shots. As intense and competitive as that Memphis-Tennessee game was, neither team shot 40 percent.
Guide to NBA March Madness
While the NCAA tourney gets going, these games will provide the excitement and quality of play NBA fans crave.
Date Games March 20 Celtics at Mavs
Lakers at Jazz
March 21 Rockets at Warriors March 22 Rockets at Suns
Celtics at Hornets
March 23 Spurs at Mavs
Warriors at Lakers
March 27 Mavs at Nuggets March 28 Suns at 76ers
Hornets at Celtics
March 29 Cavs at Pistons
Warriors at Nuggets
March 30 Rockets at Spurs
Mavs at Warriors
76ers at Cavs
April 5 Magic at Cavs
Normally the tournament compensates for the talent gap with extra passion. Win or else your season and/or career comes to an end. But in this season's NBA, in which no team's playoff seeding is assured, there's something to be gained or lost every night. Add stakes to skills and you get phenomenal ball. Seeing a college kid dive for old U is one thing. Seeing Shaq hurdle seats because he wants one last ring for his collection is something beyond. For every day of the tournament until the championship game gets that Monday night to itself, I can point you to an NBA game that could make for better viewing. (Read the table on the right to see what I mean.)
There's no guarantee that all of these matchups will turn out to be great.
But the pro games I promise you won't be subjected to:
• Obsessive coaches hogging the attention, forcing their players to stick with systems while mismatches scream to be exploited. This drives me crazy. I almost want to smuggle some Detroit Pistons game DVDs to the kids just to show them it's OK to break from the offense to take advantage of a weak defender.
• Excessive use of the word "Cinderella." It comes up in the NBA, just not as often. Google search hits for "George Mason Cinderella": 355,000. Google search hits for "Golden State Warriors Cinderella": 70,000. And I dare any writer to go up to Stephen Jackson and compare him to a fairy-tale princess.
• Any of that Duke floor-slapping stuff. Although I have to say, the most satisfying college basketball moment I've seen in a while came during Saturday's Duke-North Carolina game, shortly after Greg Paulus did a floor slap. Danny Green threw down a Lipton's special dunk on him that said, "Slap this." That was so next level. I hit the rewind button on my DVR so much I nearly drained the battery. That enriched my life immensely. Thank you, Mr. Green.
The problem with the NCAA tournament is that it doesn't deliver Duke vs. North Carolina. The committee is required to spread conference teams as far as possible, to put off a potential meeting until the later rounds -- so we get a bunch of matchups with no history. Because the players turn over so often and the scheduling is inconsistent, it's hard to develop good national rivalries in college hoops.
The NBA loads up on the conference and divisional matchups as the schedule winds down. This season promises to be a slugfest all the way through.
Sure, I'll be watching the NCAAs during the off hours. But when NBA duty calls, I won't feel I'm missing out. I'll be where the real action is.
J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.
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