You know there is really something wrong with me when I'm more obsessed with the intriguing battle for playoff position in the Western Conference and the mad dash for playoff berths in the East than with my NCAA Tournament bracket. Truth be told, I don't even have an NCAA Tournament bracket. Who has time for that when a game-and-a-half separates Houston, Denver, New Orleans, Portland, and Utah for the third-through-seventh seeds in the West?
Who has time for the Alabama State-Morehead State play-in game when the Knicks actually have a chance to make the playoffs?
I know, I know. The last two weeks of March are sacred ground in basketball for those who prefer the "amateur" variety. But if you want the whole truth, what really intrigues me more than all of this is what will transpire over the next two weeks between the Lakers and Cavaliers in the battle for the best record in the NBA.
As we sit here today, L.A. and Cleveland are dead-even with 16 games left (53-13). Should they meet in the NBA Finals, chances are home court will be decided between now and March 31. With a 98-93 victory over the Knicks Sunday, the Cavs embarked on a crucial two-week stretch in which they'll play eight of nine games at home, where they have the best record in the league at 29-1. The Lakers opened a three-game homestand Sunday with a 107-100 victory over Dallas. Starting Saturday at Chicago, the Lakers will play seven straight on the road over a 10-day period. After the Bulls, they'll visit Oklahoma City, Detroit, New Jersey, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Milwaukee. The Cavs are finished playing out West (until a potential Finals trip), having swept the Clippers, Suns, and Kings on their final long trip of the regular season.
What does it all mean? While the Lakers are packing their bags and heading East one more time, the Cavs need to do what they've been doing all season -- keep winning at home. This is especially true this week, when they host Orlando Tuesday, Portland Thursday, and Atlanta Saturday. If they wind up tied with the Lakers, L.A. holds the tiebreaker because they won both games with the Cavs.
To me, this is the real March Madness. It only got more interesting Sunday when the Lakers' Andrew Bynum guaranteed that he'll return from a knee injury sometime in April. (Click here for the story and video.) So while everyone else will be frothing over the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in the last week of March, I'll be in Atlanta to see if the Lakers are running out of gas as they near the end of their seven-game road trip. And I'll have one eye on the Cavs, who will be putting a stamp on the month with Dallas and Detroit at home.
Call me crazy, but I'll take NBA March Madness any day of the month.