The end of February was a much more innocent time in Cleveland. The Cavs had wrapped up a 9-2 month, and appeared to have gotten themselves righted after a tough midseason stretch in January. They were humming on both ends of the court, and had added Derrick Williams and Deron Williams.
But March was looking like a death waltz, with the Cavs scheduled for a season-high 17 games in themonth, including a West Coast swing, 12 road games and five back-to-backs. Point guard Kyrie Irving told reporters, "Twelve games, especially on the road, in hostile environments and you have to love it. You have to love it."
Well, not so much. Cleveland will wrap up its March schedule Friday night at home against the Sixers. The Cavs havelimped through the month at 6-10, witnessing the collapse of both their defense and their four-game lead in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Their margin for the month is minus-4.5, which is seventh worst among all NBA teams.
Cleveland, though, is not the only team with some gripes for the March schedule-makers. One of the teams challenging them in the East, the Wizards, might have had an even tougher slate of games in March, with a tight 18-game schedule, tied for the most games of any team this month. They’ve had to play 12 of those on the road, including two junkets through the West, and have had the same number of back-to-backs as the Cavs.
But the Wizards have proven resilient. They’ve gone 11-6 ahead of Friday’s game in Utah, and have had a scoring margin of plus-2.2.
In all, eight teams will play more games in March than any other month, and 12 others will tie their month-high game total. Some teams (Washington) have handled it better than others (Cleveland).
Portland has been the big winner in March’s stretch run, using a 13-3 record to seize control of the eighth seed in the West playoffs, overtaking Denver. They’ve been a plus-6.5 on the month, second only to the Warriors, who are plus-7.7 and 11-4 heading into Friday’s game against the Rockets.
Another team with 18 games on the schedule has been the highlight of the month in the East — Milwaukee, which has played nine on the road and eight at home, and will face Detroit at the Bradley Center on Friday. The Bucks are 13-4 in March, which includes five back-to-backs and a tough six-game trip on which the team went 4-2. Among Milwaukee’s March victims: the Clippers twice, Toronto, Portland, Atlanta and Boston.
But there are teams that share the Cavs’ glum view of March. Chief among them are the Pistons, who will wrap up a 17-game month in Milwaukee, and currently stand at 6-10 in March. When the month began, they were 29-31 and holding the eighth seed. They’ve been a disaster since, with a margin of minus-4.8, and are now 2.5 games out of the playoff hunt. The arrest of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on suspicion of DUI has only punctuated a rotten stretch in Detroit.
It’s also been a rough March for the Hawks, who were humming along at 33-26 and seemingly comfortable in the No. 5 spot in the Eastwhen February wrapped up. But a seven-game losing streak in the meat of the month hurtAtlanta on its way to a 6-10 month, and torpedoed Hawks' stretch run. Theynow sit just three games above .500 and in a virtual tie for fifth with the Bucks, with the Heat and Pacers just two games behind.
T.S. Eliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month, but you can’t blame the Cavs — and others — for begging to differ.