As we enter into the finals in both the NBA, and the Stanley Cup playoffs in the NHL, I am struck at how the regular seasons in both leagues didn’t really give us any indication what the championship match-ups would look like. Maybe, it’s just the beauty of sport. Maybe it’s just the idea of getting hot at the right time. Maybe, it’s the will and spirit of the competitors that play at this level. Whatever it is, it makes you wonder why we place so much emphasis on the regular season records.
Don’t get me wrong, in this years championship series, there are two number 1 seeds. Very predictable based on the regular season, but, there are also two teams who came from the weeds. Both Florida franchises, the Heat in the NBA, and the Panthers in the NHL, have been huge surprises in getting to the finals with very impressive runs.
It’s kind of odd that two of the 4 combatants are no surprise based on their regular season success, but the other two are shockers. It makes me think that the regular season has become the entertainment part of the sport. You sell tickets, make money, and win the games, but the real push starts at play-off time, when the trophies and titles are up for grabs. It’s like the regular season is the off-broadway test run of a play or show, but charging broadway ticket prices. Then when the move to broadway comes, everybody picks it up a little more. Is that getting the true bang for your buck? I must say, the playoff games I’ve watched have been great theatre. Great drama. Great effort. So much better than the games in January when it’s seems like the teams are going through the motions as compared to what we are seeing now.
The danger to me is that these seasons go so long, it is impossible to sustain the kind of games with playoff intensity that we are seeing now. What we are seeing now is when they are the most compelling. Shouldn’t that be the standard? I don’t think it is. And, I think in the long run, that’s not good for the sport, or the leagues, or the product.
All that being said, I do want to weigh in on the Miami Heat and the great run they are on. This is a team that until the last day, weren’t sure they were play-off bound. They had to win their way in after a mediocre regular season. Then, they have no home court advantage, and yet they go on and beat the Number 1 seed in the East, Milwaukee, 4 games to 1. They knock off the number 5 seed New York, 4 games to 2, and then cap it off with a seven game series win over the number 2 seed Boston. And, they win the deciding game 7 on the road, after blowing a 3-0 series lead. Incredible!
If you are wondering about the Heat head coach, Eric Spoelstra, I don’t think he came close to the coach of the year award this year, but, he clearly has my vote as one of the best in the NBA. He’s got a team that literally no one would draft, and he’s got them in the NBA finals. It is one of the most amazing runs in pro sports in recent memory. I don’t think they’ll win the title, I think Denver will end the Cinderella run, but, the accomplishment of what they have done should be celebrated. And, don’t count them out against Denver, who knows after this run, they may be that one in a million.
The other Florida team, the NHL’s Panthers, are almost as amazing as their crosstown brethren. They also shocked the hockey world in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by knocking off Boston, who had the best regular season record in the NHL by far. Poor Boston huh?…they saw the Miami teams beat both of their teams in huge upsets. I’ll bet there is no love lost between Boston and Miami sports fans these days.
But think about it, the Panthers, during the regular season, finished 43 points behind the Bruins, they finished 21 points behind the Carolina Hurricane, and they finished 19 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, and yet they beat all of them to get to the finals.
I’m not sure we will ever see anything like this kind of run by two teams in the same year from the same city ever again. Or, it’s a small indication that the regular season, quite often, doesn’t tell us anything at playoff time.