Why the NBA playoffs are better than the NHL playoffs
First, I'm a hockey guy. I covered the NHL for 15 years and if the choice is between watching a hockey game on television and watching another event live from the first row, I'd probably pick the hockey game. To me, it's the best sport there is, and there's nothing like the passion, drama and intensity of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Except this year. (And, to be honest, last season, too, because I wrote about this same subject.) Quite frankly, the NBA playoffs have been better than the NHL playoffs. Here are five reasons why:
1. The superstars are playing in the NBA
The four best players in the NBA this season, in no particular order, have been Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett. All four are still alive and well in the playoffs. In hockey, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins are still playing, but the other teams -- the Red Wings, Stars and Flyers -- are built on a team concept. The league's other top stars -- Washington's Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, Calgary's Jarome Iginla, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, the Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier, Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson -- have been sitting at home or playing golf for quite a while.
2. The NBA has been more competitive
Three of the four conference semifinals in the NBA were tied after four games. The Spurs-Hornets, Lakers-Jazz and Cavs-Celtics were all at 2-2. This after the Celtics were pushed to seven games in the first round, and the Jazz, Pistons and Cavs had to go to six games to win their first-round series. Meantime, in the NHL, the Red Wings are about to sweep the Stars in the Western Conference final after sweeping Colorado in the last round. Over in the East, the Penguins are about to sweep the Flyers and are 11-1 in the postseason. And the Flyers won their last series over Montreal in five games.
3. The defending champs are playing in the NBA
Parity is all the rage, but dynasties still are the best thing to happen to sports. Right now, there is a mini-dynasty in the NBA. The defending-champion Spurs are still kicking and looking for their fifth title in 10 years. The NHL hasn't had back-to-back champions since the 1997-98 Red Wings and six different teams have won the past six Stanley Cups. There won't be a repeat this year either -- the defending-champion Ducks have been eliminated.
4. The NBA has the glamor teams
The Red Wings, in years past, have been a glamor team. But not so much anymore. This team is as talented as any Detroit has had, but outside of Nicklas Lidstrom there are no well-known stars. (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are wonderful players, but not marquee names because of their quiet personalities.) There's no Steve Yzerman or Brendan Shanahan or Scotty Bowman. The Pens are sort of a marquee team with Sidney Crosby, but Dallas and Philadelphia are not. The league could've used a few more of the Original Six teams to make a run -- the Rangers or Canadiens or Maple Leafs. The NBA? As I mentioned, the defending champion is still alive, and so is the best team in the NBA beside San Antonio over the past decade: Detroit. But the two marquee teams in the NBA have been, are and always will be the Celtics and Lakers. Not only are both teams alive, but if the seeding holds true, the two would meet in the title series.
5. The NBA plays five-on-five all the time
The penalties being dished out in the NHL playoffs these days are a joke. Every time you flip on an NHL game, someone is headed to the penalty box, often for something that wouldn't even get you in trouble at the office if you did it to a co-worker. What happened to the good old NHL days when you had to earn every shot, every goal, every inch of ice? These are the playoffs, for goodness' sake. The Sharks were eliminated in the fourth overtime of a game because of a ticky-tack penalty. At least in the NBA, you have to earn it. Now, it appears the old saying "No harm, no foul'' applies more to the NBA than NHL. The NHL's slogan these days is "The Cup changes everything.'' When it comes to penalties, it actually hasn't changed a thing from the way the game is called in the regular season.