The first round of the NBA playoffs usually isn’t all that good, which doesn’t stop people from complaining about it. The difference between the top seeds and lower seeds is large enough that those series should result in nothing more than dress rehearsals for the true powers and the later rounds. Which is what we’ve seen in Denver-Minnesota, Boston-Atlanta, Philly-Brooklyn. Memphis and Milwaukee’s injuries have made those series far more complicated, along with Memphis’s just general weirdness. The games mostly have been stinky, except for Golden State and Sacramento, which is just about what everyone expected. Only when the really good teams get in a lock-up in the later rounds do the NBA playoffs take off.
On the flipside, the NHL’s first round can be mayhem, though not the good kind. The lower-seeded teams, who really aren’t nearly as separated from the top seeds as they are in the NBA, can only stick around by playing ugly, trapping hockey and trying to goad the more talented teams into some form of Muskogee on a Saturday night on a payday weekend, to paraphrase one of the great orators of our time. Games become unsightly slogs.
These NBA Playoffs have been different...
Except this year’s first round has been particularly different. Look around, and the major stories of the opening week of the NBA playoffs have been who’s hurt (Giannis, Kawhi, Embiid, George), who’s been suspended or not (Draymond yes, Brooks no), and perhaps most curious of all, who’s been getting rocked in the pills (LeBron, O’Neale).
Suspensions? Injuries? Dudes hitting each other in the rocks? Hey assholes, that’s the NHL’s job!
Normally when mid-April rolls around, the chasm in popularity between the two winter leagues and the reasons for it are laid bare. The NBA throws up just interesting games with its established stars around and starting to pop off or makes new ones, while the NHL is mired in endless debates about the small woodland creature that Brad Marchand decided to eat at center ice or whatever garbage Tkachuk son is around and his attempts to fight a building. There are headshots aplenty, missed calls as refs try to ingest their whistles in overtime, and a lot of TV analysts losing their pants and mud over highlights of some 4th line jackwagon trying to fight a goalie as his team trails 6-2 with a minute left.
And make no mistake, there’s been more than enough of that in the NHL this spring as well (Matthew Dumba come on down! And Matthew Tkachuk did try to fight a goalie). But it’s all taken a backseat to the NBA’s descension into the hockey-gear-smelling muck, however temporary.
Hasn’t been much else there there
Part of that is that the NHL has had good games where the NBA hasn’t had a lot. This weekend had four overtime games, including both the Leafs and Oilers getting saving themselves from franchise-turning disasters and the Devils making it a series (at least briefly) in the biggest market. There were plenty of goals, and star power as Auston Matthews, Jack Hughes, Jack Eichel (huh?) Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl all scoring meaningful goals.
And the NBA…not so much. Only the Kings-Warriors was a close, exciting game in a series in the balance and both teams basically at full strength. We’ve had Dillon Brooks with the best media conspiracy of all time, as all the NBA scribes made him punch LeBron in the balls (the imagine of Woj being that kind of puppet master is delightful). Both sides of the debate of Green’s suspension, and all the other controversies that haven’t had a lot of on-floor drama to distract.
Certainly the NBA is suffering from their referees doing their best to steal the show, and decrying that the refs are ruining the playoffs is also hockey’s claimed territory (there are Leafs fans who have made a career out of it). Harden’s ejection was something of a joke, Jordan Poole got a technical for stretching out his shoulders, and other Ts have been handed out by hair-triggered refs. Making it up as you go along is definitely the domain of the stripes in the NHL. We’re seeing the designated guy in a closet on NBA coverage to explain every review and call far more often than TBS or ESPN have to wake up whichever former ref they also have to keep from getting to his 12th Bud Light before the 3rd period (as if NHL refs are still drinking Bud Light).
Villains unconcerned with actual play, cheapshots, and referees on their own planet have reversed the two spring playoffs in a dizzying fashion. There’s still plenty of time for both sports to straighten this out, and they assuredly will. But for the moment, we’ve gone Bizarro. No wonder Chuck is watching hockey while on the clock.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he tries to conjure actual playoff performance from Dougie Hamilton.