Buckle Up for the NBA and NHL Finals
Before we even begin, let’s get one thing out of the way: Both the NBA Playoffs and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are far too long. We know finances are the reason it takes two months to crown a champion. But putting that aside, both the NBA and NHL have put on an incredibly compelling post season that climaxes with two Finals that will likely have everyone on the edge of their seats in the buildings, and wherever they may be watching on TV or listening on radio.
The NBA Finals has so much history attached to it. The Spurs and Heat become the sixth pair of teams since the 1976 merger to stage a rematch. Only in 1997 and ‘98 when the Michael Jordan led Bulls were able to beat the Utah Jazz has a team won both series. LeBron James, the best player since Jordan, has a chance to match that against a San Antonio team that was 30 seconds away from beating Miami last year. Meanwhile the Spurs are trying for a fifth championship of the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era. It would move Popovich into a tie with Pat Riley and John Kundla for 3rd place all time behind the eleven titles of Phil Jackson and the nine of Red Auerbach. A fifth title for Duncan, tying him with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, one behind Michael Jordan, would further cement his status as one of the great winners of the modern era.
Who wins? Well, Miami really wasn’t tested very much in the first three rounds in the woeful East. James only had to have one otherworldly game (the 49 pointer in Game 4 vs. Brooklyn). There has been a flip the switch element to their game that normally doesn’t work in the playoffs, but with LeBron, seemingly, the Heat can get away with it. Meanwhile the Spurs, after being taken to the limit by the Mavericks, have been sensational, especially at home, where starting with Game 7 vs. Dallas they have set an NBA record by winning all 7 of their home games by at least 17 points. As opposed to last year, the Spurs have home court advantage this time around, and that might be all the Spurs need to dethrone the champs.
The traditional line of thinking says you want Game 7 at home. In the NBA, the home team wins Game 7 a little over 80 percent of the time. But in the NHL, that figure is just 63 percent, in part due to the LA Kings and their three straight road Game 7 wins vs. San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago just to reach the Stanley Cup Finals this year. They’re probably hoping they don’t go to seven games again, because this time, it would be at the Staples Center, as they the own home ice advantage against the New York Rangers.
The Kings are trying for their second Cup in three years. The Rangers are going for their second Cup in the last 74. Lots to love in this series, especially, the two goaltenders, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist . Indeed, if you look closely Lundqvist (nicknamed The King) will probably remind folks of Dirk Nowitzki. A truly great player, the face of the franchise, reaching the grandest stage for the first time. Winning the Cup would cap a career that has seen him win Olympic Gold, a World Championship and a Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie. The Kings are the more skilled team, and they’re not afraid to allow the game to open up. They have the leading goal scorer in the playoffs in former Ranger Marian Gaborik, a 30 minute defenseman in Drew Doughty, and the aforementioned Quick. The Rangers will rely on their ensemble defense in front of Lundqvist led by Ryan McDonagh, They don’t score a lot of goals, but Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, and Rick Nash are all more than capable. The Rangers have been tested too in route to the Finals, playing seven games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and a rough and tumble six-gamer with Montreal. It sets up as a monster series. Give me the Kings over The King. In Seven. Again.