Bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive

Kingston Whig-Standard - - SPORTS -

NHL may have a par­ity prob­lem, but wild play­offs are more ex­cit­ing than NBA’s ‘mean­ing­less’ sys­tem

wild play­offs un­der­cut the point of the reg­u­lar sea­son, bas­ket­ball’s play­offs them­selves have felt ut­terly mean­ing­less, as ev­ery­one waits for the in­evitable Cleve­land-Golden State matchup in the Fi­nals for the third straight year. The only drama is whether Bos­ton or San An­to­nio will man­age some games in their re­spec­tive con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships — or if the Cavs and War­riors make it to the Fi­nals with 12-0 play­off records.

That is not a par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing sto­ry­line. Head­ing into Fri­day night, Golden State had won each of its 10 games by an av­er­age of 17 points, a mas­sive jump from their 11.6point dif­fer­en­tial in the reg­u­lar sea­son, which was it­self four points higher than the sec­ond-best dif­fer­en­tial in the NBA, the 7.2 posted by San An­to­nio. Cleve­land’s point dif­fer­en­tial in the play­offs is bet­ter than that, a nice round 10.0, which is a touch mis­lead­ing be­cause the Cavs have seen a lot of huge leads shrink dur­ing garbage time. Game 1 against the Celtics was typ­i­cal of th­ese play­offs: Cleve­land stomped them 61-29 in the first half — in Bos­ton! — and then eased off as they cruised to vic­tory. LeBron James, who scored 38 points on the night, was like a video game char­ac­ter who had to de­feat a suc­ces­sion of bosses as the Celtics tried to guard him with one player af­ter an­other. Bos­ton coach Brad Stevens said after­ward that there was no point in talk­ing about the “an­swer” to guard­ing LeBron. No such player ex­ists, at least not in the Eastern Con­fer­ence. It is an in­ter­est­ing barstool ques­tion: if you as­sem­bled a team of the best play­ers in the East who are not Cava­liers, would they be favoured in a se­ries against James and com­pany? (I think maybe, but would be afraid to bet on it.)

This sea­son feels like the in­evitable cli­max to the trend that be­gan a decade ago with the as­sem­bly of the star-laden team in Bos­ton, was fol­lowed with LeBron’s trip to South Beach with Chris Bosh, and con­tin­ued with his new Big Three in Cleve­land. While the NBA has tried to limit the abil­ity of Su­per Friends to com­bine their pow­ers by al­low­ing teams to of­fer big­ger con­tracts to their own play­ers and dis­cour­ag­ing sign-and-trades, there is only so much they can do. Kevin Du­rant’s de­ci­sion to join the 73-win team in Golden State that had just beaten him in the play­offs was a clear in­di­ca­tion that, in bas­ket­ball, where one player on a small ros­ter can have a huge im­pact, any­one who is not join­ing a team of megas­tars is kind of wast­ing their time.

The top-heavy NBA should make for an in­cred­i­ble Fi­nals, but has it has been a painful road there. And bar­ring in­juries, it’s hard not to think that the com­ing off­sea­son and all of next sea­son will just be a pre­lude to Cavs-War­riors IV.

Hockey’s sys­tem, with the hard salary cap that squeezes ev­ery team to­ward the mid­dle, at least has the merit of giv­ing many teams a true shot at play­off suc­cess. Par­ity has all but ru­ined pre­dictabil­ity in the NHL play­offs, but they do not lack for ex­cite­ment. And as the NBA has shown, it beats the al­ter­na­tive, at least in the early rounds.

Al­though, if 44-win Ot­tawa meets 41-win Nashville in the Stan­ley Cup fi­nals, I re­serve the right to bring back that column I didn’t write.


Chicago goalie Corey Crawford looks up at the score­board as Nashville play­ers cel­e­brate a goal dur­ing the first round of the NHL play­offs. The Black­hawks are a con­sis­tent reg­u­lar-sea­son pow­er­house, but have been elim­i­nated in the first round of the play­offs two years in a row.

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