Basketball vs. Hockey. NBA vs. NHL. With two seasons and sports that have basically the same exact schedule, the arguments are inevitable and both sides certainly hold water. As both the NBA and NHL playoffs are now in full swing, there is no better time to break out the age-old debate about which one is better, so that is exactly what we did this week.
I totally get the pleasure people derive from the madness that is the NHL playoffs. It’s crazy, and craziness is fun. But guess what? Three of the four best teams lost in the best round. Alexander Ovechkin? Gone. Austin Matthews? Gone. The entire Tampa Bay Lightning roster seemingly? Gone. That stinks. I want to see the best caliber of play possible, I want the best players and coaches doing their thing. The inherent parity of the NHL playoffs robs fans of that. I mean Tampa Bay was sensational this year, and Columbus deserved to beat them no question, but it’s just a missed opportunity such an elite team with elite talent is no longer able to be watched. The NBA playoffs can be a little blaise sometimes, but at least it’s providing all the premium matchups. Warriors-Rockets is set to be intense, as it should be considering it’s two of the league’s best teams with All NBA players like Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden and Chris Paul all giving us their best. The Eastern Conference has loaded semi-finals with the best players as well. I’m here for those matchups and the high quality of play they yield. I want to see the best in action. At the end of the day, sports are supposed to be a meritocracy, not about randomness. There’s too much variance and noise in the NHL playoffs. Meanwhile on the basketball side, the goods we all want are being delivered. Why wouldn’t you be watching?
The NBA playoffs are awesome. I love watching the best players play on the game’s biggest stage. However, it does get boring after a while. For the past four years the NBA Finals have consisted of the same exact two teams, and the Golden State Warriors will likely make it to their fifth consecutive finals this season. Frankly, that’s ridiculous, and that is exactly why the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the NHL is better. Hockey in general is by far the most unpredictable sport. It is all about which team and which goaltender in particular gets hot at the right time, and that is why the “best” team does not always win in a seven-game series in hockey. Upsets certainly happen in basketball, but it is so rare. In the NHL Playoffs, no matter the seemingly lopsided matchup, it is almost always a 50/50 shot for either team. Isn’t not knowing who is going to win entirely the point of enjoyment of watching sports? When a one seed goes against an eight seed in the NBA, there is a 99 percent chance that the top seed is going to win, so it makes watching the games pretty pointless. In the NHL playoffs, it is quite the opposite. This year, the top seeds in each conference were beaten in the first round. You said it yourself: It’s craziness, and that craziness is exactly what makes the NHL Playoffs so much better and more exciting to watch.
I respect people enjoy the wild landscape of playoff hockey. I would just reiterate, are you all aware you are losing the best players, which means subsequently you are losing the ingredients for the best play and best games? Think about it in terms of probability, having a Bucks-Warriors NBA Finals more likely to deliver elite basketball than Blue Jackets-Blues is going to deliver elite hockey. There is something to be said for intensity and suspense, but let’s not all forget about aesthetics. Sports are not just about results, they are about how the game is visually played. When teams with the best craft like the Lightning, or high end scorers like Ovechkin, are gone, lost is the quality of play and entertaining ability. I could watch Kevin Durant hit those Dirk fade-away or Kawhi iso guys up all day. It’s harder for me to latch on some of grinding in the NHL playoffs. They’re still fun, but the NBA is simply better.
If you want to talk about how the game is visually played, then how can you beat a double overtime, Game 7 thriller like we saw in the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes first round series. That one game had more suspense than the entire NBA Playoffs to this point. Only one series in the first round of the NBA Playoffs even went to a Game 7 and every single higher ranked seed won. I don’t care how appealing the play on the court is. If there is no suspense, then how can it be as fun to watch as the NHL Playoffs, which had three series in the first round alone go to a Game 7. I don’t know about you, but as a sports fan, game sevens are what I live for, and they are much more likely to occur in the NHL than the NBA, especially in the early rounds. Hockey is a more even game in which every period of every game is extremely important, especially in the playoffs. So I don’t care that Ovechkin and the Capitals got eliminated in the first round, because the fashion in which they got eliminated was far more appealing to me than anything I have seen from the NBA this postseason. The NBA conference finals and championship are always must-watch TV, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are like that throughout the entire postseason, which makes them much better in my opinion.
No matter what side you’re on, a measured sports fan would acknowledge there are benefits and drawbacks to both. The NBA and NHL playoffs have diferent strengths and weaknesses, and often, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What cannot by denied is there is some terrific sports competition to be seen in both.