NBA, NHL playoffs offer excitement during lull


The college basketball season is over, and with it ended the run of the team that makes Villanova’s campus buzz. The annual spectacle that is the Super Bowl was especially good this year and became the most watched program in the history of American TV, but it, too, ended a couple of months ago. The year 2010 has the privilege of being a World Cup year, but matches don’t begin until June.

And in the 162-game marathon that is the MLB season, the competitors have only recently crossed the starting line. The point is, this time of year is a lull in the action of the sporting world, right?

Erroneous! Such an idea could not be further from the truth. Two underappreciated, overlooked American sports simultaneously reached their apexes this past week, and you’d be undermining your own status as a sports fan if you don’t tune in. 

They’re sports that are often put on the backburner in favor of professional football and baseball, but the playoffs currently occurring in professional basketball and hockey should certainly not be ignored. 

The reasons why many of us normally find it hard to pay much attention to the NBA and the NHL are simple. The NBA features insanely skilled players who play a game that can be extremely fast-paced and exciting, but many of the regular season games, frankly, are not. The 82-game season, during which each contest is a full eight minutes longer than a college basketball game, often doesn’t seem to inspire the highly paid, highly egotistical players to exert themselves. 

But once the playoffs begin, guys suddenly start playing defense and going hard until the whistle blows. Each game becomes a pivotal matchup, and one aspect of the competitors’ demeanor is blatantly different: They genuinely want to win. 

The NHL, meanwhile, struggles to interest the nation in a sport that lacks popularity from its youth leagues right up to the professional level. Its diehards are as devoted as those of any sport, but their numbers are simply not as large. Regular season games are very rarely on national TV, and while attending them in person is very entertaining for the casual fan, watching them on TV can be something of a chore. 

But, like the NBA, the playoffs add a new element of intensity, and the hockey is played at a whole new level. Rule changes have been made in recent years to pick up the pace of the games and increase scoring, and suddenly the NHL playoffs are fun to watch whether you’re a hockey enthusiast or not.

This year’s playoffs have some great storylines, and they’ve been especially entertaining so far. The NHL kicked things off on April 14, and the first two days saw seven games, four of which were upsets and all of which were decided by a single goal. Through Saturday, every series that had played two games, with the exception of the Chicago versus Nashville matchup, was tied at one game apiece, and five contests had gone to overtime. The NHL has sped up the action of its games, and the competition is excellent. If you haven’t caught any of them yet, you’re truly missing out.

The NBA playoffs began this past Saturday, and although they went more by the chalk, the weekend’s games were just as exciting. From Cleveland’s Lebron James to Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, it seems that nearly every team has at least one human highlight reel. 

And although the first round often goes by without any lower seeds providing much of a challenge for their opponents, that is unlikely to be the case this year, at least in the Western Conference. The second-seeded Dallas Mavericks are sure to have their hands full in their Texas showdown with a San Antonio Spurs club that is playing some of its best basketball of the season at the most critical time of the year. 

The Lakers, meanwhile, who are the favorite to come out of the West and face Cleveland in the finals, face a tough eight seed in Oklahoma City. Durant and the Thunder — a young franchise full of young players, with their oldest starter just 26 years old — are an energetic group that will be fun to watch whether or not they can steal the show from Los Angeles. 

And in Boston, a Celtics squad that has been called old and rickety all year got into a brawl with Miami in game one of their series but held on and won the contest in the fourth quarter — the part of the game in which they’ve been unable to perform well all season. Can they return to the stifling defense and unbeatable intensity that won them the title two years ago, or are they too old to hang with Dwyane Wade and the Heat? The questions surrounding this season’s playoffs point to a very entertaining month ahead.

So don’t sleep on this spring’s action. The NBA and the NHL are both leagues that have made moves to improve their levels of entertainment, and it’s paying off. It’s true their regular seasons could still use some spice, but give the playoffs a chance. Besides, it’s still more than a month until the World Cup starts. 


Bobby Kittredge is a sophomore communication major from Northbridge, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected]