We only have a few weeks left of meaningful sports before the black hole of major league baseball is all that is left to "entertain" us for the summer. I don't mean to startle you here, but once the NBA and NHL playoffs end baseball is all we'll have until the NFL labor negotiation dispute is settled. At least last year we had the World Cup to take our minds off of things. Why couldn't the World Cup have been played this year, during the lockout? That's just more proof that soccer hates America.
I figure I should squeeze every last drop out of these playoffs because they are shaping up to be more exciting than a dinner party with Sigfried and Roy.
The NBA Playoffs are filled with story lines. You have the superstars each grasping for a title and a shot at immortality. Regular stars grasping for the one moment, one game, that will change how they're remembered forever. And the Knicks bench slowly finding out that they will actually have to contribute because running a 5-on-1 with Carmelo against the Celtics doesn't work (see: LeBron, 2010).
Plus you have the NHL playoffs with all of their incredible story lines and star players. You know them...Alex Ovechkin and....um...the other Russian guy. That one guy from Canada and those two brothers who play for a team either in the Eastern Conference or the Western Conference, I can't remember which.
Point is, the Washington Capitals are looking for penance from their previous years playoff catastrophes and I'm here to give it to them.
For the sake of time, and creativity, I'll give you three things to watch for in each of these playoffs. Don't worry, the three things won't be hyper-specific like "Kobe's left knee, Chris Bosh's PER, and Amare's back spasms". They would have been, but my editor advised me not too.
Of course, by "editor" I mean the high school student I convinced to read my blogs and say nice things to me in exchange for "course credit" and something I call "not being punched".
Here are three things to watch for in the NBA Playoffs:
1. The Second Round in the East - If you're an American you watch sports for one of two reasons 1) to watch the best athletes in the world play, or 2) because you want your husband/boyfriend to like you and think you're into what they're into so you suffer through games you care nothing about and sometimes say something like, "So, what happens if your team loses?". Which gives the male in this situation an opportunity to lay out every possible playoffs scenario imaginable while you get 10-20 minutes of free-time to check Facebook on your phone.
All that to say, if you like watching superstars do things that are superstar-ish, you need to watch the second round of the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. If the games go according to plan, you have the potential match-up for the Chicago Bulls (Rose, Boozer, Noah) to play the Orlando Magic (Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and the corpses of Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas).
Not to mention the Celtics (Garnett, Peirce, Allen, Rondo,
Derrick Rose wants nothing other to stand over the defeated bodies of LeBron, Wade, Howard, and Garnett and sneer at them in victory while setting his sights on the Lakers in the West. Garnett will actually bite someone in the throat, and I'm almost positive LeBron will try to get Paul Pierce to collaborate on a rap album with him (we all know LeBron doesn't quite have the killer instinct we thought he did).
Point is- watch these games. They won't disappoint.
2. The Oklahoma City Thunder - There is a group of guys in the West who are all in their early 20s, genuinely like each other, care about winning and playing basketball instead of personal glory and just traded for a dominate defensive center who makes other teams think twice before driving the lane. We saw last year when the Thunder played the Lakers that they didn't have the big men to keep up with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. If memory serves me right, Kendrick Perkins has done a fair job handling those two in the playoffs before, and I think he's primed to do it again.
The Thunder are my pick to come out of the West. Don't bet on it, though, cause that'd be foolish. We all remember my March Madness debacle, don't we?
3. Old Teams Dying Fast - What do the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers all have in common? None of them will be playing the Finals this year. Usually I'd say that because of personal bias, but this year we've seen these teams die off faster than the cast of Hamlet (that's an educational joke, you may have to look it up). The Spurs will be lucky to beat the Grizzlies in Round 1, the Celtics might not even make it past the Heat in Round 2, and if the Lakers can give away a home game to the New Orleans Hornets I'm not sure they can last through the Western Conference Finals. Or maybe I'm just hoping they can't.
Now onto hockey (read, Capitals) and three things you need to keep an eye out for.
1. No Quit in 'em - The Caps are showing something they didn't show in previous years- the "No Quit" element. I'm sure after going down 0-3 to the Rangers in Game 4 many fans turned off the TV. The Caps didn't and they ended up rallying back to win in double overtime. That's what champions do. Champions also close out series, so we'll see how they handle Game 5, but they played like they're supposed to win and that kind of swagger means the world in playoffs.
2. Best Player? - It's not Ovechkin, although he is vital to our success. I'd keep an eye on Alexander Semin and Michal Neuvirth the goal keeper. Mike Knuble is also a personal favorite, but just because his last name is a hoot to say. Knuble.
3. The Capitals - Just watch the Caps. D.C. is as much of a football town as Compton is a drive-by shooting town, but that doesn't mean the Capitals don't deserve our attention and respect. They have the best shot of bringing a title to Washington out of any of our teams have since the Joe Gibbs era. Plus, you don't want to be the guy who jumps on the bandwagon too late do you? Get on now while there is plenty of room. I saved a seat for you next to Ovi's gap tooth and Bruce Boudreau's breakfast plate of waffles and uncooked bacon.
And a final note to anyone from New York: Madison Square Garden does suck. It's the Roman Pantheon of stadiums. Everyone gets all excited to go there and take pictures, but when its all said and done its just a crumbled facade that was once something to be admired. Kind of like Derek Jeter.
See you next week!