Sports Nation W Debate
Which playoffs are better, the NBA or NHL?

Intimacy of game heightens drama


It's an unpredictable thrill ride

Cast Your Vote

The NBA playoffs are when the best athletes in the world start playing as hard as possible. And the end result is, by far, the most compelling postseason of our major pro sports.

Hockey is cool -- don't get me wrong. But nothing beats the intimacy provided by the NBA. No helmets, no masks, no extra padding (except for some compression tights), just 10 amazing basketball players playing every possession to the max. And because we get to know these characters so well -- LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Tony Parker -- we also get drawn into the soap opera that is the NBA postseason.

For about two months, these storylines are front and center, and then at night we get to see the drama play out -- on live TV. Again, this same drama plays out, to some degree, in the NHL, but when we watch the hockey games at night, we aren't courtside, we aren't privy to every hysterical facial expression, to beads of sweat dripping onto those nearest the hardwood.

In the NBA, there is a chance you could high-five LeBron the very second after he makes a game-winning shot.

And let's not forget about that extra layer of drama: the interaction between the players and the referees. The NBA is like an unscripted drama being acted out in our living room every night.

In the NHL, there is a wall up, quite literally, between fans and the action -- and that's the difference in the experience.

Ironically, the NBA becomes so exciting in the postseason precisely because of how boring it can be during the regular season. It's almost as if we've all agreed that Saturday (the first day of the NBA playoffs) is when we start measuring greatness -- it's all that really matters. We'll forgive the boring, lazy effort in December. This radical shift in gears, from second directly into fifth, makes for a great, unexpected ride.

So for the casual fans flipping between an NBA and NHL playoff game, the intimacy offered by the NBA game is going to win them over.

The NBA playoffs: The Greatest (postseason of the major pro sports) Show on Earth.

Wednesday night marked the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the most thrilling postseason competition in all of major pro sports. I love me some basketball, but the opening rounds of the NBA playoffs don't provide much in the way of suspense and surprise. Just call me in a few weeks for the inevitable Miami versus Indiana final in the East -- I'll be watching the down-to-the-wire first- and second-round matchups in the Stanley Cup playoffs instead.

See, from the first puck drop to the hoisting of Lord Stanley's Cup, the NHL postseason is a one-of-a-kind thrill ride. Unlike the NBA, the NHL postseason is tough to predict, with teams up and down the rankings primed to make a run. While the same couple of teams are dominating the NBA playoffs every year, the past 14 Stanley Cups have been won by 11 different teams.

That final NBA minute that takes a half-hour to finish? You can have it. I'll take the last minute of playoff hockey: bodies flying around the ice, one goaltender streaking to the bench to give his team the advantage, another laying out to stop a potential game-tying tally. And there's no basketball equivalent to sudden-death overtime, a heart-pounding, exhausting (to play and to watch) stretch of balls-to-the-wall hockey.

And while LeBron James & Co. are flopping to get the calls they seek, NHL guys are taking pucks to the face, shins and guts, and playing right through it. A broken finger or a few missing teeth won't keep NHL players out of the playoffs.

The sport is tough, but touching, as well. The end of each series is marked by a handshake line at center ice. No matter how difficult the series, the opposing players show their respect for one another and for the game by pressing palms before moving on.

And last, but certainly not least, the NHL postseason is a cut above the rest because the prize at the end of the tunnel is unlike any other in sports. The Larry O'Brien Trophy is just another hunk of metal compared with Lord Stanley's Cup, the magical vessel that carries with it the stories and memories of generations of champions.

A whole new set of players will see their names added to the Cup this year, their postseason success forever etched in its silver sides.

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