The Florida Panthers had a simple request to the NHL for their schedule in the Eastern Conference second-round series against their new best foes, the Tampa Bay Lightning: “Just take us away from the Heat-Celtics to that we don’t bump into them every night and the South Floridians might be watching us for once.
And so it happened as you knew it: Panthers-Lightning will be the same nights as Heat-Celtics for every night except next Sunday, when they avoid basketball altogether but are due to play at 1:30 in the afternoon. The only break they get in other games is that they start 90 minutes before Heat kicks off, so they’ll have to grab whatever eyeballs they can while they can.
It’s not about feeling sorry for the Panthers. They can be a complete hoot to watch and all, but these are the Panthers. They will face indignities like this until the time comes when… well, no. They will face it until the state erodes into the sea and ruins the high tide from Havana to Halifax.
The reason the Panthers tied up with the Heat despite their most serious pleas was simple. ESPN had the first pick in the NHL series that they wanted to work around their NBA schedule (as designated suppliers to the Eastern Conference Finals, they have the rights to Heat-Celtics), and they also wanted the supposed advantages of the rankings of the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes. (Well, okay, New York Rangers. Trust us, ESPN hardly gives a sweat on the obviously more delicious canes.) So TNT ended up with Panthers-Lightning, who had to avoid any conflict with TNT’s Warriors-Mavs. broadcasts, without thinking of the Miami-on-Miami crime.
Thus, under the shadow of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum and the cartoon goblin, the Panthers and the Bolts pursue in semi-anonymity their half of one of Gary Bettman’s deepest fantasies: the victory of its Southern Strategy. His much-criticized Confederate expansion plan finally peaked, missing only Nashville, which was wiped out in the blink of an eye by Colorado, which is the best team of them all, regardless of latitude. Indeed, the only way to slap that smug smile from Bettman’s yelp is to remind him of Arizona’s lingering shame, which is such a monumental and irretrievable disaster that the only place the franchise could fulfill its true destiny is not in the Valley of the Sun but on its surface.
But back to Cats-Ning (and yes, we know Lightning fans hate ‘Ning as an abbreviation, but I keep typing it “Lighting” on accident and get more and more twisted each time). The ‘Thers will have to make their mark on Greater Miami’s conscience in those 90-minute windows unless Erik Spoelstra is right and their streak with Boston is indeed “a throwback” ordered by his boss. , Pat Riley.
“Pat will probably appreciate that,” Spoelstra said Monday. “It’s like a setback streak. If both teams are really on top of their games, this should be a streak where neither team scores 130 points. Both teams tip their hats to a strong team defense like a rock, put in multiple efforts and are disciplined by plans, so there will be a lot of games and things in the margins. That’s what you expect.
It makes it so appealing, like oatmeal mixed in kitty litter. He might as well say, “If we both get it right, every game will look like this, and Pat will give me extra time for making him such a nostalgic solid. He loves that shit.
The problem, of course, is that few other people in the new basketball demographic are doing it, so Heat-Celtics could be pretty painful visual work. It will still get much better ratings than the more open Panthers-Lightning game, but it does allow hockey a bit wider window for more open-minded sports fans for aesthetic reasons.
Not that there are many such people. Most people will pick one and only one, so the Panthers will have to prove themselves either in the first period or in overtime after the second. There is always something about players who play after midnight that always delights the senses and sensibilities.
Also, by then the basketball game will be over. Heat 73, Celtics 68 in a rout. Or Celtics 77, Heat 74 in a 2OT thriller.