King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Playoff heaven, playoff hell: 4 NHL and 3 NBA games every night mean a lot of fun. And confusion. Plus: A good read.


Salon Staff
April 28, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

The Edmonton Oilers shut down Shaquille O'Neal and got eight strong innings from Johan Santana Thursday but it wasn't enough to overcome Patrick Marleau's hat trick or Jermaine O'Neal's 37 points as the Denver Nuggets held off the Boston Red Sox 94-3.

Wait a minute.

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I think I may have gotten a little too giddy with the remote.

The first rounds of the NBA and NHL playoffs are coinciding this year, which means postseason games are coming at those of us who follow both sports at an unprecedented rate. Every night this week there have been four hockey playoff games and three basketball playoff games, except Monday when there were only two NBA contests.

The NHL playoffs usually get a two-week head start. At this time last year -- and by last year, since I'm talking about the NHL, I mean 2004 -- three games were in the books in all four second-round series. But the two-week break for the Olympics pushed the schedule back, and now the games are coming so hot and heavy I can't keep up. Especially since I keep cheating by switching over to watch snippets of baseball games.

I am as sure as I can be that I saw Kirk Hinrich take a penalty shot for the Nashville Predators one night this week, and I think Saku Koivu hurt his eye when he got hit by a line drive.

On top of that, the old Kaufman Rule seems to be in effect.

You may not remember the Kaufman Rule. It was a baseball edict that went into effect in the early '90s. It stated that when King Kaufman was working the Saturday night makeup shift on the San Francisco Examiner sports desk -- that is, last man to sign off on all the pages -- the last game being played on the West Coast had to go into extra innings.

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There I'd be, waiting to stick a Tigers-Mariners box score in the paper so about eight people in Northern California could look at it, while my friends kept calling, asking when I was going to show up at the bar, where Winona Ryder, Halle Berry and Marisa Tomei had each, at just that moment, struck up a conversation with a different guy who looked just like me.

They didn't say that last part, but I knew it was happening.

Anyway, the NBA and NHL seem to have adopted a modified version. Every night this week, a late game has gone into overtime. All I'm trying to get to now is a little shuteye, but at this stage in my life, that sounds as good to me as Winona and Co. sounded in my 20s.

What I'm finding interesting -- I like to wait till Paragraph 12 before I get to the interesting part -- is that I'm more drawn in by the NHL games than the NBA games. I flip back and forth, try to follow all three or four of the simultaneous games at once, but I find myself sticking with the hockey.

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That's usually the case, but I've always attributed it to the NHL being one round ahead, to the games being that much more meaningful when only eight teams are alive instead of 16, only four alive instead of eight.

That may have been part of it. And it may be that what I'm experiencing this week is a product of the fact that the NBA's first round is only a slight improvement on the regular season, with upsets of serious title contenders rare, while in the NHL first round it's already game on.

Both No. 2 seeds are losing in their series, the Dallas Stars all but done in the West, down 3-0 to the Colorado Avalanche. The Eastern Conference 2-seed, the Carolina Hurricanes, lost two home games to the Montreal Canadiens before getting back into the series with a road win Thursday.

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I'm still clinging to my vow not to repeat the dreary numbers about how seldom the top two seeds lose an opening-round series in the NBA, but suffice it to say it's about as often as Halle Berry strikes up conversations in bars with guys who look like me.

Not in the NHL, though. Since the NHL went to a 16-team format in 1994, No. 1 seeds are 16-6 in series against No. 8's. Second seeds actually lose more than they win. No. 7 has knocked off No. 2 in 12 of 22 series. So the top two seeds are only a combined 26-18 in opening-round series.

That's pretty damned competitive. And, again, both 2-seeds are losing so far this year. No wonder I keep switching away from the NBA games.

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I'll see what happens later on when the NBA series gets more competitive and the games get more interesting. I suspect my interest will be split evenly. I do understand that your interest, and by you I mean you readers as a great hulking mass, lies overwhelmingly with the NBA.

In the meantime, I'm excited because I'm pretty sure Tim Duncan and Jaromir Jagr are pitching in that Indians-Rangers game tonight.

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A good read: "Coach" [PERMALINK]

I want to recommend a book that I didn't think I'd like. It's called "Coach: 25 Writers Reflect on People Who Made a Difference," and it has a foreword by Bill Bradley. I figured it'd be two dozen-odd inspirational tales of Selfless Heroes who taught Important Life Lessons and Inspired the Youth of Yesterday into becoming the Successful Professionals of Today.

Fortunately, it's not like that.

A lot of these writers couldn't stand the coach or phys-ed teacher they wrote about. Others write with a grudging admiration for the coach who managed to have a positive effect on them despite serious faults.

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Still others write about other people's coach, like Vince Lombardi biographer David Maraniss considering his relationship with a man he never met or the profile of Princeton basketball coach Bill van Breda Kolff excerpted from John McPhee's classic 1965 book, "A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton."

I particularly liked Francine Prose's sad story of the female gym teacher who, with a combination of incompetence, meanness and inability to communicate, helped turn young Francine from an athletic, physically confident little girl into a woman who shies away from the physical, who thinks, every time she has to lift something heavy or even drive: I can't do this.

E.M. Swift writes about the gruff but effective methods of a beloved day-school gym teacher and coach who was appreciated less and less as parents got more and more sensitive about their kids, and was eventually forced into early retirement.

Touré tells of a man who founded a black tennis academy in Dorchester, Mass., in the early '70s. Calling the man "the last of this century's Jackie Robinson dreamers," Touré pulls no punches in describing his obviously flawed coaching style.

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Jane Leavy, Sandy Koufax's biographer, writes of becoming a sort of coach herself, somehow finding herself with the job of teaching a friend how to die of AIDS. That setup has all the elements necessary for a maudlin wallow. It isn't one.

John Irving, Frank Deford, George Plimpton, Buzz Bissinger, Ira Berkow, Christine Brennan and Bud Collins are among the big names here, some writing for the collection, others excerpted. The book is edited by New York literary agent Andrew Blauner. It's worth picking up.

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Vacation [PERMALINK]

This column is off next week for a vacation, returning either Monday, May 8, or Tuesday the ninth, depending how travel arrangements go.

Previous column: Steve Nash, MVP?

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