March 8, 2013
As you may have heard, the Chicago Blackhawks are on quite a roll.
As you also may have heard, so too are the Miami Heat.
You may also have heard some national pundits yelling at clouds discussing which streak is more impressive - Chicago going 29 games without a regulation loss, or Miami winning 15 in a row.
In the spirit of healthy debate (as opposed to loud noises), I reached out to ProHockeyTalk's Jason Brough for a pleasant email exchange.
To: Jason Brough, ProHockeyTalk
From: Kurt Helin, ProBasketballTalk
Gentlemen, we have been brought here to discuss what seems to be the sports bar debate of the week - at least in some mythical sports bar where the NHL and NBA demographics overlap - and that is the Miami Heat streak of 15 straight wins vs. the Chicago Blackhawks streak of 23 games in a row earning a point.
The challenge is, this isn't even comparing apples and oranges. It's more like comparing apples and barbecue brisket. But because of my giving nature, I'm willing to concede one point from the start - the Blackhawks streak is already historic to its sport in a way the Heat streak is not yet. I think it's just hard for some basketball (and maybe general sports fans) to get their arms around what the Blackhawks streak means, really. So, what does it mean?
From Jason at ProHockeyTalk: Oh, so that's how you're going to play this. Like a respectable human being. I was thinking we were going to argue LIKE THIS and belittle one team's remarkable accomplishment, because that's what sports in the modern age is all about. Think of the page views! But I guess if you want to be boring, I'll just answer your question politely.
Of all the remarkable things about the Blackhawks' streak, perhaps the most remarkable is this: It's really, really hard to build a dominant team in the NHL, where unlike the NBA with its luxury-tax system, there's a hard salary cap. Chicago's cap payroll is about $67 million. The lowest cap payroll in the NHL belongs to St. Louis, at about $50 million. And let's not forget the best hockey player can, at best, play half the game. Nobody sits on the bench all game, except the backup goalie. Oh, and by the way, the 'Hawks' backup goalie has been great this season. Have the Heat been getting unexpected contributions, or has it mostly been LeBron?
Kurt: Oh, I'm not going to stay respectable - WE ARE GOING TO ARGUE! I expect we will degenerate into a dozens battle soon.
First though, it's not just been LeBron James, although he remains the best basketball player walking the planet and that's a good guy to have on your team. LeBron's playing at a Jordanesque level right now and while that pisses off people who hate LeBron/want to defend Michael Jordan (as if he actually needs defending) it's just a fact. But like I said it's not just LeBron, Dwyane Wade has been great during the streak. In his last five games Wade has been averaging 27.4 points a game on 59 percent shooting. Chris Bosh has had good games. They are defending. It's a team thing, just with LeBron as the head of the snake.
Here's where I see the streaks as different - the 'Hawks streak is meaningless come the playoffs. Last season the eight-seed Kings won the Stanley Cup and got to take it around Manhattan Beach all summer. Playoff hockey and regular season hockey seem largely unrelated, and while Bill James and his stats friends embrace the randomness it means that this streak is dead come the playoffs. It's seeding and nothing more. In the NBA, only one team outside a top three seed has won a title since going to this playoff format (and that Rockets team traded for Clyde Drexler midseason). What the Heat are doing will carry over to the games that matter. What the 'Hawks are doing becomes irrelevant. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.
PHT's Jason: You're wrong.
Not insanely wrong, but wrong nonetheless. It still helps to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs. And in a league like the NHL, where parity reigns, any advantage is worth having. Have you seen the atmosphere at the United Center for 'Hawks games? Let's just say, it doesn't have the same sad, Derrick Rose-less feel as when the Bulls play. Chicago will take as many home games as it can get. As for the Kings, they were far from a typical No. 8 seed. They badly underachieved during the regular season given the players on their roster. (Sort of like another Los Angeles team you may be familiar with, though I'm not sure that one can win a title.) Plus, the Kings got Jeff Carter in a late-season trade. Not sure he had the same impact as Clyde with the Rockets, but he did score eight times in the playoffs, tied with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar for the team lead.
That said, I will give you this: the Blackhawks are beatable. Do you think the Heat are beatable?
Kurt: If you keep insulting basketball I'm going to bring up how foolish the NHL looked during its lockout. That was embarrassing. The NBA would never… oh, wait. Nevermind.
I heard an interesting thing All-Star weekend from a person with another team, who said the Spurs actually are the team best suited to beat the Heat. San Antonio has veterans who have won, they move the ball very well and move off the ball (which is how to attack the Miami pressure), they have Tim Duncan and the size to score inside, and they have role guys who buy the system. It makes sense. Except I don't see the Spurs getting past the Thunder (they couldn't last year and the Thunder are improved). So while no team "can't be beat" it's hard to see how anyone beats the Heat if they are focused. And the reason they have won 15 in a row is they are focused.
Speaking of lockout, I'm curious - how are guys holding up physically? The reduced recovery time of a condensed schedule wore down NBA players and, while the NBA is a physical league (just ask Blake Griffin), the NBA doesn't allow checking and full contact.
(Unless it's from J.J. Barea, then it's just cute.)
PHT's Jason: How are guys holding up? The answer is, not well. Granted, how much all the injuries we're seeing in hockey has to do with the lockout is impossible to say. But I feel like I've written the word "groin" more than usual this season. And not in the "Serge Ibaka slapped one" way.
In fact, if the Blackhawks are going to be stopped, injuries may be what does it. So far, they've been pretty lucky in the health department. Dave Bolland and Corey Crawford have missed some time, but that's nothing compared to what teams like the Flyers, Red Wings, Senators, Blues, and others have experienced. Fingers are always crossed in the NHL, especially when you have key players with concussion histories, as the 'Hawks do with Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook. But for now, everyone's enjoying the ride. The Blackhawks host struggling Colorado tonight and get the Avs again Friday night in Denver. Then it's Edmonton and Columbus, two more bad teams. Which is to say, this streak could go on for a while longer. Jinx!
Kurt: Frankly, we've all been typing "groin" too much this season.
So to sum up, you admit that the Heat streak is better than the Blackhawks' and that hockey is the sport for people who can't understand the subtleties of NASCAR. At least that's what I got out of it. Maybe you saw it differently.
PHT'S Jason: Basketball sucks.