The Latest In Sports Playoffs are underway in the NBA and NHL, so Mike Pesca, host of Slate's podcast The Gist, takes this opportunity to debate the merits of the leagues with NPR's Melissa Block.

The Latest In Sports

The Latest In Sports

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Playoffs are underway in the NBA and NHL, so Mike Pesca, host of Slate's podcast The Gist, takes this opportunity to debate the merits of the leagues with NPR's Melissa Block.


Time now for sports.


BLOCK: It was a rough night for the Golden State Warriors in game three of the NBA playoffs last night. With Stephen Curry sitting out the game, the Warriors lost to the Portland Trail Blazers. And in Miami, the Heat lost to the Toronto Raptors. Meanwhile, the NHL is ticking off games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So what if we dare to compare apples to oranges, pucks to basketballs, playoffs to playoffs? Well, Mike Pesca of The Gist is here to do just that. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Well, basketball's almost like the orange, so a bell must be pucks to oranges.

BLOCK: All righty. Well, let's start by being transparent about your biases. You are a basketball guy.

PESCA: Yeah, I've never played ice hockey in my life. I've ice skated and played hockey but never ice hockey. And I know most of the players in the NBA and can name maybe, I don't know, 40 players in the NHL. I grew up loving hockey and the Islanders. But, yes, basketball's much more my sport, and yet I find the basketball playoffs a letdown from the regular-season and way too long especially in the first round.

And I find the NHL playoffs compelling, and I don't just mean that this year. For instance, if we look at the second round in the NHL playoffs, all the series are at 3-2. But if the Islanders win tonight, they can make it 3-2. And all of those series had a couple of overtime games, except San Jose-Nashville which last game had a - or the game before last had three overtimes in one game.

So I don't just mean that this year the batch of playoffs in the NHL has been more compelling, I think structurally the NHL is onto something with their seven-game series, and the NBA is just trying to make as much money as they can from ticket revenue and ratings.

BLOCK: Well, what's behind that Mike? Why are you saying that the NBA - the first round of the NBA playoffs is just too long?

PESCA: Well, up until 2003, it was a five-round series. And I've gone back and done the math and almost all the series that have gone more than five games would've ended the exact same way after five anyway. The difference is basketball's what they call a high variance sport, which means a lot of scoring and truer outcomes. So the difference between a five-game series and a seven-game series, it's not that big a difference. The team that wins five almost always wins seven.

But in hockey where there are so many one-goal games and you hear phrases like, oh, we outplayed the other team but for a bounce of the puck, that actually is truer in hockey than it is in basketball. So you need a longer series if what you're trying to do is determine the correct team to win.

And in basketball in the first round, my God, you had all these sweeps. And I know Golden State didn't sweep Houston, but it was only because of a bad referee call that San Antonio swept. And Cleveland - this - Cleveland is up 3-0 in the second round, and no one can touch them.

I know if you're a fan of these teams, it's all darn exciting. But if you're someone who just wants to watch a series go to six or seven games and most of those games be close, hockey's the sport for you, not basketball.

BLOCK: All right. Mike, saying more is not necessarily better in the NBA. But before we let you go, Mike, do you have a curveball for us?

PESCA: I do this was such a feat. The Mets announcer Gary Cohen said the incredible has happened. Bartolo Colon, a 42-year-old pitcher with the physique of - well, you know, he's 5'10, 250 - he hit his first career home run.

BLOCK: Fighting...

PESCA: Yes. There's this - subreddits of people passing around Bartolo Colon's slow-motion batting videos, you know, for the jiggle factor. But he hit a home run at the age of 42, took over 30 seconds to round the bases. What a glorious, glorious thing.

BLOCK: Giving hope to 42 year olds everywhere.

PESCA: Well, who've, you know, served 50-game suspension for steroids and have a Cy Young. There's a lot going on with Bartolo Colon, and now a home run is one of those things.

BLOCK: Mike Pesca, he's the host of Slate's The Gist. Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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