The Wild Card round, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Doc Rivers and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Major League Baseball needs to learn from these playoffs moving forward
There were plenty of logical things that occurred in the Wild Card round of the MLB playoffs. The New York Yankees’ vaunted lineup produced 22 runs in two games. The Tampa Bay Rays won with pitching, giving up just three runs in its sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cincinnati Reds’ offense struggled mightily. Then there were the surprises that come with every postseason, such as the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros advancing with a perfect 4-0 record despite a combined 60-60 record in the shortened regular season.
This baseball season was always going to be fluky and strange, so a couple of upsets in the opening round aren’t a big deal. It’s not like both No. 1 seeds and the Yankees all got eliminated. However, division winners should never have their seasons endangered by a three-game series again. If the playoffs are to be expanded for the 2021 season, a sort of hierarchy has to be established. Lining every team up and having them play without any kind of byes or built-in advantages will always result in unjust results and render the regular season rather meaningless, which defeats the whole purpose of playing so many games.
2. The Lightning were at their best in the bubble
As a general rule, the teams hurt most by postseasons being relocated to bubbles were the ones who were supposed to have more games at home. One major exception might have been the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Their inexplicable exit from last year’s playoffs without winning a game after one of the best regular seasons in history is well-documented. The season before that, Tampa Bay threw away a 3-2 lead and lost to the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Though Tampa Bay may not be the most hostile of environments, the Lightning have ranked in the top eight in attendance each of the past five seasons. Fans show up to Amalie Arena, and those fans would have little patience for their team losing Game 1 to the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The pressure mounts quickly when there is a history of underperforming when it matters most. Playing in a bubble kept the Lightning away from the outside noise and helped minimize distractions. Maybe the odd set of circumstances were just what they needed to turn all of their recent success into a visit with Lord Stanley’s Cup.
3. The NFL was never going to win the battle against COVID-19
Until 20 members of the Tennessee Titans organization tested positive for coronavirus this week, the global pandemic had not been a major topic of conversation since the NFL season began. The league and its teams did an outstanding job creating about as safe an environment as possible given the circumstances. Still, it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus started making headlines and causing disruptions despite everyone’s best efforts.
Now the NFL is dealing with an outbreak in Tennessee and the positive test of a high-profile quarterback on a high-profile team leading to another postponement. The next time a team needs to change by weeks, it might not be as easy as it was for the Titans. Everyone has to accept that this season will not be a completely fair one, whether it’s because of scheduling changes or disadvantages while preparing between games or something else. All the NFL could do was delay the inevitable for as long as possible.
4. Doc Rivers is trying to solve the same problem in Philadelphia he couldn’t in Los Angeles
Of all the head coaching vacancies in the NBA, the one most similar to the situation with the Los Angeles Clippers is the Philadelphia 76ers job. Both teams are expected to compete for a championship with flawed rosters and players who don’t seem to get along very well. It is about preventing them from underachieving rather than trying to turn them into overachievers. So naturally, Doc Rivers was hired by the 76ers three days after the Clippers decided to part ways with him.
It must be acknowledged that Rivers brings a level of credibility that hasn’t existed on the sidelines in Philadelphia. When a coach of his stature becomes available, no team can be faulted for jumping at the opportunity to hire him. However, Rivers’ track record does not suggest he will be able to fix the chemistry issues currently plaguing the 76ers. The solution may be as simple as trading Ben Simmons like Rivers allegedly wants to, but orchestrating a deal involving a player of Simmons’ caliber is never easy. Philadelphia’s decision to go with Rivers makes complete sense and very little sense at the same time.
5. The Premier League is going through the city of Liverpool
There were four Premier League teams with a perfect record when Everton kicked off against Brighton on the morning of Oct. 3. By the end of Oct. 4, the Toffees were alone at the top of the table with 12 points from four games. Aston Villa — who barely survived relegation last season — are the only other team without a loss after putting seven goals past defending champions Liverpool. Manchester City has four points from three games, making this Liverpool’s title to lose despite the shocking result at Villa Park.
It is still too early to write off the Cityzens, but Everton have done enough to suggest they are going to have something to say before a champion is crowned. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is scoring goals for fun and James Rodriguez has been excellent as part of a vastly improved midifeld. If Carlo Ancelotti’s team can avoid significant injuries, they will be in the thick of the top four race at the very least. Even a point against Liverpool on Oct. 17 would put them in prime position to be their fierce rivals’ stiffest competition for the title.
As basic as it sounds, the Miami Heat got to the NBA Finals by making somebody beat them. They show up every night and force their opponent to execute at a high level. The Los Angeles Lakers are the first team to rise to the occasion, save for Game 3. Even then, it took Jimmy Butler’s heroics to get the series to 2-1. Miami’s injuries make a lop-sided series even less competitive, but dismissing the Lakers’ dominance as lucky downplays how incredible they’ve been throughout the playoffs.
Photo by Parker Anderson / Flickr