Even the Panthers’ schedule is not being respected

The Florida Panthers had a simple request of the NHL for their Eastern Conference series second-round schedule against their new best enemy, the Tampa Bay Lightning: “Just keep us away from Heat-Celtics lest we bump into them.” every night and South Floridans could watch us once.”

And so it happened exactly as you expected: Panthers-Lightning will perform on the same nights as Heat-Celtics except next Sunday when they will avoid basketball entirely but have to play at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon. The only break they get in other games is they start 90 minutes before the heat tip, so they have to grab as many eyeballs as they can while they can.

That’s not meant to be pity for the Panthers. They might be a total stunner to look at and all, but they are the Panthers. You will deal with humiliation like this until the moment when… well, no. They’ll deal with it until the state erodes in the sea and the tide ruins it from Havana to Halifax.

The reason the Panthers were tied to the Heat, despite their most earnest pleas, was simple. ESPN first had a choice of which NHL series they wanted to work around their NBA schedule (as designated suppliers of the Eastern Conference Finals, they have the rights to Heat-Celtics), and they also wanted the New York’s assumed rating advantages Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes. (Well, OK, from the New York Rangers. Trust us, ESPN is essentially zero-sweat over the provably more adorable canes.) So TNT landed on Panthers-Lightning, which was planned to avoid clashes with TNT’s Warriors-Mavs broadcasts , without thinking about the Miami-on-Miami crime.

So, in the shadow of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum and the comic book goblin, the Panthers and Bolts semi-anonymously live on their half of one of Gary Bettman’s deepest fantasies – the victory of his Southern Strategy. His much-criticized Confederate expansion plan has finally peaked, missing only Nashville, wiped out in heartbeat by Colorado, who are the best team of them all regardless of latitude. In fact, the only way to smack that smug smile from Bettman’s yaps is to remind him of the enduring shame of Arizona, which is a catastrophe so monumental and irretrievable that it is the only place this franchise could achieve its true destiny , not the valley of the USA is sun, but on its surface.

But back to Cats-ning (and yes, we know Lightning fans hate ‘ning as an acronym, but I keep typing it “Lighting” by mistake and I get increasingly drawn to it each time). The ‘Thers will have to make their mark on Greater Miami consciousness in those 90-minute time slots, unless Erik Spoelstra is right and their streak with Boston will actually be “a flashback” ordered by his boss Pat Riley .

“Pat will probably like that,” Spoelstra said Monday. “It’s like a throwback series. If both teams are really in top form, this should be a series in which neither team scores 130 points. Both teams hang their hats on a rock-solid team defense, make multiple efforts and are disciplined according to plans. So there’s going to be a lot of games and stuff in the fringes. That’s what you expect.”

He makes it sound as appealing as oatmeal with kitty litter. He might as well be saying, “If it’s up to the two of us, every game is going to be like this, and Pat’s going to give me an overtime for making him such a nostalgic solid.” He loves that crap.”

The problem, of course, is that few other people in the new basketball demographic do, so Heat-Celtics could be quite a painful visual grind. It’ll still get far better reviews than the more open Panthers-Lightning game, but it leaves hockey a slightly wider window for the more open-minded sports fan for aesthetic reasons.

Not that there are many of these people. Most players will go for one and only one, so the Panthers will have to make their bones either in the first period or in each overtime after the second. There is always something about players playing past midnight that still excites the senses and sensibilities.

Besides, the basketball game will be over by then. Heat 73, Celtics 68 in a loss. Or Celtics 77, Heat 74 in a 2OT thriller.

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