We have reached the final four in the winter sports leagues – or, more accurately, to quote former “Love Connection” host Chuck Woolery, it is really “two and two” – as the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) begin their championship series this week.

 

With apologies to the good folks of San Antonio (including your correspondent’s college classmate, Julian Castro, who happens to be the city’s mayor), how exactly did they get invited to this party? As much as we respect the Spurs, their home city must feel a bit like a fourth wheel compared to the metropolitan titans of New York, Los Angeles and Miami, who represent the remaining teams still fighting for a title.

 

Championships, however, are not determined by the number of famous fans in your arena, your zip code’s breast augmentation rate or how egregiously your city inflates the price of a cocktail. Thankfully, there are many other factors upon which the outcomes of these upcoming games will hinge, and we will take great joy in seeing how they all play out. With that in mind, here is what we are most intrigued about as the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final are ready to commence:

 

The NBA Finals Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat

 

1.  Here We Go Again: The Spurs earn countless perseverance points for their ability to make it back to the Finals after one of the most gut-wrenching losses in NBA history. Prevailing thought was that Ray Allen’s miraculous three-pointer in Game six of last year’s Finals would surely signal the end of the Spurs’ glory days. Methodically plotting (and plodding) their way to a rematch is so quintessentially Spursian.

 

2.  Timmy Is Testy: Tim Duncan has made a hall of fame career out of making the media and fans beg for a nap every time he opens his mouth, but the big man had some bold words leading into this series. He says the Spurs will prevail. Rare bulletin board material from the human soundbite destroyer.

 

3.  And the Team of the Century of the Decade Is…: Truth is, there is a whole lot at stake in terms of legacies. Will it be one more ring for Duncan, et al to reinforce the remarkably consistent extended run of greatness, or will LeBron teach us once again that he simply never, ever loses?

 

4.  That Guy?: Blame both the Spurs and the Heat for employing marginal players whose sole purpose is to hang out in the corner and pop wide open threes. It began with San Antonio’s Bruce Bowen, a tenacious defender who inexplicably became a marksman of the corner three, and it continues with the likes of Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Danny Green and Matt Bonner. It is an indisputable fact that a game, and perhaps the entire series, will be impacted by the ability of a role player to connect on an uncontested triple as time winds down. If this happens, we should be angry. Our stars should win the game.

 

5.  Welcome back, 2-2-1-1-1: It’s not an iPhone pass-code. It is the return to the classic playoff format, and the demise of the dreaded 2-3-2, which had been employed since 1985.

 

Stanley Cup Final Preview: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings

 

1.  Uneasy is the King Who Wears the Goalie Mask: King Henrik Lundqvist is the one true star on the Rangers. While his counterpart, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, has already powered his team to a Cup title, he’s been somewhat beatable this post-season.

 

2.  We Kind of Like These Guys: Hard to believe, but there is a refreshing lack of obnoxiousness and detestability with this New York team, excluding their maniacal owner, of course. The heartwarming stories of Dominic Moore and Martin St. Louis overcoming tragedy to emerge as playoff heroes are truly inspiring.

 

3.  And in the Seventh Game, the Kings Win: In three playoff series thus far, the Kings have won three Game Seven’s, all on the road. That does not happen. Ever. Seriously, never.

 

4.  Paulina Gretzky: A guy can dream, right?

 

5. 20 is the New 54: The Rangers’ 20 year Cup drought pales in comparison to their previous dry spell of 54 years between Lord Stanley hoisting.

 

Enjoy the games over these next few weeks. We are guaranteed to see one heck of a championship celebration, even if it is in San Antonio.

 

What are your keys for the two championship quests? Tweet me @endbadly to discuss.