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Eyes of the sports world focus on South Florida as NBA, NHL title series begin

A split screen of people cheering.
Associated Press
Fans of the NBA's Miami Heat (left) and NHL's Florida Panthers will have plenty to cheer about over the next couple of weeks with both teams playing for league titles.

Tampa Bay has had a nice run of sports success runs in recent years. Super Bowls, Stanley Cups, even a World Series appearance.

Nowadays, it's our neighbors to the south who are on a roll, too.

In January, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins squeaked into the postseason for the first time in six years, and nearly beat the heavily favored Buffalo Bills with a third-string quarterback. March Madness saw Florida International University and the University of Miami reach the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Also, UM’s women’s basketball team was an Elite Eight squad.

And now, guess who’s crashing the final rounds of the NBA and NHL? The Miami Heat Florida Panthers.

Both barely advanced to their respective postseasons, as No. 8 seeds. They had to face the No. 1 overall seeds in the first rounds. They had to win series-deciding Game 7s in Boston to keep their seasons alive.

And both are Eastern Conference champions and four wins from a championship.

“The Heat and the Panthers (are) doing a lot of things that people said they couldn’t do, which I very much appreciate,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “We are definitely taking note.”

So is the rest of the sports world.

There’s never been a season where one metropolitan area has gotten to celebrate winning both the NBA title and the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

There have been nine previous tries; in two cases there’s been an NHL title and no NBA crown, in three cases there’s been an NBA title and no NHL crown, and in the four other cases both teams have lost.

South Florida has a chance to change that.

“That would be insane. … If that would ever happen, that would truly be unbelievable,” said Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk, who acquired in a blockbuster trade before the season. “It’s just great how both fan bases have been able to root together.”

It’ll continue to be that way. Both teams begin best-of-seven championship series this week.

The NBA Finals start in Denver on Thursday night with the Heat taking on the host Nuggets. Home games in downtown Miami's Kaseya Center are scheduled for June 7 and 9, and another, if necessary, on June 15.

The Stanley Cup Final starts in Las Vegas on Saturday night with the Vegas Golden Knights taking on the Panthers. Home games at FLA Live Arena in Broward County are slated for June 8 and 10, and another, if needed, June 16.

There could be as many as 14 championship-round games involving the Heat and Panthers in a span of 19 days. That includes eight games over a span of 10 days, and the two teams never play on the same night.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said watching the Panthers’ success has been “one of the great joys of everyone in our locker rooms.”

“I know it’s fun to watch,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said of the simultaneous championship runs. “I’m not sure what they’re doing, but it’s (basketball’s) five-on-five, right? I get that. There’s a connection now between the two teams through sports fans down here. So, there’s hockey fans that are probably like me, but now they’re dialed into that because it’s just a great story. And it’s fun to be a part of it.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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