At long last, the wait is finally over. The never-ending NBA and NHL regular seasons have hit the finish line. For those who have watched a complete game in either sport in the last six months, congrats.

You're in the minority.

There won't be star players sitting out anymore to rest (even Gregg Popovich wouldn't do that). The playoffs are here. No time to coast. The sooner a series gets done, the better.

There is a big difference watching first-round playoff series in the NBA and NHL. The favorites rarely lose in the first round in the NBA. In fact, most of the time the favorites make it all the way to the NBA Finals.

That's why everyone is predicting the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers and 2015 champion Golden State Warriors to face off for the third straight year.

The NHL is different. Not only do underdogs often beat the top seeds in the opening round, they sometimes get to the Stanley Cup Final. All it takes is a hot goaltender for a lower seed to go a long way.

Therefore, it's not a lock for the Chicago Blackhawks to breeze past the Nashville Predators on the way to their fourth Stanley Cup in the last eight seasons. The Predators proved that in Game 1 as Pekka Rinne was stellar in the net as Nashville blanked Chicago, 1-0.

That makes Game 2 crucial for the Hawks at 7 p.m. Saturday on NBC. Falling behind 2-0 wouldn't mean the end of the series, but it would put Chicago in a deep hole heading into Game 3 at 8:30 p.m. Monday in Nashville (Comcast, CNBC).

There isn't much hope being held out for Chicago's other playoff team.

The Bulls sneaked into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 8 seed. About the only salvation was the Cavs tanked their last two games and fell to the No. 2 seed, so the Bulls meet the Boston Celtics in the first round.

While these certainly aren't Larry Bird's Celtics, Boston won't need to be a beast to take down the dysfunctional Bulls beginning with Sunday's first game at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on TNT. If Chicago can't steal Game 1 or 2 (7 p.m. Tuesday on TNT), this series won't go more than five games.

There isn't a better two weeks for die-hard fans of the NBA and NHL than right now. There are multiple games on every day.

While the NBA, historically, won't have as many highly contested first-round series as the NHL, watching Oklahoma City-Houston (Game 1 at 8 p.m. Sunday on TNT) as Russell Westbrook squares off against James Harden might be one of the highlights of the entire postseason.

MLB: Cardinals at Yankees (FSM, 12:05 p.m. Saturday; ESPN, 7 p.m. Sunday): These teams played each other in the 1964 World Series, but neither looks to be headed toward the 2017 Fall Classic in the early going.

PGA Tour: RBC Heritage (CBS, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday): There won't be quite the tension as last week at Augusta. The winner does get a jacket, but it's plaid and not green.

Contact Jim Benson at jbenson@pantagraph.com.

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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