Dave Hyde: Panthers and Heat? It’s never been better than this, South Florida

Tribune Content Agency

Get your rest. Eat your veggies. Hydrate. And say goodbye to any loved ones not watching the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers games ahead, because your routine life isn’t yours for a while.

What about your job?

This is your job.

Starting Thursday with the Heat’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Denver and then Saturday with the Panthers’ Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Las Vegas, we have 14 games scheduled over 19 nights that could bring championship parades to Broward and Miami-Dade — one on boats, the other with clanging pots and pans. Or it might end with two nothings.

It’s never been better than this, South Florida.

Your teams have the stage in a way they never have before and never will again. There’s something in play beyond the trophies, too, something that gets right to the core of following sports. It’s a belief that keeps fans coming back each year, this hope that they’ll get a year that makes it all worthwhile.

This is that year doubled. Squared, even.

The eighth-seeded Heat and Panthers squeaked into the playoffs in their respective leagues and then began winning in lock-step over the past six weeks, one moment outdone by the next, one night more draining to watch then the previous one, their Eastern Conference finals series wrapping fans in a fog of exhausted euphoria with 10 games over 13 late nights.

Now it starts anew. Only bigger. It’s irrelevant if you can’t recite hockey’s offsides rule or the number of timeouts an NBA coach gets each game. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk’s father, Keith, was a star player or Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s father, Jon, was president of the Portland Trail Blazers (and his grandfather was a sports writer).

This is a two-dimensional playoff run we’ve never had before that could set this time apart from everything. Don Shula, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese and the Dolphins’ 1972 Perfect Season was historic. The University of Miami and Marlins championships were unforgettable. The Big Three’s Heat titles were defining of a time.

But this postseason run is coming in the Biblical proportion of two-by-two. Heat and Panthers. One night after another you’ve watched. You’ve stressed. You’ve died a little watching each team live another day. Then stressed a lot wondering what the next night would bring.

Who knew it was so exhausting to be a fan? At least the players get a day off.

In their respective Eastern Conference finals, the Panthers won three of four games in overtime and the Heat ran through a gauntlet of losing Game 6 at the buzzer in Miami before winning a Game 7 in Boston for the ages.

The Heat win was so dramatic, so defining, it was reminiscent of another playoff series way back in the distant month of April. Remember? The Panthers beat another heavily favored Boston team in a Game 7 they tied in the final minute and won in overtime.

The Heat, of course, have run this long road before, as this is their seventh NBA Finals since 2006. So, there’s comfort in a best-in-class organization remaining at the top.

The Panthers are the newbies, the fresh faces, the sad-sack franchise for all those years that charted a new course and reached the Final for the first time since 1996. So, there’s fun in watching this team make hockey relevant again in South Florida.

Their overlapping, overachieving synthesis is part of the story, too. The Panthers wore Heat shirts one day. The Heat’s Jimmy Butler wore a Tkachuk jersey one practice. The Heat’s Gabe Vincent attended a Panthers game. Tkachuk went to the Heat’s Game 6 against Boston and was interviewed on the TNT studio set between Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.

Heat fans chanted Tkachuk’s name.

Do you see the magic happening in this town? And the carnage in these teams’ wakes? The Milwaukee basketball coach was fired after losing to the Heat. The Toronto general manager fired after losing to the Panthers.

And poor Boston became the first sports market to have their hockey and basketball teams lose two Game 7s to two eighth seeds in one season. Go pahk the cah in the offseason yahd.

“I just want to get out of here,’’ said the Heat’s Max Strus, emotional elation and physical exhaustion in his voice an hour after Game 7 ended.

Now he’s on to Denver. And the Panthers are going to Vegas. It’s rare for one market to have two teams in the finals. New Jersey had the Nets and Devils in them in 2003. New York had the Rangers and Knicks in them in 1994.

This is a first for South Florida. All this winning just to get here is exhausting. Now 14 games are scheduled in 19 nights? Take a nap. Hydrate. Caffeinate. The players get a day off, remember. You don’t.