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Saturday Sports: NBA Playoffs, Baseball Season Begins


Politics, policies, yada, yada. Time for sports.


SIMON: Two weeks into the baseball season, the standings look upside-down. And the NBA says so long to a couple of legends. Playoffs begin today with - what? - without LeBron. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us. Hi, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. But for the first time since 2005, LeBron James is not leading a team into the playoffs. Notice how I managed to make him the lead anyway?

BRYANT: He's still the news. But the real news in the NBA, of course, is the same question we've been asking for about - what? - four years now.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Can anybody beat the Golden State Warriors four times? I'm still unconvinced. I know that the Cleveland Cavaliers did it once, but I think the answer is no. I think they're going to win their third straight championship. However, that does not mean that there's not a lot of intrigue in here. I like the Milwaukee Bucks, as well. They had the best record in the NBA...

SIMON: Howard...

BRYANT: ...Won 60 games.

SIMON: Howard...

BRYANT: Fear the deer.

SIMON: Fear the deer.

BRYANT: (Laughter) I knew that was coming.

SIMON: I love that. Yes, exactly.

BRYANT: We also want to know if the Boston Celtics can turn their disastrous season on - I mean, I know winning 49 games is not really disastrous, but still. They were supposed to be in Milwaukee, in the Warriors' class, but they weren't. I think it's going to be interesting, also, to see what the Philadelphia 76ers do and also those Toronto Raptors, who were flustered by LeBron all those years. But now they've got Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron's not here. So I think that the postseason's going to be really interesting.

SIMON: Two great players and classy guys - Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks - have played their last game. How should we remember their careers?

BRYANT: Great, great players, and I think that this is - I'm an '80s guy, of course. And I think when you look at the number of Hall of Famers that came out of that decade, I think that the numbers still show it was a pretty amazing decade. But this is a golden age, as well. I think that looking at Dirk and Dwyane Wade - met for a championship twice - in 2006, with the Heat winning that one, although I think Dallas should've won that one; and then, of course, in 2011 when - LeBron's first year in Miami - Dallas winning that one when, of course, people thought Miami should've won that one.

So two phenomenal players - lovely that Dirk played 21 years with one team, which you don't really see anymore. And I think that both of these guys are going to be remembered as the icons for their cities that they were - and also, Dirk, especially, in terms of growing the international game - coming in from Germany; changing the perception, in a lot of ways, of what European players could be; and also, really immersing himself in the culture in Dallas. He's the greatest player they've had.

SIMON: Come into the studio this morning - Stu Rushfield, our technical director, has a scrap of west - wastepaper on our...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...On my reading stand showing the New York - and can't - Mets - thought they played basketball - in first place. The Cubs - well, not doing well, although they beat the Angels last night. What's going on? The standings seem upside-down.

BRYANT: Yeah, what's up with your ball club, Scott Simon? The Cubs are a really interesting team because I think when they won it in 2016, I think people were expecting a long run of success. And now Joe Maddon didn't get his extension, so you're starting to wonder what is - what his future's going to be.

I think when you're looking at the Mets, obviously, they're 9-4. They're in first place and ahead of the Phillies by a game. I think the Red Sox, the defending world champions in the crazy American League East - there's only one team in that division that has a winning record, and it is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees don't have any players right now.

I think it's fascinating. It's - and it's good. This is one of the things that makes baseball different. It's a sprint up - it's not a sprint. It's a marathon. It's going to take a long time. You're starting to wonder, do these teams have what it takes to just be there? Even at the All-Star break, what are they built for? But when you start the season, it is kind of interesting that the San Diego Padres are in first place. It's not what we're used to.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.