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Saturday Sports: Washington Capitals, NBA Conference Finals

May 12, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Tampa Bay Lightning didn't quite (imitating spark) spark last night, beaten by the Washington Capitals 4 to 2. And some familiar names in the final four as the NBA begins conference finals tomorrow. Let's bring in Howard Bryant, author of the book "The Heritage." Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Fine, thank you. The Caps are in their first conference finals in 20 years. They finally got past the Pens, didn't they?

BRYANT: It's about time. And it's been a battle that they have been fighting and losing for several years, especially because you've got this great battle between two of the very best players of this era, maybe the two best players of this era, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. And we always say about sports, sports - for the most part, it is a best-player-wins game. And obviously that's very true in basketball. But it's also true in every sport. So to have a guy like Alexander Ovechkin, to have Ovechkin have never been to a Stanley Cup, this is special. And he's got an opportunity now to do something he hasn't done. That fanbase has been starving and waiting for a long time. This is a huge moment, although Tampa Bay is very, very good.

SIMON: And later today, the Winnipeg Jets and the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Who? Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. Two good stories there.

BRYANT: Well, exactly. And Winnipeg has never been as well - wonderful team. And they've got guys - you know, Paul Stastny. They've got Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien of course won a Stanley Cup with your Chicago Blackhawks. And then of course you've got the - you've got the expansion - the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights because they changed the rules so expansion teams aren't going to sit and lose for years and years.

But these guys have a chance to go to the Stanley Cup in their first year, which is incredible. But they've also got Marc-Andre Fleury, who as we know was a guy who won Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh. So it's not as though these are players that no one's ever heard of. These are big guys on big stages with teams that haven't been there.

SIMON: Cross over to basketball now. LeBron's - and they are LeBron's - Cavs meet Brad Stevens' Celtics Sunday afternoon in Boston. One team with the greatest player in the game and four other guys, the other playing without its two biggest stars. How do you see this series?

BRYANT: After a while, I think you just have to stop betting against the Boston Celtics just as you have to stop betting against LeBron James. I think that people looked at this team this year and saw Cleveland - not a very good team. They traded - the big deal in the in the off-season was getting Isaiah Thomas and getting Jae Crowder and getting those players from the Celtics in exchange for Kyrie Irving. Then they traded those guys. And so Jae Crowder ended up on the Jazz, and Isaiah Thomas ended up on the Lakers. And yet Cleveland's here again because of the greatness of LeBron James. He's that good.

And then of course the Boston Celtics aren't supposed to be here because they didn't have Gordon Hayward. They lost him on opening night. And then you lose Kyrie Irving. And here they are. And they destroyed Philadelphia. Boston is a really, really tough team. And are we really going to bed at this stage against LeBron James going to the finals for the eighth straight year? It's incredible.

SIMON: And then Golden State Warriors and the Rockets on Monday night. This is the matchup a lot of fans have been saying all year should really be the championship. What do you look for?

BRYANT: Oh, absolutely. This is what these - these two teams have been geared for each other. They were - the Houston Rockets were built for this. You have Chris Paul, who had never been to a conference final. Now he's going up against a team that has tortured his old team, the Los Angeles Clippers. Wonderful matchup. These are the two best teams in the NBA. This is what everybody wants. And I'm looking forward to this series so well because as we've been talking about on this show for - how long, Scott? - do you see anybody beating the Golden State Warriors four times? Nobody saw it when Cleveland did it.

SIMON: Yep.

BRYANT: I don't see it happening here. But I think this is going to be a fantastic series, one of - maybe one of the best.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine - thanks so much, Howard.

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