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There's No Surprise In The NBA Final Teams, But There's Still Lots Of Excitement

May 11, 2018
Originally published on May 11, 2018 4:04 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Only four teams remain in the NBA playoffs - Golden State, Houston, Boston and Cleveland. And that's just what fans expected - so no surprises. But plenty of people are excited for the NBA Conference Finals. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me now. And, Tom, I won't hear from my dad until these are over. Are you excited as well?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughing) As excited as your dad I think, maybe even more so. These teams are playing so well, Audie. And there are such dynamic players in dramatic storylines. Yes, there is a bit of the usual-suspects feel with these four teams, but we should be seeing some great, hotly contested basketball. And that's what matters, right?

CORNISH: Pretty much.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the Western Conference, something which - unfortunate - you have, like, two of the biggest teams - right? - facing off with each other...

GOLDMAN: Right.

CORNISH: ...The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. The Warriors have won 2 out of the last 3 titles, including last year. But a lot of fans think that they'll be dethroned this time around. How come?

GOLDMAN: Houston's the No. 1 seed by virtue of the best record in the NBA this season. The explosive guard tandem of James Harden and newcomer Chris Paul has worked brilliantly despite doubts before the season. And Houston has the home-court advantage. And that means the uber-powerful Warriors start the series with two road games. Golden State obviously is good enough to win anywhere. But if the series does go the distance to Game 7 in Houston, that's where home court could be very valuable.

CORNISH: Does any of this have an effect on the scoring? I mean, these are two high-scoring teams typically.

GOLDMAN: Oh, the two best offensive teams in the NBA - we're going to see lots of scoring with two distinct styles. If you distill their offensive philosophies down to a word, Golden State would be movement - Houston, space. The Warriors are constantly moving, cutting, always looking to find the best shot even if that means it's Steph Curry 40 feet from the basket. The Rockets emphasize spacing the floor, putting two or three players out wide beyond the three-point line. Now, this gives more room to operate for those two guys I mentioned, James Harden and Chris Paul. Ball and player movement aren't as big a deal with Houston. The Rockets want to shoot a ton of three-pointers or get layups but not much in between.

CORNISH: All right, I want to tackle the East side now...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...My home town up against Cleveland, second straight year they're going to meet up. But I gather it's like an uphill battle basically. This has been a long season.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely. I love your home town. Boston got to the conference final without its two best players, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving out with injuries. But Boston has shown itself to be incredibly tough and resilient like you, Audie Cornish.

CORNISH: I'll take it (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Very young players have played like veterans. Role-players have stepped up and played much bigger roles, all of this orchestrated by a very talented young coach, Brad Stevens, whose reputation grows with each game. But Cleveland, after suffering from injuries and a roster makeover in February - you wouldn't know that now. We're running out of ways to describe LeBron James' greatness. He's playing his best basketball at 33. And very important here - he's finally getting the help from teammates that was often missing this season.

CORNISH: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.