Relishing The Heat, Never Cowering From Thunder

NPR's Mike Pesca talks to host Rachel Martin from Miami, where he's covering the NBA finals. The series is 1-1, and now it moves from Oklahoma City, where the Thunder had home court advantage over to Miami, for the next three games.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE IS A BALLGAME")

SISTER WINONA CARR: (Singing) Life is a ball game, being played each day...

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If life is a ball game, then NPR's Mike Pesca is our man in Miami, relishing the heat, never cowering from the thunder. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Possibly setting fire to the rain, very good.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So, you're in Miami covering the NBA finals, and the series is one and one; now, has moved from Oklahoma City, where the Thunder had the home court advantage, over to Miami for the next three games. So, who's got the advantage going in this?

PESCA: I guess, technically, you'd say the Heat has stolen home court advantage, 'cause of all they have to do is win every game at home and they'll win the series. But when we say all they have to do, the way these playoffs, the NBA finals, are structured, is the 2-3-2 format, meaning two games are played in one city and then a team plays three games on its home court, and then possibly two games at the first city. Now, the problem with the 2-3-2, outside observers, basketball fans will always say, it's really hard to win three games in a row on your home court, on any court. It's a very tall order. Every other round of the played where you play two games on one team's city, then two games in the other team's city, and then you flip-flop, back and forth. So because of the unique structure, it was seen that Miami - it was quite incumbent upon them to steal a game in Oklahoma City. They did so, they gave themselves a chance to win the series without possibly having to win every single game at home.

MARTIN: So why does the NPR do this? I mean, why do they change the schedule for the finals?

PESCA: That's a good question. They do it because of travel. Now here's the weird thing. When, you know, the NBA finals, the East plays the West. So, sure, if it's the L.A. Lakers against the New York Knicks, there is a lot of travel. But Oklahoma City and Miami are about 1,200 miles away. The last opponent that the Heat faced was the Boston Celtics. Those two cities are about 1,500 miles away. So, there's actually less travel in the finals than there was in the semi-finals, but still they have this schedule, this 2-3-2 schedule.

MARTIN: So, what about home court advantage? I mean, is it really that important? These guys are paid a whole lot of money to be able to win a game no matter if they're playing at home where people are cheering for them, or away, where they're not.

PESCA: Yeah, there are a couple assumptions going on here. And one, like you're saying, it's home court advantage. Here's why people think home court advantage is important. The crowd, the emotion, you get to sleep in your own bed, the opponent is inconvenienced. But they've studied all these things and that doesn't seem to matter. What does seem to matter is refereeing. Referees, they're not biased, but they are human beings. And study after study shows that home teams tend to get better, more favorable calls. That is maybe an irony, because the reason that the Heat won the last game - or a big reason - is that Kevin Durant did get fouled on his home court by LeBron James, on the visiting court, and it wasn't called. But that's just one call. If you look back a series, the series between the Celtics and the Heat, a lot of those games were decided by referees' calls, and in general, the home team absolutely got the better of the call.

MARTIN: OK. So before we let you go, we cannot leave this conversation without talking about the preponderance of weather references in this series.

PESCA: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of good things going on with the language, you know.

MARTIN: Excellent sport writing.

PESCA: Will the Heat be thunderstruck and will the Heat wilt, and all that stuff. And then you have the fact that these are non-S teams, right? So, is it a collective, do the Heat win or wins? Very, very troubling. And then there's the fact that it's two weather phenomenon going against each other. We have scanned the list of weather playing weather, and it has happened before in North America. In 2004, the WNBA finals pitted the Seattle Storm against the Connecticut Sun. Storm beat Sun. I'm not sure how Rock and Paper would do against each other, but Storm beat Sun in that case.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Mike Pesca, on all things meteorology or sports and anything else. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE IS A BALLGAME")

CARR: (Singing) ...at the home plate, is waiting for you there. Well, you know life is a ball game, but you've got to play it fair.

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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