Defending Champs Advance In NHL, NBA Series

The conference championships in hockey and basketball are coming up, and this year, both of the defending champions are the teams to beat! NPR's Scott Simon speaks to Howard Bryant of ESPN.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now, with pleasure to note, it's time for sports. Conference championships in hockey and basketball, both defending champions seem to be making their move. So to the strains of B.J. Leiderman's theme music of which he writes all of ours, we're joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine from the studios of New England Public Radio. Thanks for being with us, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Boy, that's a lot of energy, Scott. You must be a Blackhawks fan.

SIMON: (Laughter) I am, as a matter of fact. And they seem to be coming into their most energetic moments right when they need it. But let's go, let's talk hoops first, OK. Miami Heat was supposed to stumble, weren't they?

BRYANT: Well, they were supposed to stumble - not so much stumble as much as the other teams were supposed to give them more competition and especially the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were the team that fought all season to get the number one seed so they would have home court advantage in case of a game seven just like last year, which was in Miami. And Miami won.

But this year, Indiana looks terrible. And right now, Miami looks like they're having as easy a run to the championship as they've had in the last couple of years. And I've always said that the big question in the NBA when LeBron James is on the court is can anybody beat his team four times? And I still don't think so.

SIMON: Yeah. Moving on to the Western Conference, Spurs, of course, defending champions. Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant. Can we envision, look forward to LeBron James, Kevin Durant in the same finals?

BRYANT: Well, I'd like to think so, but I would never count out the Spurs. I always say that devastating losses have devastating consequences. And last year, the Spurs were 20 seconds away from winning the championship in game six against Miami and didn't win and ended up losing the championship. And yet here they are again.

Great team, great coaching, Gregg Popovich. If you like basketball, real basketball, the Spurs are basketball for grown-ups. However, the Thunder has the - they've got the MVP. They've got Kevin Durant. And they beat the Spurs four times this year. However, huge injury - Serge Ibaka's not going to be in there for Oklahoma City for the whole playoffs, so that injury could really change the balance. It's going to be a great, great series.

SIMON: OK, moving over to the NHL. LA Kings beat the Ducks last night. They're going to get to face the Blackhawks. They had two tough series against St. Louis and Minn., but they know how to win.

BRYANT: They do know how to win. And they're six-and-zero in elimination games. They're unbelievable. And this is a rematch. You've got a rematch of the last two cup champions. And last year in the Western Conference finals, Chicago dethroned the defending champion Kings last year in five games.

So both teams understand each other quite well. And I'm looking forward to it because both of them - let's not forget the Kings were down three-nothing in the first round to San Jose and won four straight. So both of these teams feel like they've got destiny on their side.

SIMON: Again, if you check our Twitter feeds this morning, you'll see where my loyalties lie. Like there's a lot of question. I've got to ask you about the Canadiens. I had the pleasure of being in Boston and seeing the game. P.K. Subban, their marquee player, is one of the most exciting players in hockey.

BRYANT: Yeah, he's the engine. And it's going to be great. I love the fact that as dynasties go, the Montreal Canadiens have a chance to go back to the Stanley Cup for the first time in 21 years. The New York Rangers have a chance to go to the Stanley Cup for the first time in 20 years. So somebody is going to end a real drought there. And I would like to see the Canadiens, even though I'm sure the networks would like to have a Chicago-New York Stanley Cup.

SIMON: Yeah. OK, well, one half of it, I have - I am confident.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Just as long as the Blackhawks are in, right?

SIMON: Exactly. Howard Bryant of ESPN. Thanks so much, as always.

BRYANT: Of course, Scott.

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