Week In Sports: Madden Retirement; Playoffs

NPR's Scott Simon talks NHL and NBA playoffs, as well as the retirement of broadcaster John Madden, with Weekend Edition's Howard Bryant.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Kevin, cue the band. It's time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: We're into one of those rare moments on the calendar when all sports fans have something to look forward to. The NBA and NHL playoffs are just heating up, anything is still possible in baseball, and NFL fans can start to see next fall take shape with this week's announcement of the 2009 schedule.

Joined now by our own Howard Bryant. Morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. It's nice to know anything's possible in sports and baseball for you.

SIMON: Well, you know, the first day I make it a point of looking to the standings because both Chicago teams are in first place.

BRYANT: I was going to say it must be April for a Chicago fan.

SIMON: Well, thankfully they're both in first place because, you know, of course, they're not in the same division as Atlanta, cause it's all alphabetical on the first day of the season. But, look, NHL started the Stanley Cup playoffs this week. I believe they end around the Fourth of July.

BRYANT: Exactly. Right around the same time of the NBA.

SIMON: Six teams were on the ice last night. Pittsburgh, Vancouver, each up two games to none after wins last night, Carolina tied its series with New Jersey. What do you look forward to happening?

BRYANT: Well, I look forward to tonight's game in Boston. Obviously, the great rivalry, Canadiens-Bruins, and anybody who's an old-time hockey fan would've enjoyed that game because I think there were as many punches thrown as there were a puck shot at the end of the game. Because you just have two historic rivals going at it. A one and eight

SIMON: Do they play hockey at any point, Howard, or just beat on each other?

BRYANT: They actually played a great game. They played a great game. But as we like to use the cliche, these two teams don't like each other. Great game last night as well with the Penguins and the Flyers, and the Flyers did everything but win that game - they're down 2-0.

I think that as much as the Bruins had the best record in the Eastern Conference and as much as they're expected to go places, I still think that New Jersey, Pittsburgh, really, really tough teams. In the west, obviously, San Jose is in a little bit of trouble losing a home game, but I think that the Red Wings, as always, they're just, they're the class of the league, the defending Stanley Cup champs. And so, I hate to be a spoil sport, but as of right now, I still like New Jersey and I like Detroit.

SIMON: Talking about the NBA playoffs now, Boston Celtics are defending champions but it looks like Kevin Garnett could miss the playoffs because of a knee injury.

BRYANT: Yeah.

SIMON: That take them out of it?

BRYANT: It pretty much does. I think that, one, when you're looking at what happened last year and the way the Celtics won the championship, you had two teams that were really, really hungry to get them this year. One is Cleveland with Lebron James and the other is the Lakers. Both of those teams are better than the Celtics. Cleveland's got home court - they only lost two games there all season.

The Celtics with Garnett were going to have trouble getting through the Lakers and getting through Cleveland. I think that if Garnett does not come back, I really don't see it for the Celtics, unfortunately. Because I think that when you defend your championship, you should do it with a full complement, but that's not going to happen this year.

And I think it's going to be really, really difficult for anybody in the west to come anywhere close to the Lakers. They were 11 games better than anybody during the season. It does look like a foregone conclusion. I think it's going to be Lakers and Cleveland. And once again, that doesn't mean you can't go out and do it on the court, but I don't see it this year. Too good - both teams.

SIMON: Yeah. Okay. Well, Howard, thanks very much.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com, ESPN the magazine and ESPN the computer joystick. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

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