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Stanley Cup Advances; NBA Final Follies

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Despite predictions for the Redwings to win the Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins are holding their own after a dramatic win on Thursday night. Elsewhere, the Magic looked so good in Game 1 of the NBA finals — then so bad. What happened? Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Tom Goldman about the week in sports.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Now, despite Mike Smith's predictions for Detroit, the Pittsburgh Penguins are still holding their own in the Stanley Cup after a dramatic win on Thursday night. But what would NPR's Tom Goldman know about that? He's not in Pittsburgh or Detroit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: He's in Los Angeles for the NBA finals and joins us from there.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Back at you, Scott. It's always a good morning in L.A.

SIMON: Well, it's about, like, a little after midnight there, I know. Thanks for getting up and speaking with us.

You were covering Game One of the Lakers-Magic series. But this was quite a game the 'Guins won, wasn't it?

GOLDMAN: Oh, the hockey game. Yeah, it was a great one. Pittsburgh won 4-2. There was a lot of speculation that Detroit would run away with the series, especially after going up 2-0. But thanks to Mark Andrea Flurry's skill as a goaltender and Pittsburgh's three big centers - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal - dominating the last couple of games. And Pittsburgh's physical play.

The Penguins have tied the series 2-2 going into tonight. Now, that said, I have to agree with Mike Smith, especially with two of the last possible three games in Detroit, where the Red Wings are 10-1 in the playoffs.

SIMON: Game five of the Stanley Cup series is tonight, and you know, this has to make NHL fans happy because they won't have to compete for viewers who are the NBA finals like they did on Thursday. I can't understand it. I mean these two sports play like 18 months of the year at this particular point, and they wind up having championship games on the same night.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Didn't have a chance to talk to schedulers in both leagues...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: ... but I don't know what kind of answer they'd have. You are right. The hockey fans are excited because tonight they're all alone on NBC instead of cable channel Versus, where they were Thursday night, while LA and Orlando cavorted - well, at least LA did on ABC.

SIMON: Orlando looked so good against Cleveland. So what happens now in the big game against LA?

GOLDMAN: They laid an egg, but I'll tell you, they encountered a team that's better and playing a lot better than Cleveland. Now, the Cavs didn't have the personnel to stop Orlando's unique setup of Dwight Howard, who's a dominating force inside, and the outstanding long range shooters is Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis mainly. And LA has the players who can and did in Game One disrupt the Magic. The Lakers are very big, and their big men controlled Howard on defense, and just abused Orlando when they, the Lakers, had the ball. And now LA has been kind of a wishy-washy team up until Game Five of the Western Conference finals versus Denver.

From that game forward, the Lakers have been totally on. Last three games the Lakers have been unbeatable. And oh yeah, a certain Lakers guard name Kobe Bryant, already pretty good, is playing like a man possessed.

SIMON: You and I have to be careful talking about a basketball coach because nobody has asked us to do that job. But did Stan Van Gundy make a mistake by bringing back Jameer Nelson, the point guard?

GOLDMAN: Well, debatable, even though Van Gundy admitted partial mistake yesterday in press conferences, in that he played Jameer Nelson for too long, Nelson who'd been out for three and a half months with an injury. Nelson got tired during Game One and his replacement, who's been so capable, Rafer Alston, said he got stale on the bench. Yesterday even Alston questioned the timing of bringing back a player who hadn't played for that long, bringing him back in Game One of the NBA finals.

Mr. RAFER ALSTON (Orlando Magic): You don't have much wiggle room for error, as opposed to bringing somebody in when there's 32 games into the season, 40 games, where you had a lot of room, you know, your little trial-and-error period. You know, but this is where we're at and we got to find a way to adapt, make the adjustments quick, and keep trying to strive forward.

SIMON: We got a few seconds left, Tom. I'm going to say LA in five games.

GOLDMAN: I think you're right.

SIMON: Then I think dark things are about to happen. I'm sorry, Phil.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman in Los Angeles. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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