NBA Playoffs Offer Fascinating Early Matchups

The long march through the playoffs toward an NBA title begins this weekend. Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Ron Rapoport and Scott Simon discuss the chances of various powers and pretenders to the crown.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

And it's time now for sports. For some fans the real basketball season starts tonight. Ugh! That long season finally over. And the 16 playoff teams launched their seven-game series this weekend, hoping to make it to the finals in June.

Our own Ron Rapoport joins us now.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Thank you, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAPOPORT: Sorry.

SIMON: Well, we just...

RAPOPORT: I'll lean closer to the mike there.

SIMON: Ron, what's so exciting? Aside from the opportunity to talk to you, my man, what's so exciting about this year's playoffs?

RAPOPORT: Well, you know, usually when the playoffs start, Scott, there's sort of a wake me when we get to the conference championships feel to them. Not this year.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: They really look to be wide open. We were talking to Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller in a conference call the other day. Barkley said the only thing that would surprise him is that if Detroit or San Antonio weren't in the finals. But nothing else would. And Reggie Miller said that every team in the playoffs is one twisted ankle away from elimination. They're really close this year.

SIMON: Yeah. Oh, so that's what Charles Barkley told you. Funny, he told me something else. But I can't repeat it.

RAPOPORT: What a surprise.

SIMON: He said keep it between just me and you, Scooter. What match-ups you're looking forward to the most?

RAPOPORT: Well, take a look in this first round at the Pistons, at the Suns and the Lakers. I mean, Suns have seeded second. Lakers seated seventh, no contest. Right? Except the Lakers do have Kobe Bryant, who only averaged forty-two and half point a game against them this year, and can dominate a game like nobody since Michael Jordan. And some of the other lower ranked teams, I'm thinking Washington, Chicago, Sacramento, Dallas, the Clippers, lower seeded, have had good seasons, are not really ceding anything.

SIMON: I like the look of Dallas, I must say.

RAPOPORT: Well...

SIMON: I don't know how they're going to get at this level. But I don't know. They're fun to watch.

RAPOPORT: Well, the whole thing is kind of wide open. If you want a perfect metaphor for how competitive the post-season may be...

SIMON: Yeah?

RAPOPORT: ...take a look at the race for Most Valuable Player. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many voters saying oh, I like this guy, here's my candidate. But if any one of five or six other players got in, they wouldn't complain. Steve Nash of the Suns is the favorite to win again.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: But Dirk Nowitsky of Dallas, LaBron James of Cleveland, Kobe Bryant, Chancy Billups of the Pistons, Dwayne Wade, Elton Brand; they're all legitimate candidates. I've never seen a race quite like this one.

SIMON: I'd go with Chancy Billups, myself. Can't quite put my hand on it. But in any event, the way he usually does. Do you want to make any fearless predictions?

RAPOPORT: Well, I'm -- it's awfully hard to guess against or vote against the Spurs and the Pistons. I think it may end up that way. But I think it's going to be a lot of fun on the road toward that playoff, getting toward that championship, that it's these earlier rounds that are going to be fun.

SIMON: So what about Dallas-Detroit?

RAPOPORT: Detroit's going to win that one.

SIMON: Ron Rapoport, our sports commentator here on WEEKEND EDITION. Ron, thanks very much.

RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

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