NBA Playoffs: The Heat Is In, But For How Long?

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It was a busy weekend for basketball fans — the NBA playoffs have begun. Can the defending champion Miami Heat repeat? They have to get by the Bulls first, and they're a little bit banged-up. In the West, the Dallas Mavericks are the favorite.


The NBA playoffs began over the weekend. It's a two-month marathon that will eventually crown a champion sometime around the first day of summer. The Miami Heat are league's defending champion, but few people give the Heat much of a chance to win a second straight title. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to take a look at who might succeed the Heat as champions.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So why aren't the Heat is thought likely to repeat?

FEINSTEIN: Well, they're a little bit old and they're a little bit banged up. Shaquille O'Neal who's now 35 had been fighting injuries all season. Dwayne Wade, who is the MVP last year of the playoffs, is playing with a separated shoulder. He's wearing a sleeve on his arm, Renee. It looks like he's a fashion model or something not a basketball player. Even their coach Pat Riley missed about 20 games because he has had to have some knee surgery.

So they're a banged-up team, they're only the fifth seed which means they have to play this series that they started Saturday against the Chicago Bulls without the home-court advantage. The Bulls won that first game. They are an aggressive, young team. And even if they should get by the Bulls, they'll have to play the Detroit Pistons who are the number one seed. So it's really an uphill fight for them.

MONTAGNE: Who then do you see is the favorite?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think, you have to look at the Dallas Mavericks who had just a great regular season. You remember they lost the finals last year to the Heat. They've got Dirk Nowitzki who may be the best scorer in the game. They obviously have home court because they had the best record. So they're the favorite but there a bunch of teams in the Western conference who are so evenly matched that they make Dallas is the favorite but it's only by a slim margin.

MONTAGNE: Well, in the end, they probably don't have much chance to upset the Mavericks but the Golden State Warriors have a really good story, don't they?

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, they really do. It's been 12 years since they were in the playoffs, and the last time they made their coach was Don Nelson. He left the Warriors, went and coached the Dallas Mavericks, and then turned the team over to his son, Don, who is now the president of the Mavericks. And Don Nelson Sr. went back to the Warriors and got them into the playoffs. So you got Don Nelson Sr. coaching against Don Nelson Jr., the president of the team - in the playoffs. So it's a good story.

MONTAGNE: In the first time in 15 years, at least '92, something like that?

FEINSTEIN: Twelve years, '95 was the last time.

MONTAGNE: Oh, okay, yeah. What about underdog teams that do have a chance?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think, if you look at the number sixth seeds on both sides, the East and West, they've already won their first games on the road, the New Jersey Nets won at Toronto, and the Denver Nuggets are an intriguing story because they made that trade for Allen Iverson - midseason. A lot of people said can Iverson and Carmelo Anthony share one basketball, and they started to do so. And last night, they beat the Spurs - who a lot people thinking when the whole thing in the first game - and now they have the home court advantage in that series. So that will be a fun one to watch.

MONTAGNE: And there's one story that I'd like you to talk about - it doesn't involve a team but a referee.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, Joey Crawford has refereed in the last 21 NBA finals in a row. But he won't be this year because Commissioner David Stern suspended him a week ago, for the rest of the playoffs, because he challenged Tim Duncan of the Spurs to a fight during a game. And this is an example of a referee's ego going over the line, thinking he's bigger than the game. He is a great referee but David Stern stepped in and said no, no, we can't have that. The story isn't the referees, it's the players and the games, and I think, he did the right thing suspending Joey Crawford.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Okay, thanks Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, who's new book, "Tales from Cue School: Golf's Fifth Major" is due out next week.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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