JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Time now for basketball. The NBA playoffs are inching closer to their grand finale. Last night, Cleveland eliminated New Jersey, and the San Antonio Spurs ended the season for the Phoenix Suns.
That means that Sunday, Tim Duncan and his Spurs will face off against the Utah Jazz in the Western's Conference Finals. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons will battle LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.
And to talk about it all, we're joined by our own sports guy, Running Ron Rappaport. Hi, Ron.
RON RAPPAPORT: Hi, John.
YDSTIE: So a disappointing end of the season for the Phoenix Suns last night after enduring some controversial suspensions in that series with San Antonio.
RAPPAPORT: Yeah. In Phoenix, John, they're thinking these series ought to carry an asterisk because they had to play without Amare Stoudemire, kept out of Game Five even though he was nowhere near that fight that resulted when Robert Horry of the Spurs body checks Steve Nash into the scorer's table.
You know, John, there's some talk the league may amend the rule that ejects a player who leaves the bench even when he isn't directly involved in a fight, and that could be the long-term legacy of these playoffs.
It's going to come too late to help the Suns. I've got to tell, though, that was Game Six that they lost the series, and they have a little breathing room, and they had nobody to blame it but themselves this time.
YDSTIE: Yeah, yeah. Cleveland has finally made it to the conference finals. Is it because LeBron James is now living up to his billing, or is it the nice balanced team that they've build around him?
RAPPAPORT: Well, it's a little of both, I guess. Although, you know, the Pistons, I guess, would still have to be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference title, wouldn't they?
But I'll tell you what, the way they lost focus, losing two games to the Bulls after taking a big 3-0 lead, makes you wonder whether this is the time when LeBron James steps us and justifies the hype, leads the Cavaliers past the Pistons. He spent a lot of time on the bench last night with foul trouble, but he ended up with 23 points, eight rebounds, eight assists.
Cleveland makes, you know, its first championship series in 15 years. Maybe this is the beginning of a LeBron James era. I know that the NBA hopes it is.
YDSTIE: Yeah, now with Phoenix, Dallas and Golden State gone, a lot of the running-gun dazzle that made the season so much fun is gone. Is that style of play just not good for the playoffs?
RAPPAPORT: What do they sayin football, John, offense wins games and defense wins championships. Utah and San Antonio in the West did win some relatively high-scoring games in this playoff, but when either one of them goes up against Detroit or Cleveland with their muscle game, you're not going to see a whole lot of running around the court in the NBA Finals, whoever gets there.
YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Well, I would think most people would now expect a San Antonio and Detroit final series - two very defense-oriented teams - in that finals. They had a champion series a couple of years ago and was criticized for being deadly boring. Are we in for that again on these different teams?
RAPPAPORT: Yeah, I'm afraid we are. You don't change your spots in just a couple of years. But I'll tell you what, the real problem, if you're a television program, at least, is the size of the four cities remaining - Cleveland, San Antonio, Utah, Detroit - I can hear ABC crying already at the size of those markets.
YDSTIE: Ron Rappaport our sports commentator, thanks very much.
RAPPAPORT: Thank you, John.
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