A Preview Of The NBA Playoffs
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The NBA's regular season has ended and that means it's time for the playoffs. The first round begins tomorrow. And joining us as he does most Fridays is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hey, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.
NORRIS: The big storyline this spring has to be whether LeBron James can win his first championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Is he going to do it?
FATSIS: And the Cavaliers front office recognizes that this is a key time, committed to making a championship happen now, spent tens of millions of dollars to acquire Shaquille O'Neal before the season, and then Antawn Jamison in the run-up to the playoffs. These are two older players who are not exactly cornerstones for the future.
NORRIS: This seems like we're watching the maturation of a great player and they're taking a now or never approach because LeBron's future is unclear.
FATSIS: LeBron is from Ohio, of course. Losing him would be devastating to fans in a city that's experienced mostly sports heartbreak, and the Cavs' road to the NBA championship starts tomorrow against Chicago.
NORRIS: Now, you mentioned Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City. Not only did he have a breakout season, but that team had a pretty remarkable turnaround.
FATSIS: Other teams benefitted from the addition or return of - and this is a pretty good list here - Larry Bird, Lew Alcindor, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade. Oklahoma City basically played with the same team it had last season.
NORRIS: So, what changed?
FATSIS: Well, Durant mostly. I think this is a simple progression of extraordinary talent. Durant's gone from scoring 20 to 25 to 30 points per game in his three years in the NBA. Clearly, he's become a better team player too.
NORRIS: Stefan, the Thunder had a great season but now they face what some could say is almost a David and Goliath battle by turning around to face the L.A. Lakers, this dynastic sports franchise.
FATSIS: He had the most shots blocked that he's had in the - percentage-wise in the last four years, free throw percentage down, field goal percentage down overall, especially when he's up right at the rim. And while Kobe Bryant scored 31, 26 and 40 points against the Thunder earlier in the season, he managed just 11 points against them a few weeks ago. I think it's going to be a competitive series.
NORRIS: When you watch the NBA, there's a real difference between the season and the playoffs. During the season there's something that a lot of people call the pro glide where the players - you know, it's interesting - but something really happens in the playoffs. They really seem to ramp it up.
FATSIS: When you know you can make the playoffs - most teams in the NBA do - you need to ramp it up when things get serious.
NORRIS: Stefan, thanks so much.
FATSIS: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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