SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon, and time for sports.
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SIMON: The NBA playoffs are about to begin. Will LeBron James and the Miami Trio live up to their promise? Will Metta World Peace ever live up to his name? And will Albert Pujols ever live up to his salary?
NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Morning, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Happy opening day of the playoffs day to you, Scott.
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SIMON: And also to you, my friend. Listen, let's begin with the Knicks-Miami Heat matchup. Let me put it this way, how badly...
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SIMON: ...and I do mean badly - do LeBron James and his running mates have to prove they can perform in the clutch?
BOWMAN: Badly. How can we ever forget the criticism, the ridicule after last year's finals when the Heat lost to Dallas and James got absolutely blasted for not doing enough at key moments at the end of games? So, yes, Scott, he's on a mission. This year, he's had an MVP-worthy season, but here's the deal: redemption ain't gonna be easy. Miami is still essentially a three-man team. They don't have much depth. And this postseason is wonderfully wide open. There's so much more competition for the title.
SIMON: Yeah. And mention a few teams for us, if we can. I'll mention the Bulls, you mention the rest.
BOWMAN: OK, the young Chicago Bulls. The young Oklahoma City Thunder on the brink of greatness. You've got aging superstars; Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio Spurs. Kobe Bryant with the L.A. Lakers. Those teams are playing very well going into the playoffs and those players are extremely hungry to get one more championship before they ride off into the sunset.
SIMON: Speaking of the Lakers, for example. And for that matter, the Oklahoma City Thunder. World Peace won't be in the next six games for the Lakers. He threw a blatant elbow into the head of James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder. How significant is it going to be to lose him on defense?
BOWMAN: It's a problem. He had been playing great basketball and the Lakers don't have much depth. Now, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and the new point guard Ramon Sessions in L.A., they should be enough to power that team past the Denver Nuggets in the first round. I say should, but they're definitely going to need World Peace going forward, and don't we all, Scott?
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BOWMAN: Especially if, as predicted, the Lakers meet Oklahoma City in the second round.
SIMON: Forgive for putting it this way, but should World Peace be in an NBA uniform after all those incidents?
BOWMAN: You know, as egregious as the elbow way, let's not throw him away totally. Artest/World Peace won the NBA Citizenship Award last season for raising awareness about mental health. And he spoke openly about his own psychological battles. On the other hand, we cannot forget his season-long suspension in 2004, after the Malice at the Palace brawl near Detroit. I think Commissioner David Stern navigated those two realities properly with a seven-game suspension, although there are those who think it should have been longer. If there's a next time, though, it might be curtains for World Peace.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh. So many stories we do on a given week. Have that as a message. What a shame to drag it into sports. Listen, the Charlotte Bobcats, and their fans, just suffered through the worse NBA season ever. The owner and general manager is, of course, Michael Jordan. How can the greatest team athlete in sports history - arguably - be such a poor executive?
BOWMAN: Mm. Good question. You know, for sure, he made bad personnel decisions with drafting and trading, both when he was with the Washington Wizards and now with the Charlotte Bobcats. You hear criticism that he surrounds himself with too many yes-men. Scott, I'm going to defer to you. You were around the guy when you wrote your book about the Bulls. What's your theory?
SIMON: A lot like a lot of great players. He finds it hard to relate to players, 'cause they just can't do the kind of stuff that he was ever done on a court. And, for that matter, he never liked owners. I mean, he cashed the checks, but he never liked them. I don't think he understands, really, what an owner does. I mean, there they were, winding up this worse season of all time, and he was at a Chicago Blackhawks' hockey game, rather than, you know, shaking the hands of every player, saying, tough season, but we'll get better.
Last question: Albert Pujols, is he going to start earning his $240 million salary?
BOWMAN: He sure hopes so, and so do all those L.A. Angels fans. Last night, they lost again. Team is now six and 14. Puljols, the man who came into the season being called the best hitter in baseball, the most feared hitter; he has no homeruns so far. He hasn't hit a homerun in 109 at bats, the worse drought of his career. He's pressing at the plate and I think what he has to do is relax. It's April, it's early, he's just got to remember what made his the greatest hitter.
SIMON: Tom Goldman. Thanks.
BOWMAN: You bet.
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