SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now it's time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: And it's that time of year when every swish and slapshot counts even more. The NBA and NHL playoffs - Rockets, Rangers, Spurs, Sens - Sens - do they call them the Sens? - Wizards, Wild - all teams that won last night. To break it all down now, we're joined by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, who's in the studios of New England Public Radio. Good morning, Howard.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?
SIMON: Fine, thank you - hoops first, OK.
SIMON: The Wizards are up three over the Raptors after last night - Rockets by the same spread over the Mavs. The Spurs are up 2-1 over the Clippers, and they beat the Clippers by about 90 points last night, didn't they?
BRYANT: (Laughter) Yes, they did. They did, but I love Old Man Potomac River. Before we talk about Old Man Riverwalk Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce of the Washington Wizards - up 3-0. I really like this simply because the Wizards are a really good team. They were fun to watch last year. Everyone thought they were going to be a great team this year. They ended up being good, not great - won two games on the road, and now they came back last night. Pierce hits a big three-pointer, and now they're up 3-0. It seems like what's happening in the postseason this year is that the good teams are just handling business. We've got - the Celtics are down three to Cleveland. And you've got all of these teams that are - the Warriors are just doing exactly what they're supposed to do. So I'm never a huge fan of the first round because of the potential of the blowouts, and this is one of those years where the good teams are coming in and they're stomping these underdogs.
SIMON: Yeah, OK, on to pucks now. The Rangers beat the Pens last night to wrap up their series and move on. Are the New York Rangers skating even better than they did last year?
BRYANT: I think they are, and the champs are out. The Los Angeles Kings didn't even make the playoffs this year. So the best team from last year that's still standing is the Rangers. They were the Presidents' cup winner this year. They had 113 points. They are the best team, I think, in the league, even though the Canadians were right behind them. And I think that they're hungry. I think that's one of the things - when we looked at the San Antonio Spurs last year, a team that had something to prove, a team that really looked they felt they should have won and didn't win. They come back the next year and win the championship. I think that's where the Rangers are right now. And they came back. They were tied 1-1 with Pittsburgh, and then they went out and won three straight. And I think that they are - they really recognize what they have to do to win. I want to see Montreal and the Rangers play. But Montreal seems to be - they were up 3-0 and now it's 3-2. So they've got to handle their side of it, but I like the Rangers a lot.
SIMON: I do have four words for you - wait - one two - yeah, fours words. Ready?
SIMON: Here come the Hawks.
BRYANT: Here come the Hawks, and once again, that's another team that had a lot of injuries. That team you just don't want to play, and they've got a rookie in goal as well. And I - if there are certain teams out there that you just don't want to play in the postseason, the Chicago Blackhawks are one of them. And they're 3-2 right now with Nashville. And once again, don't be surprised if we end up with another original six Stanley Cup Blackhawks and Rangers.
SIMON: I could live with that.
BRYANT: I could live with that, too. I like that one.
SIMON: Yeah. I think that would be very exciting. Let me ask you - a little baseball. The Kansas City Royals, who were last year's - what metaphor did we use? - the Cinderella team.
BRYANT: Yes, they were the darlings last year.
SIMON: The darlings, the darlings, OK, of the Major League Baseball playoffs because it had been so many years since they'd been there. They seem to have broken bad this year. These aren't the darling little Royals anymore, are they?
BRYANT: No, they are not. They are not the little engine that could. And, boy, when we talk about small-market teams - everyone was rooting last year for the Royals, who hadn't made the playoffs since they'd won the World Series in 1985. And they come within just a couple of plays of winning the World Series against the Giants last year. This year, they've turned into the Broad Street bullies. They've turned into the Philadelphia Flyers. They're - they are brawling. They're fighting. They're fighting with the Oakland A's. They were fighting with the White Sox. It just - it really has started with the pitcher Yordano Ventura throwing pitches inside, hitting Adam Eaton and they're brawling. If you look at the photos, it's kind of hilarious. It looks like a hockey fight. This is not what we expected from... [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this conversation, our guest says that pitcher Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals hit the White Sox's Adam Eaton with a pitch. In fact, Eaton was not hit with the pitch. But he and Ventura exchanged words and a brawl ensued. We also say that Ventura had been throwing at opposing players' heads. While he has hit some players and has angered others with inside pitches, it was not correct to say that Ventura was targeting their heads.]
BRYANT: ...That nice little Cinderella team. But hey, everyone's gunning for them now. Believe me, they're not anonymous anymore.
SIMON: Well, that's what happens, right? They've announced they're so good and...
BRYANT: When you win, they've changed their personality, and certainly, the rest of the league's aware of them. And that kid Ventura has got to grow up. You can't throw baseballs at people's heads anymore. It's not the 1950s.
SIMON: Right. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thanks so much, Howard.
BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.