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Sports: From Basketballs To Racing Horses


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon and I've wait all week to say it's time for sports.

Basketball playoffs, two teams come back from a three-game deficit just not far enough. In baseball, Angels in the outfield but rarely on the bases. How much money do they have to spend to get a few hits? And some national concerns that have nothing to do with congress. Howard Bryant, columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Morning Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you, my friend.

BRYANT: And before we get started, the only thing I care about with the Kentucky Derby is the drinks and the hats. That's about it. I don't even know who's racing. I can't help today.

SIMON: Well, I'm glad you mentioned. Take note. Our friend, Laura Hillenbrand, the author of "Seabiscuit," you know, a great book. She's picking Orb in today's Derby.

BRYANT: Well, if she's going with Orb, I'm going with Orb. Everybody, it's Orb.

SIMON: OK. We'll see those betting stats get affected now. Listen, Boston Celtics almost came back from a three-game deficit against the Knicks, but that fourth quarter, awfully exciting, but...

BRYANT: Well, it's tough to come all the way back. One, you're down three games to none; two, you're down 26 points in this game. A lot of pride for this Celtics. They really did show why they were a championship level team, but the bottom line here is that the Knicks should have won this series in four or five games.

They were the better team and it would have been a colossal collapse for them and for their star, Carmelo Anthony, if they had lost the game last night and had to go to a Game 7. This entire conversation has way more to do with the Knicks than it does with the Celtics. But if you're a Boston Celtics fan, you really should be proud of what they did because they really weren't that good but they showed you what professionalism is all about.

SIMON: Houston Rockets fell short against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not a big surprise, but...

BRYANT: No, not a big surprise, but once again I think that when you lose Russell Westbrook - you have to remember that the Rockets have a different mission than the Thunder. The Thunder are the defending Western Conference champs. They were in the championship game last year, in the finals last year. They win Game 1, then lose four in a row and LeBron James wins the championship.

Their mission is to win a championship. So for them to have drama in the first round and to lose Russell Westbrook to injury, doesn't say a whole lot about their prospects. But to get through the first round is something they needed to do. You still have Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the game, but they are shorthanded and it's going to be very difficult for them to get back to the finals.

SIMON: Move to baseball. I think Anaheim might tell the Angels get your name off our team. I mean, the Angels spent enough money to buy a Senate seat and they're only 11 and 18 this season. What's going on?

BRYANT: Yeah, 11 and 18 this season, 10 and 17 at this same time last year. They only spent $450 million on three players over the last two seasons, whether it - Pujols and Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson and they're only four games better than the woeful Houston Astros, who only have a $22 million payroll. So it's not good and I think, once again, Mike Scioscia's one of the best managers in the game and I think people are starting to wonder over there if maybe they need a different voice.

But when you spend that much money, you're going to have expectations. People want their victories after that kind of money is being spent.

SIMON: Washington Nationals were picked in a lot of pre-season polls to win the World Series, but they've got a good third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, who doesn't seem to want to throw the ball to first, and potentially a great pitcher in Stephen Strasburg who just a season after shoulder surgery is now shaking his forearm.

BRYANT: Yeah, and once again, this goes back to last season where they might have cost themselves a championship by trying to pre-prevent or to be preemptive with injuries, which you can't do. And now they're 15 and 15. Strasburg is supposed to start today despite having the tight forearm.

Listen, there's nothing you can do with these guys who are as physical as they are. It's a tough game and you hope that injuries aren't going to happen to them, but once again, you can't decide when guy's going to get hurt or when he's not going to get hurt. You can simply try to be as professional and as careful as you can, but, you know, they're unpredictable.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thank so much, Howard.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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