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NBA, NHL Finals Loom: The Week In Sports

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And what a nice way to make way for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: James versus Curry? Maybe. Anaheim versus Tampa Bay? Really. And Bryce Harper on a tear? Definitively. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN the magazine.

Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning Scott, how are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. Do the stars - wink, wink, pun, pun - seem to be aligning for an NBA finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

BRYANT: Well, that's the matchup that I think everybody wants. Steph Curry is the MVP this year, LeBron James is the best player in the world. LeBron James has been to the finals the last four years. And so when you think about the great matchups and the best - on the best-of-the-best stages, I would love to see Golden State and Cleveland, and I think everybody else does too, unless of course, you live in Houston or Atlanta.

SIMON: Potential Stanley Cup. Now, this could be played between the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks - two of the original NHL teams. Tough, proud hockey towns. Or, two cities where most of the ice they get is in margaritas.

BRYANT: (Laughter). Exactly. And two of the biggest markets. I think the executives who pay billions of dollars to watch - to broadcast these games would love to see a New York-Chicago battle. We had, a couple years ago, Boston and Chicago playing the Stanley Cup. However, you've got some other teams getting in the way. You've got Tampa Bay, which is a great team. They're playing really, really well, even though the Rangers have the best record in hockey. And of course, you've got the Anaheim Ducks against the Chicago Blackhawks. Obviously, the sexy matchup is New York-Chicago, but I can't say for certain that Chicago is a better team than Anaheim this year. Anaheim's a very, very good team. Corey Perry's a great player. And on the other hand, when you start looking at the New York matchup, game three was a phenomenal game. The Rangers come back and they win last night 5-1. So it's 2-2 and may the best players - may the best teams win. So what if it's not New York-Chicago, even though the network executives wouldn't be very happy about that.

SIMON: Whoa - easy for you to say, OK?

BRYANT: (Laughter). It's not my - hey, my team got knocked out a long time ago. The Bruins didn't even make the playoffs, so - so be it. Just give me some good hockey.

SIMON: I have built my spring around the Hawks. The Washington Nationals are hot, hot, hot and Bryce Harper is scalding.

BRYANT: Exactly. And let's remember that a few years ago, that it was the Bryce Harper-Mike Trout matchup that everybody thought was going to usher baseball into this new post-steroid generation, and it didn't really happen. Mike Trout's a great player and Bryce Harper was a very, very good player and then sort of fell off. This year, he's back. This year, he's playing great, he's hit his sixteenth home run. And when you start to look at the Nationals as a team - let's not forget that the Nationals, for the last couple of years, have been forecast to be a World Series team and it really hasn't happened. This year, they go out, they get Max Scherzer, you've got Bryce Harper playing as well as he's played in his young career, and all of a sudden, you're starting to see what this team is capable of doing. Even though, of course, the San Francisco Giants are the defending champions and the St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in baseball with the best record, the Nationals are the team that everybody was waiting for. And the player that a lot of people have been waiting for has been Bryce Harper and this year, at least for the first couple of months, he has shown spectacularly how good he can be.

SIMON: That's not a clown observation, bro.

BRYANT: That is not a clown observation.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BRYANT: Big personality, but a pretty big bat as well right now.

SIMON: Oh boy, yes. OK. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN the magazine, talk to you soon my friend, take care.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.