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As The NBA Conference Finals Wind Down, LeBron James Remains Dominant

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The NBA finals will be set soon. If the Cavs beat the Atlanta Hawks tonight, that's it. It's a sweep, and Cleveland will be in the finals. And in the West, it's the Golden State Warriors versus the Houston Rockets. Their next game is tomorrow. And that series looked like it was going to be a sweep, but Houston had other ideas and pulled out a win last night. Now for more on the playoffs, we go to the ESPN's Amin Elhassan. Hey there, Amin.

AMIN ELHASSAN: How's it going, Audie? I'm very excited to be here.

CORNISH: So just now I was saying, like, all the team names - right? - but really, I feel like it's coming down to a couple of guys. And let's start with last night. On top of the Warriors losing, their star, Steph Curry, took a serious fall and hit his head. The entire arena goes silent. What happened, and why was this such a moment?

ELHASSAN: Well, he got upended. He kind of lost his legs jumping to block a shot and fell on the back of his head and neck. And then also his arms kind of got tangled under his body. To wake up today and hear that everything is fine and he actually played the rest of the game, he's pretty fortunate because it could've been a lot worse. But the other part of it - obviously, he's the MVP of the league, and he's an exciting player to watch. I think fans gravitate towards him because he doesn't have this unreachable Mt. Olympus style of dominance. He's not big and athletic and strong. He doesn't jump out of the gym. He's, for all intents and purposes, a normal-sized guy...

CORNISH: (Laughter).

ELHASSAN: ...In a land of giants, and yet he finds a way to dominate with his skill and with his mind.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, the Rockets - maybe they finally hit their stride. I know there was talk of a curse, right? But who stepped up to play there?

ELHASSAN: Well, James Harden was magnificent. He was runner-up in the MVP balloting this season. He's a tremendous scorer. He can just get the ball into the hoop so many different ways. And last night, he was remarkable. The Rockets really rode a hot first quarter. They started the game by scoring 45 points in the first quarter, which was a franchise record. And the rest of the game, they just were content with trading blows because when you have a 20-plus-point advantage, it's really hard to blow that.

CORNISH: You talked about Steph Curry feeling kind of accessible - right? - to the fans, to his team. And then you look at a figure in the East like LeBron James who's pretty much the behemoth of this Cleveland team, right? I mean, is anyone else even scoring?

ELHASSAN: Yeah. He is, but he's getting some timely contributions from his teammates. Some of these guys - if you're scratching your head and thinking, I've never heard of this person, don't worry, there are a lot of avid sports fans who are saying the same thing. A guy like Matthew Dellavedova - he's a young Australian player. He played collegiately here, but he's been a big-time shot-maker for them, particularly in the last couple of games. Another player, Tristan Thompson - he's a Canadian kid, went to high school in the United States, went to college for a year in Texas, and now he's making a name for himself on this big stage of the NBA playoffs. So the idea here with the Cleveland Cavaliers is that you're not getting your production from the same guys night after night, but rather little contributions from other people. Everyone steps up for a different night.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, I want to touch quickly on the Hawks, but actually on an issue that they had to deal with last year, a PR nightmare, when owner Bruce Levenson sent emails complaining, agitating, saying that too many of the Hawks' fans were black. Are the Hawks and the NBA past all this?

ELHASSAN: I think so because the franchise is going to be sold. There is already a bid in - a winning bid led by Grant Hill, the former NBA superstar. They have to still get approved by the League Board of Governors. But I think the franchise has moved past this. The one person who probably hasn't is Danny Ferry, the general manager of the team who's been suspended this year. He also made some untoward comments about a black player, Luol Deng, and it still remains to be seen if he'll be accepted back by the franchise or by any other team, for that matter.

CORNISH: Amin Elhassan, tell us a little bit about ratings this year and whether the dramas - right? - whether it's Curry or LeBron James or what's happened with the Hawks - has that contributed to, you know, real interest?

ELHASSAN: I think the conference finals have been a letdown for many people. They wanted to see something more competitive. Obviously, when you have both teams in either conference jump out to three games to none leads, it's not good for keeping people's attention, especially in our sport where no team has ever come back from 0-3 games deficit in the playoffs. But the good news is it looks like we're going to get Curry versus LeBron, the two probably most popular players in the league right now, playing against each other in the finals. That's all anyone can ever ask for, I think.

CORNISH: Amin Elhassan is from the NBA Front Office Insider for ESPN. He spoke to us from Phoenix. Thanks so much.

ELHASSAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.