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High Stakes And Rivalry As NBA Season Draws To An End

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Time to talk basketball because the regular season is wrapping up and the drama is at an all-time high. Why, you ask? Because the rivalry between two teams is really intense. One team is poised to break the NBA record for most games won. Joining me now to talk about all this is Mike Pesca of "The Gist." Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

MARTIN: Everyone's talking about one particular match-up, two of the best teams in the league. I'm talking about the Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Thursday night's standoff. The two teams play again tonight. So why is this rivalry such a gift to basketball fans?

PESCA: Gift is a good word because a lot of times when there's a great team, you feel almost like it's an undeniable force, they're a machine, how can we ever think about doing anything but beating, say, this Kentucky Wildcat team or this UConn Women team. But the Warriors are a joy to watch, an aesthetic joy. And the Spurs are too in their own way - slightly different way but a lot of passing the ball, a lot of teamwork. So it's really been a lot of fun.

Now you said two of the best teams. Clearly the two best teams, and the Warriors do have this chance to set the record for most wins ever in an NBA season. But there are a couple records on the line. You know, San Antonio, they're hosting the Warriors. San Antonio has not lost at home this year. That's never happened in the NBA. So if they do indeed beat the Warriors - and by the way, the Warriors haven't won at San Antonio since early on in the second term of the Clinton administration. So if the Warriors win, they'll be breaking a great San Antonio streak.

And there are some - there are some who look at statistics, and everyone's talking about are the Warriors the best team ever? They might end with the most wins ever. There are some who are saying, actually, San Antonio's better this year. If you look at things like margin of victory, you know, the Warriors have been blown out by losses, not so with San Antonio. So this is just fascinating and captivating and great basketball and also kind of a bonus because does it really matter? I mean, it matters a little if they set a record in the regular season. We get to experience it all over again in the playoffs.

MARTIN: All right, so those are the best teams in the league. Let's talk about the worst teams 'cause why not? 'Cause you like talking about the losers.

PESCA: I'm as fascinated by the Philadelphia 76ers, a team who've - you know, they have barely double-digit wins. And their GM, Sam Hinkie, left. Now, this was a hated guy because he was overseeing a process whereby Philadelphia would lose and lose on purpose to get...

MARTIN: Why?

PESCA: Why? Because by losing, you put yourself in a position to get good draft picks and that's how you get better. And it doesn't seem as if Philadelphia has gotten better. But really they're in a better position. They're accumulating young talent. The thing is that they - Philadelphia management, much of it, just couldn't take Sam Hinkie anymore. He was the face of this lose-on-purpose strategy. And he issued a 13-page letter in which he quoted Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffet, Bill James, Jeff Bezos and Atul Gawande. Now I have to say...

MARTIN: Wow (laughter).

PESCA: Yeah. He unburdened himself - lots of adjectives - but...

MARTIN: But what did he say? He was just - he was...

PESCA: He laid out his philosophy. He talked about things, like there are some prerequisites to inventing. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to think long term. And that is true. So many great men have failed. But you know who else failed? All the failures. So right now if you're a 76ers fan it's like, that's great, Sam Hinkie. I still got a 10-win team on my hands and that stinks.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca's podcast is called "The Gist." Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.