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NBA Finals Are On And No-Hitters Are Hot


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: The NBA finals are on. Maybe it's just the weather forecast: Thunder, Heat, Heat, Thunder. Also, no-hitters busting out all over. And Bryce Harper scorches the major league circuit. Howard Bryant is back with us, senior writer at ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Howard, morning.

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

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you, my friend. And Oklahoma City and Miami are tied, one victory apiece. But is this a 1-1 with the Heat slightly ahead because they go home for three days - or for three games now?

BRYANT: For three games. You'd like to think so. However, it hasn't happened where any team goes in and wins all three games at home in this 2, 3, 2 format. It did happen back in 1990, where the Detroit Pistons went to Portland and swept the series and that was that. But I think you're going to have the series come back.

It's a great series between the two great young players. You've got Kevin Durant on one side, LeBron James on the other. And it's actually - it's the marquis matchup that the NBA loves. In no other sport is the best player as important as in basketball.

And as you find out as these games go on, especially at the end, the best player rises to the top and he either succeeds because he's so good or it becomes a failure because he didn't get the job done. And I think that's been the LeBron James narrative, even though he's been in the finals three times and he's only 26 years old.

But I think that the other part of it, too, that makes this such a compelling series, once again, is this big narrative about when this super great three-time MVP player is going to win a championship.

SIMON: Let's move into baseball. There have been five no-hitters all ready this year. And I'm happy for the pitchers who hurl them. I certainly couldn't do it. But with five, you know, by June, it seems like we're at the point that Betty White is going to throw a no-hitter. Is something going on?

BRYANT: Well, and there are a lot of things going on. Obviously you could make an argument that it's simply a statistical anomaly, because who can predict when a no-hitter is going to take place? Then, obviously, you have the great big cloud in the game, which is to say that, gee, now the hitters aren't on steroids anymore that the game is back actually in balance, although the counterargument to that is, well, the pitchers were using, too. So there's all kind of conversation here.

I actually think it's a combination of a couple things. One, is I do think there's a "Moneyball" element to this, where you have players who are so trained now to take a lot of pitches, to not swing the bat, that a hot pitcher has an opportunity to get a rhythm going. And I think the other part of it, too, is that you have hitters who used to be much more protective of the plate. Now they swing whenever they want. So I think you've got a little combination there.

But the one thing about it is that anyone who thinks that offense in baseball is the only thing that's important sees how much fun it is to watch a no-hitter. It's extremely exciting. I haven't seen one yet. I've been covering baseball for 15 years.

SIMON: All right. Now, Bryce Harper, a 19-year-old boy wonder of the Washington Nationals, who needs a nickname. Let's work on that. Hottest player in baseball at the moment. Will pitchers soon be able to get his number soon or is that a clown question, bro?

BRYANT: Well, baseball always finds its water level. Eventually everyone figures everybody out. But the beauty of Bryce Harper is that he is baseball at its finest and that everyone wants to see what the young player's going to do. There's no college and there's no minor league that anybody really pays attention to. So making the grade in the big leagues, in The Show, is kind of what it's all about.

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

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