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Sports: Proving Your Worth


You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: In the NBA, the Miami Heat have a lot to prove against the Indiana Pacers. In the NHL, the L.A. Kings are proving it. And a farewell to Kerry Wood. Howard Bryant of ESPN and joins us.

Morning, Howard.

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

SIMON: I'm fine. As well as I can be the day after Kerry Wood's retirement. Look, Miami Heat are down 2-1, an embarrassing blowout at the hands of the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They canceled practice yesterday. I mean, what more could they have to learn. Is this beginning to look like a full meltdown?

BRYANT: It is starting to look like a full meltdown. And it's starting to look even worse, because once again, you know, there's nowhere to go when you're the Miami Heat. You're built for one thing. You're not built to have a good season, you're not built to make the fans happy. You know, you're built to win a championship.

And those types of expectations were only exacerbated when LeBron James came to Miami and then said they weren't going to win just one championship but they were going to win seven. Well, you can't win seven if you don't win one. And right now, the way it's looking - they've got to win. This is the game of LeBron James' career. It's the game of Dwayne Wade's career, because of not winning it last year.

And because once again, here's a team that not only is running the risk of getting knocked out in the second round, but running the risk of getting knocked out in the second round when the number one seed, the Chicago Bulls, already got knocked out. So this championship, or at least the Eastern Conference championship, is theirs to win. And right now, they are in a lot of trouble.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, it must be said. They might win and what are we talking about. But...

BRYANT: Sure. Exactly. And that's the thing. They - and that's the beauty of sport, is that you go out and play and then you keep playing and then you see what happens. And then you leave it to us in the meantime - it's the down time that creates all of the doubt and all of the story. But what ends up happening, too, is that when you go out - this is not a media creation. That basketball team is in a lot of trouble right now.

SIMON: Howard, I know you're bursting to talk about the L.A. Kings.

BRYANT: I called it, didn't I?

SIMON: Yes, you did.

BRYANT: Up 3-0. They're up 3-0. And over Phoenix. And it's one of those things - it's - I have this argument with all of my hockey guys, like Barry Melrose over at ESPN and a lot of the different guys that we talk about sports with. Hockey is the strangest, flukiest sport. You can go out and you can be essentially average for the entire season. You can get hot and then you can run the table.

I mean, the L.A. Kings were nowhere near the team that anyone was talking about. You're talking about San Jose or you were talking about Vancouver in the West. And you even had the Blackhawks, who had won a championship a couple of years ago. And now, the L.A. Kings are a game away from sweeping their way to the Stanley Cup.

And that's what happens when you get a hot goalie. Jonathan Quick is terrific. And they've got that look about them all of a sudden to maybe do something that nobody thought was possible, which is for a Los Angeles hockey team, a California team to win a Stanley Cup.

SIMON: And, let me ask, in baseball, in L.A. also, is Albert Pujols finally living up to his salary or at least a good chunk of it?

BRYANT: Well, if you think that hitting three homeruns or two homeruns in a week is worth $240 million, then absolutely then he's living up to it. This is a huge question for the Los Angeles Angels. You give a guy with a track record like Albert Pujols - there's no question that it was the biggest deal of the off season - 10 years, $240 million.

They're in last place. He's hitting .215. And, no, he's not living up to his contract. He had a good week, but he's not living up to his contract. Obviously, they always say in baseball that it is a marathon. It's not a sprint. You've got to figure it out by the end. And usually you end up where you're supposed to end up.

He's got to have an amazing next 75 percent of this season. The good news is, is that it's only 25 percent done.

SIMON: Kerry Wood of the Cubs, who was once on a track to be an all-time great, struck out 20 in his fifth game, hurt his arm, kept pitching with his heart. Got one last strikeout yesterday afternoon, left the game, doffed his cap, hugged his son, the Cub batboy. Is this an occasion to mark?

BRYANT: It is an occasion to mark, because this is one of the reasons why we watch the games. And you see these young kids out there and you see their talent and you see their enthusiasm. And Kerry Wood was a guy when I was on the beat in 1998, guys in spring training - I remember Kevin Mitchell was talking about this kid, Kerry Wood. Wait until you see him. Wait until you see him. And then he lived up to it, striking out 20 guys. Only Roger Clemens had done that.

And it's very difficult. It's very difficult when you see a guy go to injury. But he's a terrific pitcher. And I think Cubs fans will remember him well.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN and Thanks so very much.

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

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