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Underdogs Shine In Early Stages Of NBA Playoffs


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


MARTIN: We have officially begun the long, winnowing process known as the NBA playoffs. The first games were last night. NPR's Mike Pesca was watching. He joins us now. Hey, Mike.


MARTIN: So, let's recap the results for those of us who were not glued to our televisions last night. Who won?

PESCA: In four games - it is a long process; just the first day takes forever - the Knicks narrowly beat the Celtics, the Denver Nuggets narrowly beat the Golden State Warriors - and in the two, you know, blowout-y-type games, the Bulls lost the Nets and the Clippers beat the Grizz.

MARTIN: You have been doing some thinking about what it takes to win an NBA championship. Seems like an appropriate time to be thinking about that. What are your thoughts?

PESCA: Yes. Perhaps all these teams are thinking too. So, the conventional wisdom - and it is correct, as conventional wisdom usually is - is you need a superstar to win a championship. I mean, right now, the Miami Heat are the overwhelming favorites to win and they have LeBron James, who's going to win the MVP award, deservedly so. If they don't win it, maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder will knock them off. They were in the Finals last year. They have Kevin Durant. Maybe it'll be the Knicks, who I just mentioned. They have Carmelo Anthony - led the league in scoring. I just listed the first three guys in MVP voting. They're may be the three most likely teams to win the playoffs. That's how the thinking goes: get a superstar.

MARTIN: So, does that mean that all the teams in the playoffs have some really standout star?

PESCA: In general, they do. I mean, there is a correlation between the best players and the best teams. But there are a couple of exceptions, and I think the most notable one is Denver. If you look at win shares, which is sort of this catchall statistic of offense, defense, sort of how much a player correlates to winning...

MARTIN: Which I do all the time.

PESCA: I'm glad you do, I'm glad you're checking - the Nuggets don't have a top 30 player in the league. However, they have six guys in the top 100. So, this means they have a really deep team just without one great player. It sort of stirs the cockles of the coach's heart because team is what wins it. It ain't necessarily so, as I just talked about reality. But the Nuggets are doing it in an interesting way. They don't know who's going to be their leading scorer every night. Andre Miller - he was the guy who came up big last night. Another great player on their team, Danilo Gallinari, got hurt. It doesn't even seem to have affected them that much. You know, this other weird and profound advantage is they do play in Denver, it is the mile-high city. And playing at altitude helps them. They have this exceptional one-loss record at home. It's very unlikely that a team other than Miami will win this whole thing, but if it is, it could be Denver.

MARTIN: All right. I guess we're just going to have to wait and see. Who knew the altitude could make a difference. Do you have a curveball for us this week?

PESCA: I do. It's about one play, a bizarro play, in baseball, which during 162-game season you have to get whatever bizarro plays you can. So, on Friday night, Brewers-Cubs, Jean Segura, a young shortstop who's very swift for the Brewers is on second, Ryan Braun, the Brewers' outfielder is on first. They call for the double steal, which means the guy on second goes to third, the guy on first goes to second both at the same time. So, there was a pickoff move which really screwed up the Brewers' bold plans. Segura goes back to second. Ryan Braun's already there. By rights, this means when two players are on a base, that means that Braun is out. But Segura maybe is - he's a young guy. He's impetuous. He doesn't know what happens. He takes off for first. So, Segura was about to steal third...

MARTIN: This is awesome. I saw this. It was unbelievable.

PESCA: one knows what's going on. He takes off for first. Can a guy on second steal first? It seems to have happened. We checked the rule book. Here is the rule: Rule 7.08 allows runners to run bases in reverse order unless it's, quote, "for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game." Now, I would submit that Jean Segura did not make a travesty of the game. He barely made a mockery. He made a bit of interest.

MARTIN: A bit of interest, indeed. He also made us think, as does NPR's Mike Pesca every week. Hey, thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You are welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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