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Warriors, Trail Blazers, Spurs Dominate NBA

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer, and it's time now for sports. Now we could tell you how the Golden State Warriors beat the Minnesota Timberwolves or that the Utah Jazz outscored the Philadelphia 76ers last night. But what Mike Pesca, of Slate's The Gist podcast, wants you to know is that the West is way best. Mike joins us now. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

WERTHEIMER: So who's doing well in the NBA?

PESCA: Well, it is the West. You are right. And normally this is presented in the context of bemoaning imbalance and pointing out, which is true, that some teams in the East, come playoff time, will not be winning teams whereas deserving teams in the West will be winning teams. But I prefer not to bemoan. I prefer to elevate and to say that the West is perhaps an all-time great conference. You have the Portland Trail Blazers - fascinating young team. You have the Golden State Warriors, a team with the best record in basketball. The Memphis Grizzlies are doing well. And the Houston Rockets are doing well. And the Houston Rockets probably are going to acquire Josh Smith who was - didn't work out with the Pistons but is a great player. So all these teams in the West are getting better.

WERTHEIMER: Now you haven't even mentioned the Dallas Mavericks or the San Antonio Spurs.

PESCA: Right. So these are championship winning teams from the last few years. And they're also definitely in playoff contention. You know, San Antonio right now only is about the sixth or seventh seed in the West, but still, you can't count them out. So when you go down the list of teams in the West, you have teams that are good - very good. You have teams that are getting better, like Dallas just acquired Rajon Rondo, the Boston Celtics point guard. And it makes a situation where the worst team on paper in the West, the worst team to qualify for the playoffs, will be a team, like, I don't know, maybe Oklahoma City?

Fascinating thing about Oklahoma City - Zach Lowe, who writes for ESPN, was asked to pick the best team in basketball. He's a very good writer, very statistical, said Oklahoma City was the best team in basketball even though right now they're under 500. It's because they've had so many injuries. So the West is just dominant. Like I said, a conference for the ages.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I think, you know, just in fairness we're going to have to talk about the East.

PESCA: Yes. It is a whole half of the country, isn't it? Or in the case of the Toronto Raptors, half of the continent because they're one of the best teams in the East. I also want to point out that the Bulls and the Hawks are very good. But I think that most people looking at the NBA season will say, well, what about the Cavaliers? What about LeBron James? And I think as the season goes on, the Cavaliers will gel more and more and more. They are, you know, right up there. They have a winning record. They haven't been exactly lighting the world on fire. They started off a little slow, went on a winning streak. So just because you have LeBron James in a team that could make the finals, that certainly means you should not count him out. But it is clear, there is an A division and a B division, and we know which one is which.

WERTHEIMER: So throw us a curveball, Mike?

PESCA: Oh, sure. So I was thinking about the Russian Olympics doing a lot of these year-end lists. And you remember at the time there was that figure floated that the Olympics cost $50 billion or $51 billion? And I - that's a little bit of a squishy figure because it comes from the Russian government, first of all. But also it didn't estimate a lot of the costs. But it was based on the $1.5 trillion ruble figure - that cost. So I recalculated it taking it to account the recent plunge of the ruble. And if you say that the Olympics were to cost around $50 billion. That means that it would be, in today's rubles, $2.7 trillion rubles. I don't know if that - you know, I don't know if human beings can actually accommodate figures that big. But let's just say, it was a lot of money to spend on the Olympics for a country that is not doing that well.

WERTHEIMER: Mike Pesca hosts a Slate podcast The Gist. Mike, thanks.

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

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