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Saturday Sports: Milwaukee Bucks end their season, NHL playoffs


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Layoffs a-poppin'. In the NBA, fresh heartbreak in Philly and Milwaukee. And in the NHL, the Golden Knights hang on. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: I'm fine. Let's begin in the NBA. Indiana (shouting) sheered the deer.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: The Pacers won the series in six games. Boy, expectations were so high in Milwaukee this year, but just like last year, the deer stumbled in the first round.

BRYANT: Yeah. They go out in the first round, and they won the championship a couple of years ago - a few years ago now, and haven't gotten past the second round since. And it's been - this was supposed to be a great year for them. You go out...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...And you get a future Hall of Famer in Damian Lillard. You've got Giannis. You've got this - a great young head coach that everybody was really high on, Adrian Griffin. He starts the season 30 and 13.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Fantastic. They fire him. And then they hire Doc Rivers. They go 19 and 20 afterwards. They stumble in the playoffs. Giannis is injured. He doesn't play. Spectacular fall for this team with such high expectations.

SIMON: What about the rest of the field? The Knicks are through to the conference finals. The Celtics, Nuggets and Thunder look like, you know, the strongest teams. What are you keeping your eye on?

BRYANT: Well, I love the fact that the Knicks are in the second round. They are a fun team. Jalen Brunson, wow, what a player and really bettered himself. Nobody thought he was going to be as...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Good as he turned out to be - except for him, probably, when he left Dallas in free agency and went to New York. Really looking forward to seeing that Pacers series. They score a ton of points. The Knicks play a ton of defense. So really good contrast there.

And we have a Game 7 tomorrow between Cleveland and Orlando, and for the right to play the 64-win Boston Celtics, who were supposed to be in the driver's seat to win the championship.

SIMON: You know what I say, right?

BRYANT: Tell me, what do you say?

SIMON: Cleveland rocks. Cleveland rocks.

BRYANT: (Laughter) In Cleveland. And their guy, Donovan Mitchell, scored 50 points last night.

SIMON: Yeah, great game last night.

BRYANT: So really phenomenal player. But the one that I'm looking forward to the most is the one that people aren't talking about because they spend so much time talking about the Los Angeles Lakers. It is Denver, the defending champs, against the up-and-coming upstart Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves. That's going to be a great, great, great series. Really looking forward to that one.

SIMON: Speaking of defending champions, let's move on to hockey 'cause in the West, the Las Vegas Golden Knights held on last night, defeating the Dallas Stars 2-0 and forcing a winner-take-all Game 7, Sunday in Texas. I can't get over the fact that we're talking about...

BRYANT: Hockey in Texas?

SIMON: Yeah. Hockey in Texas and Las Vegas. How do you rate the Golden Knights?

BRYANT: Well, you know me, Scott. I always feel like you are the champs, and you're the best until somebody dethrones you. They're not as good as they were last year, but there's something about teams that win. They know how to do it. There's something about when they get into these moments that they find a way. And so I really would never bet against a team that is a defending champion. I think that the rest of the field has, you know, caught up.

The hard thing about hockey, once again, is when you start looking at who these great teams are all season long, the playoff hockey is so demonstrably different. I know hockey fans hate when they say it's a fluky sport, but you get a hot goaltender. You get - the game is so physical. It's a totally different sport.

Look at the Boston Bruins. They were the greatest team in the world last year, blew a 3-1 lead to Florida that went to the Stanley Cup. This year, the Bruins are in a seven-game series once more - one game - another home game away from blowing another 3-1 lead against Toronto, which, by the way, hasn't been to the Stanley Cups since 1967. One last thing that I...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Really like about this, too, is that for all of what we've talked about in hockey with, you know, the Canadian players - Canadian teams, they have not won a Stanley Cup since the Canadiens won in 1993. But you've got two great teams. You've got Vancouver. You've got Edmonton. And unfortunately, they're going to play each other in the second round.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: But I am very much a Connor McDavid, very much an Edmonton fan. What a fun team to watch.

SIMON: Yeah. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.