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NBA's Regular Season Ends Wednesday, NHL Playoffs Begin


It is time for sports now. March Madness is over. The Masters Golf Tournament is over. But there's absolutely no time at all for sports fans to catch their collective breath, not with the National Hockey League playoffs starting tonight and the NBA playoffs starting this weekend.

NPR's Tom Goldman is here to set the proverbial table for us. Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Let's start with hockey. I know you're as excited as I am about the NHL playoffs. But they're messing with our playoff format this year.


GOLDMAN: To make it better though...


GOLDMAN: Trying to make it better. A new format, it emphasizes division rivalries, teams that have been playing each other, you know, four five times during the regular season, now will square off in the first couple of rounds of the playoffs. It's supposed to create more buzz. Aren't you buzzing?

GREENE: I'm buzzing here.

GOLDMAN: And also, in the past, the NHL would re-seed teams after the first round. So the remaining highest seeded team would get matched up against the remaining lowest seeded team. And this gave the highest seeded team an easier path to the finals. It was a nice reward for teams that had most regular season success. Now there is no reseeding - the bracket is set at the beginning and stays the same all the way.

And let's talk about a bracket that actually is considered a good way to draw in more fans, which the NHL is always trying to do. Just as March Madness draws in so many who don't give a rip about college basketball, but still decide to fill out a bracket for their office pool, the NHL is going to follow that model.

A good way to grow a sport, David: Get people gambling on it. As shocking as that may seem.


GREENE: So and I thought the brackets are all about just having fun with friends.


GREENE: Well, I guess the question everyone asks in the NHL is - how do they put it -who will hoist the Lord Stanley. Who will hoist that trophy?


GOLDMAN: You know, Boston is definitely one of the favorites to do that. Boston won the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular season record, given a good chance to at least get back to the finals for a third time in four years. In the West, the Anaheim Ducks had the best regular season record. They're a deep team with a good defense, but a bit shaky at the all-important position of goalie. And because of that Colorado, St. Louis, the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks are given better odds among Western Conference teams to win the cup.

GREENE: Alright, so basketball fans, they have a few more days to wait before the playoffs start. But the NBA playoffs start Saturday. Is everything set or still some stuff to be decided in these next few days?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, there is drama left tonight, which is the last night of the regular season. Some playoff seeding still needs to be decided. Dallas plays Memphis, they have identical records. Whoever loses that game is the final playoff team in the Western Conference, the eighth seed. And they get San Antonio in the first round. Both teams have long losing streaks to the Spurs, stretching back to last season - so not a good matchup for either. Dallas and Memphis will play to win tonight.

Also, if the L.A. Clippers win and Oklahoma City loses, the Clippers could slip into the second seeded spot in the West. And that would be a surprise because Oklahoma City and San Antonio have jockeyed for top position in the West for much of the regular season.

GREENE: And maybe it's appropriate that we're talking about the West, because I mean the Western Conference teams have been so hot for a lot of this year. Is that still the case?

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. You know, although, although seven teams in the East will finish with a winning records, which is a major accomplishment considering that just two to three early in the season had records 500 or better. You know, it was Miami and Indiana and that was it. That still might be it but you have to give respect now to teams like Chicago and Toronto.

That said, it's still crazy how many good teams there are in the West. The team that finishes after tonight in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, will have a record that would earn it a third seed in the East. And one last thing, the Phoenix Suns could end up 14 games over 500, but they're going to miss the playoffs - too many better Western teams ahead of them.

GREENE: You sound excited, Tom.


GREENE: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks as always.

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.