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The NBA season tips off and the MLB postseason is in full swing

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

For U.S. sports fans, it's that time of year when four major pro leagues are all underway - football, hockey, baseball and basketball. About those last two - a new NBA season began yesterday, and the Major League Baseball playoffs are down to four teams.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins me now. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: Tom, baseball first and the two league championship series. Both are being played today. Am I right to say one of those series feels like a surprise and the other was totally predictable?

GOLDMAN: You are right, Sacha. The surprise is in the National League, where the Philadelphia Phillies are playing the San Diego Padres. The Phillies hadn't been to the postseason since 2011. And then after beating a division winner, St. Louis, in the Wild Card round, they upset the defending champion Atlanta Braves in the round preceding this championship series against San Diego.

PFEIFFER: And the Padres a surprise, too.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they were a playoff team in 2020, but before that, San Diego had missed the postseason 13 straight years. Now, this was supposed to be a breakout season for them, with three hugely talented All-Star players - Manny Machado and young stars Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto. But Tatis was banned a couple of months ago after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, and the expectations for the Padres plummeted after that. Then in their division series, they beat World Series favorite LA Dodgers, setting up this improbable National League championship series between two Wild Card teams.

PFEIFFER: So that's National League. Now, the American...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...League Championship series opens tonight in Houston, Astros hosting the New York Yankees. This one, not a surprise?

GOLDMAN: No, it's not - two teams that were among those considered contenders heading into this season. But while the matchup was somewhat expected, there is a spicy history between the two. Houston, as we know, was found to have illegally stolen signs during the 2017 season, when the Astros won the World Series. And along the way to that title, they beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. So even though New York players say they are focused on right now, there have been comments as recently as this season to indicate the Yankees still harbor some ill will toward Houston.

PFEIFFER: All right, Tom - basketball.

GOLDMAN: OK.

PFEIFFER: Last night, the NBA season started. Both teams in last season's final winning - won their open games, the Boston Celtics and the champion Golden State Warriors. Did we learn anything from their victories?

GOLDMAN: Well, I suppose we learned that they appear ready to pick up where they left off despite preseason controversy for both. Last month, Boston suspended its head coach, Ime Udoka, for this entire season for violating team policies. And then a couple of weeks ago, Golden State power forward Draymond Green punched his teammate Jordan Poole during a preseason practice. A video of the incident was leaked, and head coach Steve Kerr called it the biggest crisis his team had faced during his tenure.

But last night, both looked good. Boston beat another strong Eastern Conference team, the Philadelphia 76ers. And Golden State beat LeBron James and the LA Lakers.

PFEIFFER: And briefly, Tom, the Warriors returned to the top last season. They won their fourth title since 2015. Can they do it again?

GOLDMAN: They can. All the talk is about their depth and how Coach Kerr is going to have trouble finding playing time for all of his very good players, none better than guard Steph Curry, who last night at age 34 looked as good as ever. As long as they stay healthy, the question right now - who will play Golden State in the final - Boston again, maybe Philly, the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee, Miami? It's pretty wide open other than the guys at the top, which should make it fun to watch.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. 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.
Gus Contreras
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.