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Saturday Sports: Is Cleveland Done Rocking?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: (Laughter) That's not our usual sports theme, but I'll take it. The Golden Knights of Vegas are one win away from playing their first Stanley Cup final. And at the same time, could this be the end for LeBron and the Cavs? And this week - major decisions affecting sports gambling. Following it all, betting on none of it, let's bring in Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Oh, Scott, I cannot follow what just took place, but I'll do my best.

SIMON: The Celtics face the Cavs tonight. Cavs are a couple games down - is Cleveland done rocking for this year?

BRYANT: Well, they might be. I mean, I think that this is going to be LeBron James' greatest work if they can win four games out of this series because - it's not just because he's great. It's not because he's the best player - maybe the best player of all time. It's because this is the worst Cleveland Cavaliers team that he's had in a very, very long time. This is the worst team he's had probably since the last time he lost in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which is when - in 2010. And then he ended up going to Miami. It's not a good team. He's not getting a lot of help. It's very clear that if they're going to win, he's going to have to do superhuman feats.

And so I just tend to think - and the Boston Celtics have been completely underestimated because of their injuries. They're a very good team. They're a very tough team, unlike the Toronto Raptors. They're not afraid of the Cleveland Cavaliers and they're not afraid of LeBron James. They're going to go out there, and they're going to battle. And it's not something - it's not a huge upset when you look at the way these Celtics have played in the postseason.

SIMON: Houston plays Golden State tomorrow night. Is that over, this series?

BRYANT: Over? Its 1-1.

SIMON: I know.

BRYANT: I think - no. I have said, and we've talked about this on this program, that I will believe that someone can beat the Golden State Warriors four times when I see it. However, it is a 1-1 series, and Steph Curry doesn't seem to be 100 percent. And this is - if you're the Houston Rockets, now is your time. You've got that sort of championship fatigue that the Warriors have had. And now's the time, if you're really going to be as good. You won 65 games this season, and here's your shot. Go take it. And this is what we've all been waiting for anyway - good stuff.

SIMON: Las Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Jets last night, 3-1 lead in the playoff series. Could an expansion club win the Stanley Cup?

BRYANT: Sure, it could. This - we haven't seen anything like this. Obviously, they changed the rules that allow these expansion teams to be more competitive. But an expansion team hasn't made the Stanley Cup finals since they were forced back in 1970, back during the 1967 expansion when those teams automatically received an automatic bid to get into the Stanley Cup. Bobby Orr swept the St. Louis Blues back in 1970. But this is a remarkable team when you look at what they've done. They beat - they're beating Winnipeg, which beat Nashville that was in the Stanley Cup last year. They beat the Sharks, who were in the Stanley Cup two years ago. They destroyed - they destroyed the Kings, who were Stanley Cup winners earlier a couple years ago. So this is certainly a team that is doing maybe the most amazing thing in sports this year.

SIMON: Howard, what do you see about the implications of the Supreme Court and NCAA decisions that essentially deregulate sports gambling?

BRYANT: Not a fan of it at all, Scott, and I have to say that it's - the short-term memory that this culture has is just more and more depressing. I can't - you look at this and I say to myself, on the one hand, you - the very first thing people said about sports gambling was that it was inevitable and everything's on the table and that's perfectly fine. But the one thing that we care about with sports is that you know that the contest is supposedly a legitimate contest, that what you're watching is real. And what we've opened up here is the gamblers are going to control the sport. And the gamblers are going to control the way the sport is covered. They're going to control the optics of the game.

And it's only been - it's not even been 10 years since you had an NBA cheating scandal, and you're not even dealing with the players in college. Are you really going to tell me that this is not going to translate to the court where NCAA players are not being paid, that there's not going to be some type of corruption here? The franchise values may have gone up but so too has the possibility for corruption. I don't think this is good at all.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, author of the book "The Heritage." Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.