LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Time now for sports.
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WERTHEIMER: Its spring and its playoffs, the march to the Stanley Cup is under way in hockey. NBA teams are still jostling for spots in their post-season.
Joining us to sort it all out is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello.
WERTHEIMER: So, Tom, five months ago, we were not sure there would an NBA season. A labor dispute threatened to wipe out the whole year. In the end, it only shortened the season from 82 to 66 games. But it seems like the fans are OK with that.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. You know, and I was as grouchy as the next NBA fan; those blasted owners and blasted players with their $5 million average salary. But you know what? Great hoops have cured the grumps. And every night, this condensed season means nightly action. And it's been heating up as we get closer to the playoffs, which happen to start two weeks from today.
We've had great games this week between Eastern Conference powers, Chicago and Miami - the Bulls won in overtime. So there's been great drama, great intrigue. And, Linda, the race for the championship is wide open. I would say between seven and 10 teams can make a case.
TV ratings up from last season, which was an extremely popular season - especially the playoffs. And season ticket renewals are at about 80 percent. It's a good clip.
WERTHEIMER: So, this very intense schedule has been fun for the fans, but what about the players?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, not so much. The players' bodies are getting the worst of it. Your reigning league Most Valuable Player, Derrick Rose, has missed a lot of games because of injury. You've got Jeremy Lin - remember Linsanity - out after knee surgery. And aside from the big injuries, you've just got a lot of basic soreness and fatigue.
The coaches are trying to rest players when they can, but you don't have many off-days. And the coaches are having to decide between practice and rest, both of which are important.
WERTHEIMER: In pro hockey, Tom, the NHL playoffs are already under way. Our Capitals are in the hunt. The first game between Nashville and Detroit was punctuated by a nasty hit from Shea Weber on Henrik Zetterberg. And Weber got off, should, you know, can we say pretty close to scot-free for that?
GOLDMAN: I think we can; a $2,500 fine which is pocket change for most professional athletes, for grabbing Zetterberg's head and shoving it into the glass. You watch the replays and listen to the commentators and they sound certain that a suspension would be coming, especially since the league is supposed to be cracking down - forgive the pun - on head injuries. But Zetterberg wasn't injured and that apparently is why Weber wasn't suspended.
Then in L.A.'s first game against Vancouver, you've got one player getting suspended two games after he plowed into another guy against the boards. The guy was injured and that apparently played into the suspension. So it seems that the league should b looking at intent as well as the result of these incidents.
With this inconsistent policing and the NHL still won't outlaw all hits to the head, you know, it just turns some people away from the sport. And it's a sport that can be breathtakingly exciting without all the head smashing.
WERTHEIMER: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.