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4 teams are left in the NBA Playoffs: Celtics, Pacers, Mavericks and Timberwolves

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

My mom and I watched the Indiana Pacers defeat the New York Knicks on Sunday. OK, we weren't at the game at Madison Square Garden. We weren't even in the same room. But we were on the phone and texting as we watched Game 7 on TV. The Pacers got ahead. They stayed ahead. And they beat the Knicks by 21 points. Tonight, the Pacers face the top-seeded Boston Celtics as we begin one of two conference championships that we'll discuss with Jesse Washington, who's with the sports and pop culture site Andscape and a regular here. Jesse, welcome back.

JESSE WASHINGTON: Great to be here.

INSKEEP: OK, so, I'm a journalist. I'm just going to cover the game straight, but secretly, I'll be pulling for the Pacers. Do they have a shot tonight?

WASHINGTON: No, they do not.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

WASHINGTON: You know, nice, scrappy bunch of players there. They're coming off a gritty seven-game series. They had to fight for every inch against the scrappy New York Knicks. The Celtics have been chilling with their feet up, getting rested, hopefully getting their center, Kristaps Porzingis, more healthy to play. But even without KP at the five-spot, the Celtics are just too good, man. We've all known they're going to the finals pretty much all season. They had the best record in the NBA this year, and the Pacers might take a game or two off of them in a seven-game series, but it's going to be tough.

INSKEEP: OK, I'm going to call you back if you're wrong. But in any case...

WASHINGTON: (Laughter) Hey, I'm here for it.

INSKEEP: ...Let's think about the style. I mean, as watching this game, the Pacers and the Knicks - it was a super physical game. It's rough, as it often is with the New York Knicks, and the Pacers have traditionally been that kind of team, too. Are the Celtics the same? Are they that kind of getting-an-elbow-in-your-face kind of team?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, man, they got a edge to them, you know? Jaylen Brown, big tough wing - Jayson Tatum, superstar, no softy - Derrick White, very scrappy - Jrue Holiday, probably the best guard defender in the league - you know, and the Pacers - really, they've had great offense all season, and Tyrese Haliburton, their point guard, is an emerging superstar in this league. But the Pacers also have good defense. So, you know, the Celtics - it's going to be physical, as it always is in the playoffs. These guys play so hard on every possession, and for anybody who complains about the NBA being lackadaisical during the regular season, this is what we wait for...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: ...These games where they - the best athletes in the world playing as hard as they can. It's amazing to watch.

INSKEEP: Alright, out west, the Dallas Mavericks take on the Minnesota Timberwolves. That's the other conference championship. How does that match look?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, you know, it looks exciting. And we got the most exciting young player in the league, Anthony Edwards. I mean, this guy - everybody's talking about him and for good reason. But the rest of his team is balling out, too. Karl-Anthony Towns, a number-one draft pick way back in the 2000s - he's having a great game. Anthony Edwards doesn't have to play great to win. And on the other side, that's the difference. The Mavericks, Luka Doncic, the superstar - he's got to play great for them to win. Kyrie Irving - he's got to play great for them to win.

And Luka's been banged up, you know? He's had a tough post-season. He's dealing with some injuries, as a lot of guys are this time of year. But the matchup is gonna be very exciting because we got a whole new crop of guys to watch this late in the playoffs. Usually, it's Lebron and Stephan, these guys. No, sir, not this year. We got Ant. We got Luka. We got Cat. That's the way it's going to go.

INSKEEP: When you say Anthony Edwards, we're talking about the star of a team, the Timberwolves, that has never been to the NBA finals. Could this be their year?

WASHINGTON: This will be their year. You could book it, 4-2. I got the Wolves over the Dallas Mavericks. The Timberwolves for the first time will go to the NBA finals.

INSKEEP: OK, Jesse Washington is on the radio, and we're recording on tape with his predictions for the conference finals. It's always a pleasure talking with you, sir. Thank you so much.

WASHINGTON: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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