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Saturday Sports: NBA and NHL playoffs, baseball's hot new pitcher

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Playoffs a-poppin' in hockey and basketball. A star college pitcher debuts. Cubs fan have their own new star on the mound. ESPN's Michele Steele joins. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: You bet. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Good morning. Basketball - timber.

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: Minnesota Timberwolves - boy, are they hot. I mean, they lose - they lost 117-90 last night to the Denver Nuggets, defending champs. But they're up 2-1. They swept their first round series. Anthony Edwards - what can I tell you? drawing a lot of attention. What difference is he making?

STEELE: Yeah, he is. You know, the Timberwolves have never won a championship, Scott. And a former colleague of mine lives in Minneapolis, and he's called it an out-of-body experience to watch this Timberwolves team...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Led by Anthony Edwards, vie for a trip to the conference finals. You know, the first couple games of this series - both were wins for the T-wolves - just incredible performances by the guy they call the Ant-Man, not just for the 70 points that he poured in in those two games, but kind of his attitude, his athleticism, his skill and, of course, his dunks - just ridiculous...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Dunks over a much bigger defender, Scott.

SIMON: Let's go to the other playoffs - hockey. Florida Panthers went up 2-1 last night in their best-of-seven series over the Bruins. The game was paused for a while after Boston fans, known for their courteous and decorous behavior, were upset with the call, threw towels and God knows what else onto the ice.

Of course, the other night, a combined 136 penalty minutes with a brawl that looked like a Roman gladiator film - why can't they all just get along, Michele?

STEELE: You know, I never pass up a chance to quote the great Rodney Dangerfield, but what's his joke? You know, I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game...

SIMON: Yes.

STEELE: ...Broke out.

SIMON: Exactly.

STEELE: Well, this is a little bit like this series. And that particular fight, that brawl, that tilt that you mentioned was notable because you had two superstars on their respective teams involved, the Bruins' David Pastrnak and the Panthers' Matthew Tkachuk squaring off and getting into it. What's more is if you watch the clip, Tkachuk pops Pastrnak a couple of times while he's on the ground.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: And, you know, not surprisingly, his teammate, Patrick Maroon, the big rig from Florida, said he thought that was dirty, sticking up for his teammate. There's an unwritten code in hockey - and perhaps in newsrooms as well - when someone's down, you don't punch him, right? And Pasta's helmet went flying on one of the punches. This is just a very tense series, Scott.

SIMON: Yeah. Top college baseball prospect makes his first pro start this afternoon for the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is a lot of excitement about this guy from LSU, isn't there?

STEELE: Boy, is there. Yeah, the hype train is up and running on this guy. It's the most anticipated pitching debut since Stephen Strasburg, the most hyped college pitching prospect ever not too long ago.

His name is Paul Skenes. He's out of LSU - 6-foot-6, triple-digit fastball, Scott, wipeout slider, No. 1 overall pick in last year's MLB draft. And this guy has a really cool backstory. You know, he was a cadet in the Air Force Academy...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...For two years. He played baseball. He realized, you know, if I stay at the Air Force Academy, he's going to have to fulfill his service obligations, which he very much wanted to do, but he's got generational talent. It's sort of now or never, you know...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...If you want to pursue a pro career. So he made what he said was the toughest decision of his life. He transferred after a sophomore season to LSU, been lighting it up in the minors this season, got the call up to the bigs. And he's going to make his debut against the Cubbies at PNC Park later today.

SIMON: Yeah. And I just want to say, Shota Imanaga of the Cubbies has been dominating, hasn't he?

STEELE: Oh, oh, no question. In seven starts, he's allowed just five earned runs. That's very, very good - 1.08 ERA.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: It's one of the best in the majors, perfect 5 and 0 on the season. You're asking me how excited Cubs fans should be. I should ask you, big guy.

SIMON: Ah.

STEELE: How excited are you?

SIMON: Imanaga.

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: ESPN's Michele Steele, thanks so much for being with us.

STEELE: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUDDY WATERS' "SWEET BLACK ANGEL") 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.