SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. I look forward all week to saying it's time for sports. The tigers without master - the Masters without Tiger? You know, it's so hard to imagine, I can barely say it. And the Indiana Pacers are swooning like Justin Bieber fans this week. We're joined now by NPR's Tom Goldman. Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: So there was a slight glimmer of hope that the Pacers could be coming out of a tailspin, but alas...
GOLDMAN: Alas. Alas, poor Indie, we knew you.
SIMON: Oh, oh...
GOLDMAN: A team...
GOLDMAN: A team of infinite confidence, of most excellent half-court offense, where be your execution now? Your picks and rolls, your rebounds, your flashes of dominance that were wont to set the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on a roar. End scene.
SIMON: Ray Fiennes can hang up his cleats, my friend.
GOLDMAN: OK. OK, OK.
SIMON: You're my go-to man for Shakespeare. But, yes...
GOLDMAN: Shakespeare and basketball.
GOLDMAN: All right, Scott, the Pacers aren't dead.
GOLDMAN: But they have been in a real funk in the second half of the season. After tearing up the NBA in the first half, they've now lost 13 of their last 21 games. The rap on the Pacers is that they are fragile, psychologically. There have been players-only meetings to try to right the ship this week. Head coach Frank Vogel sat his entire starting lineup in a game. And it seemed to energize them going into last night's big showdown against Miami. But alas again, the Heat were heat-like.
They broke open a close game in the third quarter, won 98-86 and took control of the race for the best record in the conference, which really is important because if you think down the line, if these two teams meet in the conference finals, a deciding game seven would then be played on Miami's home court, which is what happened last season when Miami beat Indie on the way to the title.
SIMON: To twist a few more metaphors, the Pacers just cannot keep pace with those rampaging Chicago Bulls.
GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah, how about Chicago? I mean...
SIMON: I noticed.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly. Mr. Everything, point guard Derrick Rose, goes down with a second knee injury. The season is lost, we all think. Then they trade Luol Deng in January. And the word is, the Bulls are saying goodbye to the season, maybe even tanking to get a higher draft pick. Well, look out now. But after last night's win over Detroit, Chicago has the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. It has won seven straight - which as opposed to Indiana, is what you want to be doing heading into the playoffs. So no Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, but plenty of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, D. J. Augustin and one of the most respected coaches in the league, Tom Thibodeau. Scott, watch out for doubles.
SIMON: Oh, I always do. Listen, a sign of spring 'cause the Masters have begun. Bubba Watson's ahead. But for the first time in two decades - you know, no matter how well Bubba Watson or anybody else plays early in the tournament, when something like this happens, you have to note, for the first time in two decades, no Tiger.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, recovering from back surgery, microdiscectomy for a pinched nerve. No Tiger and no Phil, at least on the weekend. Mickelson, you know, was one of a ton of big-name players to miss the cut yesterday. But without Tiger, you definitely, in the words of Nick Faldo, who's doing TV commentary, you lose some buzz. That said, the Masters is the one major that can minimize the hit of no Tiger because it's got such a great history and tradition unlike any other. And, you know, whatever happens in tomorrow's final round on the back nine will be remembered forever, even if it's a journeyman coming from nowhere to win his first. Every Masters win resonates.
SIMON: You're a golfer, and I wonder if you noted Bob Greene's good column in the Wall Street Journal this week on Jack Nicklaus, who at one point, we thought Tiger would overwhelm all of his records. And Bob Greene said he learned by looking at Jack Nicklaus, that calm and concentration and character count over the long haul.
GOLDMAN: Very true and a good back. So I think once Tiger comes back from this injury, and he says he will, I think all that, that you talk about, he will get that, and he will resume his hunt for the big records that he's shooting for. I think he's going to be OK. He's still only 38.
SIMON: OK, NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much for being with us.
GOLDMAN: Scott, it's always a pleasure. And, Scott, who wrote the theme song?
SIMON: Oh, let me - oh, B. J. Leiderman wrote our theme music.
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