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Tuesday, May 28
The Indiana Daily Student


The best time of the year

This, my friends, is the best time of the year if you like sports.\nTaking nothing away from the drama and excitement of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the NBA playoffs are the best postseason in sports. But the sports world -- the combination of everything going on at one time -- makes right now better than any other time of year.\nThe nice weather certainly helps. But the real reason is because the NHL playoffs, the NBA playoffs and the beginning of the baseball season are happening simultaneously.\nThink about it. The top 16 professional hockey and basketball teams are putting it all on the line in a war of attrition that will leave only one champion in each sport standing after two months. Thirty baseball teams, all with a clean slate, are trying to get off to a good start and set the tone for a successful season. All of this action is sure to make for some great "SportsCenter" episodes as intriguing storylines emerge.\nIn the NHL, the biggest story has been, and still is, the return of Mario Lemieux. Super Mario came out of retirement to rescue the Pittsburgh franchise and try to lead the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup since 1992. \nMost of the other first-round playoff series have ended, and a few upsets have occurred. In the biggest upset so far, Ottawa, the No. 2 seed in the East, was swept by seventh-seed Toronto.\nOf the 42 completed playoff games, 27 have been decided by one goal and 12 have gone into overtime. In the Dallas-Edmonton series, five of the six games were decided by one goal and four went into an extra session.\nLooking further into the playoffs, some great matchups appear to be materializing for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals. Another Colorado-Dallas series in the Western Conference Finals would cause a lot of drama, as would a conference final pitting Pittsburgh against New Jersey.\nIn baseball, we have three division leaders no one thought would see any time at the top. The Philadelphia Phillies, 11-6 as of Monday, completed a three-game sweep of perennial division champion Atlanta to take a three-game lead in the NL East. Speaking of Atlanta, the Braves have dropped to last place in the division with a record of 8-11, a story in and of itself.\nIn the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs are sitting atop the standings. Despite dropping a 4-3 decision to Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Cubs lead the Central with a 12-6 mark. Biggest understatement in sports: the Cubs are due.\nAnd who would you expect to have the best record in baseball three weeks in? Bet you didn't guess the Minnesota Twins, who have shocked the American League with their timely hitting, solid pitching and 14-3 record thus far.\nTo show how much of a surprise these three division leaders are, one only needs to look at Sports Illustrated's preseason team rankings. It ranked Philadelphia, Chicago and Minnesota as the 25th, 26th and 28th best teams, respectively. \nIn addition to Atlanta, several other teams that were expected to win a lot have struggled, including Oakland (6-13), St. Louis (8-10) and the Chicago White Sox (6-11).\nThe NBA opened its 2001 version of the playoffs Saturday. Three lower seed teams have jumped out to 1-0 series leads. The eighth-seeded Pacers beat top-seeded Philadelphia thanks to a last-second three-pointer from Reggie Miller. No.3 seeds Sacramento and Miami lost their openers to Phoenix and Charlotte. \nLast year's Western Conference finalists, Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers, are paired in the No. 2 vs. No. 7 series. \nIf Indiana upsets Philadelphia and New York gets past Toronto, the Pacers and Knicks could meet in the playoffs for the seventh time in the last nine years. Each team has won three series.\nAnd the second and third rounds in the West should make for some terrific matchups. Top-seeded San Antonio could meet Utah in the second round. This could be Malone and Stockton's last shot at a title, and they have a hard road to get there.\nA Lakers-Spurs conference final would be monumental.\nMany questions remain to be answered: Can Shaq and Kobe pull together to lead the Lakers back to the finals? Will Alonzo Mourning, who made a dramatic comeback from kidney disease, be enough to push Miami over the hump in the East? Or will Allen Iverson and the Sixers build on their strong regular season and advance to the finals?\nWill anyone knock off the Yankees? Can the Red Sox finally overcome the Curse of the Bambino?\nWill Super Mario cap off the perfect comeback with a Stanley Cup? Or will New Jersey repeat as champion? \nFinding the answers should be an enjoyable journey.

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