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Basketball

🏀NBA Season Preview

October 19, 2021
SOURCE: NBA/GIPHY
SOURCE: NBA/GIPHY

The WNBA season has come to a close (congrats again to the Chicago Sky!), but men’s basketball is here to fill some of the void. It’s time for the NBA season.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"When you're in the championships, it's never about what you do. It's always about what other people do."

— Four-time NBA champion-turned-basketball analyst Shaquille O’Neal on winning the Larry O’Brien trophy. Wonder what his NBA on TNTfrenemy and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker has to say about that.

⚙️ Season setup

SOURCE: SARAH STIER/GETTY IMAGES

The last pro league to return to normal, the NBA is tipping off its October-to-April regular season tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET with a match between the reigning NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets.

But before we look ahead, here’s a quick overview of how the season is set up. The NBA is split evenly into two conferences — 15 teams in the Eastern Conference (EC) and 15 teams in the Western Conference (WC).

  • From there, each conference has three five-team divisions: The EC’s Atlantic, Central and Southeast, and the WC’s Northwest, Pacific and Southwest.

Each team will play 82 games — 41 at home and 41 away. The six teams with the best regular-season records in each conference move on to the playoffs, while the seventh through 10th seeds compete in a play-in tournament for the last two remaining playoff spots in each conference. Bring on the drama.

🏆 Reigning champs

SOURCE: JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES

Milwaukee Bucks: The defending champs are in a prime position to do it all over again, and that’s because their core roster hardly changed in the offseason.

  • Most importantly, NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YAH-niss ah-det-oh-KOON-boh) is back to lead his team to greatness with the help of his brother and 2020 Olympic gold medalists Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

💪 The contenders

SOURCE: MITCHELL LEFF/GETTY IMAGES

Brooklyn Nets: According to the annual NBA general managers’ survey, the Nets are the team to beat, and TBH, we agree. Kevin Durant (KD) is somehow still at the top of his game as he enters his 15th year in the league, James Harden and Blake Griffin continue to produce, and unvaccinated Kyrie Irving can’t be a distraction if he’s not allowed in the locker room.

LA Lakers: With so much star power they could make NASA jealous, the best team in SoCal (sorry not sorry, Clippers) is looking to repeat their 2020 success. They have LeBron James at the helm, Anthony Davis at his side and former Washington Wizard Russell Westbrook set to make his hometown debut.

  • All the tools for a championship...as long as they stay healthy.

Utah Jazz: The good news? The Jazz haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2015-2016 season. The bad news? They haven’t made it past the conference semifinals (aka the second round) during that time.

  • But after posting the NBA’s best regular-season record last season, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert (pronounced goh-BEAR) and the boys have what they need to make a deep postseason run.

👀 Storylines to watch

SOURCE: CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Swan songs: The Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul is 36 years old. So is LeBron James, and his Lakers teammate Dwight Howard is 35. The Miami Heat’s Kyle Lowry, too. Some of the game’s best may play like they’re still in their prime, but their NBA days are numbered. Could this be the last season for some of these legends?

Trades: There are a lot of unhappy men in the NBA these days, meaning we could see some big-name trades early in the season. Kyrie Irving can’t play with his team at home, Ben Simmons wants out of Philadelphia ASAP (maybe), and the yet-again-injured Zion Williamson’s family is reportedly done with New Orleans. Spicy.

📺 How to watch

SOURCE: SARAH STIER/GETTY IMAGES

All the fun starts tonight. Tune in to TNT in the U.S. and TSN in Canada for the opening tip-off at 7:30 p.m. ET, and then check out the full schedule here to find out when your favorite team is taking to the court.

🏀Chicago Sky claim 2021 WNBA championship

October 18, 2021
Source: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Source: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Game 4 recap: After Friday’s massive Game 3 win at home, the Chicago Sky entered yesterday’s Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead and a chance to clinch the title. The Phoenix Mercury jumped out to an early lead, but the Sky stormed back to win 80–74 in front of a(nother) soldout hometown crowd.

  • Parker and Courtney Vandersloot both posted double-doubles while Allie Quigley (Vandersloot’s wife, okay power couple) netted 26 points, helping to make Chicago just the third city to win NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and WNBA titles. Damn, Chi-Town.
  • And, as we mentioned, Kahleah Copper was named finals MVP after averaging over 17 points per game in the postseason. Well deserved.

Of note: In an unprecedented move, the Mercury declined to attend the post-game press conference following yesterday’s loss. It’s an evolving situation with many journalists sharing complicated feelings about it. Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s episode of The GIST of It for more.

What’s next: The WNBA’s 25th anniversary season did not disappoint. The Mercury’s Diana Taurasi was named the GOAT, the league saw surging viewership, and with the first final since 2016 not featuring a No. 1 seed in the books, the competition has never been more balanced.

  • So what comes next? Sky’s the limit.

🏀WNBA Finals Elimination Game Preview

October 16, 2021
SOURCE: WNBA/GIPHY
SOURCE: WNBA/GIPHY

With the Chicago Sky leading the best-of-five WNBA Finals 2-1, tomorrow (at 3 p.m. ET) could be the day they win it all.

  • So here’s a look back at how we got here and a look ahead at what to expect.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"You have to be the calm for the storm, and you have to be the storm when everyone's calm."

— The Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker, on what she needs to do to get her team a championship title. Meta.

🏀 How we got here

SOURCE: CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Phoenix Mercury: After finishing the regular season 19-13 and fifth in the league (the top eight teams in the league make the playoffs), the Mercury began their postseason with a tight first-round single-elimination win over the No. 8 New York Liberty, followed by a second-round overtime (OT) victory over the reigning champion No. 4 Seattle Storm.

  • The semis weren’t much easier: they needed all five games to beat the No. 2 Las Vegas Aces.

Chicago Sky: The No. 6 Sky had a mediocre (and injury-plagued) regular season, finishing 16-16, and like the Mercury, their end-of-season rank did not earn them any byes in the postseason.

  • But unlike the Mercury, they dominated rounds one and two, easily eliminating the No. 7 Dallas Wings and the No. 3 Minnesota Lynx, respectively.
  • In the semis, they faced the league’s top team in the Connecticut Sun. After defeating the Sun in a wild double-OT in Game 1, they went on to take the series in four.

👀 Finals so far

SOURCE: CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Game 1: Chicago took the first match with an easy 91–77 win, thanks in part to big performances from Candace Parker and Kahleah Copper. However, it was as much of a Sky win as it was a Mercury loss.

  • Given the tight turn around between Phoenix’s semifinal Game 5 last Friday night and Sunday afternoon’s Game 1, they didn’t even have a chance to practice in between games.

Game 2: A much more rested Mercury — except for Diana Taurasi probably, who has a week-old baby — took to the court on Wednesday, and it showed. After going to OT, the Mercury took it 91–86 thanks to a clutch finish from Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Game 3: It was all Chi-town last night, with the Sky taking it 86–50. Now that’s what you call a thrashing. If the Sky are able to close it out tomorrow, they’ll have a chance to join LA and D.C. as the only cities to win the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and WNBA titles.

🔑 Keys to success

SOURCE: G FIUME/GETTY IMAGES

Phoenix Mercury: Playing without lockdown defender Kia Nurse (who tore her ACL in the semis), the Mercury will need to step up their defensive game to shut down the balanced Sky attack, which has featured multiple players racking up 10+ points each game. Defense wins championships, after all.

Chicago Sky: Stay the course. Chicago is peaking at exactly the right time. Finally healthy, the squad has looked consistently dominant throughout the playoffs so far. With the hometown crowd on their side, if they can keep calm through the storm (à la Parker), they’ll pull out the win tomorrow.

💁‍♀️ Players to watch

SOURCE: CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix: She’s the GOAT, need we say more? But seriously, outside of last night, Taurasi’s veteran leadership has been key for the Mercury. When Phoenix needs a big play, you know the ball will be in DT’s hands.

Candace Parker, Chicago: The Sky’s de facto leader, Parker has been outstanding during the postseason, but especially in the Finals. With 16 points in Game 1 and 13 in Game 2 and 3, she’s been hard to defend, and what she brings to the court, she matches in leadership.

Sophie Cunningham, Phoenix: After missing Game 1 with a calf injury, she made a splash in Game 2...literally. She’s best when shooting from deep, and she’ll bring the heat to fire up this Mercury squad.

Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago: She is the dancing passing queen. Vandersloot is averaging just under 10 assists per game this postseason, and she even had a record 18 (!!!) assists vs. the Sun in Game 1 of the semis. Unreal.

Brittney Griner, Phoenix: How can we not talk about Brittney Griner? After sinking 29 points, including this ridiculous dunk, in Game 2, Griner is proving that Chicago just can’t always defend her 6’7” frame.

Kahleah Copper, Chicago: She posted a double-double in Game 1 and drained 22 points in last night's Game 3 win. If she can keep it going tomorrow, Copper could be the difference-maker for Chicago.

📺 How to watch

SOURCE: WNBA/GIPHY

Game 4 tips off tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll get a Game 5 on Tuesday, October 19th at 8 p.m. ET. Catch the action on ESPN in the U.S. and on TSN in Canada.

🏀Preview game 2 of the WNBA Finals

October 13, 2021
SOURCE: MIKE MATTINA/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: MIKE MATTINA/GETTY IMAGES

Game 2: The WNBA Finals continue tonight at 9 p.m. ET, with the Game 1–winning Chicago Sky back in Phoenix to play the Mercury. The Sky’s Kahleah Copper will look to match her 21-point performance, while the Mercury are expected to welcome back Sophie Cunningham from injury in hopes of a better result.

WNBA: Elsewhere in the league, the Atlanta Dream have hired former player and 14-year vet Tanisha Wright as their new head coach (HC). The Dream (who had their fair share of turmoil this season) had two coaching changes this past year, and rookie HC Wright should give the Dream the necessary stability and fresh outlook to end their three-year postseason drought.

Athletes Unlimited: And while W commissioner Cathy Engelbert talks expansion plans, the great minds over at Athletes Unlimited have started a new basketball league (for women!). It’ll run during the W’s offseason, and Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud has already signed on to join the inaugural five-week season, which starts January 29th. Can’t freaking wait.

🏀Chicago Sky move on to the WNBA finals

October 08, 2021
Source: Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images
Source: Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Game 5: Tonight’s matchup between the Las Vegas Aces and the Phoenix Mercury is for all the marbles. The No. 5 Mercury led the series 2-1 going into Game 4, but the No. 2 Aces showed total dominance, winning 93–76. Guard Chelsea Gray had 22 points as one of four Aces players who scored double digits.

  • Given the back-and-forth nature of this series, tonight’s game is impossible to predict, but there is one key factor missing: starting Mercury guard Kia Nurse won’t play after suffering a knee injury in Game 4.
  • Watch this one on TSN4 at 9 p.m. ET. Not not stressing.
  • Watch this one on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET. Not not stressing.

The Finals: With the No. 6 Sky as the lowest ranked team still in the postseason, whoever wins tonight will host the first two games of the Finals, set to begin Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

  • Game 2 is scheduled for October 13th, and the rest of the best-of-five series will happen every other day after that. Yes, your calendar is booked.