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Basketball

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Stamkos Returns; MLB Playoffs Near; WNBA, NBA Postseason Coming to a Close

September 24, 2020
SOURCE: BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos knows how to make an entrance. After battling an injury since February, he finally made it back to the ice...and during the Stanley Cup Final, no less.

Tell me everything: Stamkos made his first appearance in nearly seven months in last night’s Game 3 against the Dallas Stars, and he made his presence known right away, scoring on his first shot of the game.

  • The goal gave the Lightning the push to pull off a 5–2 win. Unfortunately, Stamkos wasn’t in it for the long haul and didn’t return to the game in the second period, but here’s hoping he can make it back for Game 4, slated for tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET.

What about basketball?: The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat faced off in a spicy Game 4 last night in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals. With a 112–109 win, the Heat are now up 3-1 in the series and will nab a spot in the NBA Finals with a Game 5 win tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. ET.

  • In the Western Conference finals, the Denver Nuggets showed signs of life in a 114–106 win over the LA Lakers on Tuesday. They’re only a game behind in the best-of-seven series, and Game 4 is set for tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
  • And for those wondering when the new season will begin (even though this one is still raging), NBA commissioner Adam Silver said yesterday that a January start at the earliest is his “best guess.” No Christmas Day games? Bah humbug.

And the WNBA?: After a few inconclusive COVID-19 tests (don’t worry, everyone’s fine!) pushed the series from its original Sunday start, Tuesday’s Game 1 ended up being a thriller. With the Storm leading most of the game, things got shaky when the Lynx mounted a fourth-quarter comeback.

  • Tied with seconds left, it all came down to a buzzer-beating rebound from Storm star Alysha Clark, who won it for her team 88–86. Unreal. Game 2 is set for tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET.
  • The other semifinal matchup wasn’t as close but was still fun to watch. The Las Vegas Aces took Game 2 83–75 over the Connecticut Sun, tying up the best-of-five series. Their Game 3 is also tonight with tip-off at 9:30 p.m. ET, and then both series continue on Sunday. Follow the full schedule here.

Any other playoff news?: But of course! There are four more game days left in the MLB regular season, and like a high-stakes game of musical chairs, there are 12 teams fighting for six remaining playoff spots. Check out the full standings and playoff bracket here.

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Four Big League Championships to Take Place Over the Next Month

September 21, 2020
SOURCE: CODIE MCLACHLAN/DALLAS MORNING NEWS
SOURCE: CODIE MCLACHLAN/DALLAS MORNING NEWS

The GIST: For the first time in forever, we’ll be treated to four big league championships in a one-month period, and kicking it all off is the Stanley Cup Final.

Tell me everything!: After beating the New York Islanders in six games, the Tampa Bay Lightning joined the Dallas Stars in the final round of the strangest season of hockey ever.

  • The Stars took Saturday’s Game 1 with a convincing 4–1 finish. Four different Stars players scored (including this beauty from Jamie Oleksiak), but 34-year-old rookie playoff starter Anton Khudobin was the real star, making 35 saves. Game 2 starts tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

What about basketball?: The NBA is getting there. After going down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics bounced back in Game 3, trouncing the Miami Heat 117–106 and serving them with just their second loss of the playoffs. Game 4 isn’t until Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

  • In the Western Conference, the LA Lakers made it 2-0 in their series against the Denver Nuggets with a 105–103 win last night. The Nuggets are used to coming back though, so don’t count them out just yet. Game 3 is tomorrow night at 9 p.m. ET.

Sweet. Gimme more!: The WNBA is a round away from their finals, too...but it may take them a little longer to get there. After the Connecticut Sun absolutely demolished the Las Vegas Aces in yesterday’s semifinal Game 1, the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm were supposed to start their series. But due to a number of Storm players’ “inconclusive” COVID-19 test results, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert decided to postpone the game until new tests can be administered. Solid leadership!

Any other playoffs?: The MLB regular season ends on Sunday (doesn’t it feel like it just started?) and playoff spots are quickly filling up. Five teams in the American League and two in the National League have clinched, and more are expected today with 11 games on deck. Check out the full playoff picture here.

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Will the Pac-12 Schools Reverse Postponement Decision?

September 21, 2020
SOURCE: RALPH FRESO/AP PHOTO
SOURCE: RALPH FRESO/AP PHOTO

The GIST: Now that the Big Ten has decided to resume football, all eyes are on the Pac-12 (the last remaining sidelined Power Five conference) to make their own return-to-play decision. No pressure!

How’d we get here?: Back in August, the Pac-12 postponed all sports through the end of 2020. But with state restrictions lifted and increased access to rapid response COVID-19 tests, Pac-12 officials will now meet on Thursday to make a decision on returning to play prior to January.

  • If the Pac-12 resumes competition, it will have a major impact on football and basketball scheduling. For example, if the conference allows football to start by late October/early November, teams would be eligible for selection to the College Football Playoff.

How will it impact basketball?: A Pac-12 restart would also allow their hoops teams to begin play in line with the NCAA’s recently approved November 25th season start date. Some schools are planning to begin the season with a bubble, and the Pac-12 approving competition would offer schools more options for geographically close opponents.

Another bubble?!: That’s right! We’ve seen the success of pro sports bubbles, and it seems like college basketball coaches were watching, too. Top programs like Kentucky and Louisville are among those looking to create their own non-conference bubbles for the first games of the season.

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NBA and NHL Playoff News

September 17, 2020
SOURCE: GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: The NBA Conference Finals have arrived! Four teams are duking it out for conference glory and a shot at the Larry O’Brien.

Who’s made it this far?: Let’s start with the Western Conference, because this postseason, West is best (for the fans, anyway). Despite entering the playoffs as the conference’s third ranked team, the Denver Nuggets somehow found themselves taking on the underdog role, especially after they went down 3-1 in the conference semifinals against the surging No. 2 LA Clippers.

  • Down but not out, the Nuggets rallied — with some major help from superstar-in-the-making Canadian Jamal Murray — to force, and then win, Tuesday night’s epic Game 7, becoming the first team in NBA history to win back-to-back series after being down 3-1. Maybe Kawhi Leonard should have stayed with the Toronto Raptors.
  • Starting tomorrow night at 9 p.m. ET, the Nuggets will face the West’s best, LeBron James and the LA Lakers. Yesterday, James was named an All-NBA player for a record-breaking 16th time. So, yeah, this series should be good.

And the Eastern Conference?: It’s the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. The Celtics had a tough road after taking the defending champ Raptors to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but it’s been smooth sailing for the Heat, who’ve lost only one game this postseason.

  • This series started on Tuesday with an 117–114 overtime win for the Heat (because of course). Tune in tonight as Game 2 tips off at 7 p.m. ET, or, even better, head over to ESPN Radio to hear our fave basketball analyst, Doris Burke, make history as the first woman to call the Conference and NBA Finals on a national radio broadcast. A true icon.

Sweet. Any other playoff news?: And then there were three in the NHL. On Monday night, the Dallas Stars punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals with an overtime win over the Vegas Golden Knights, taking the series 4-1.

  • So now we’re just waiting for the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders to decide who wants the other spot in the Finals more. Tampa’s up 3-2 in the series, which could end tonight. Puck drops at 8 p.m. ET.

🏀Shey Peddy's Buzzer Beater

September 17, 2020
SOURCE: JULIO AGUILAR/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: JULIO AGUILAR/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: What’s the best way to get revenge on the team that cut you a month before the postseason? Hit a buzzer beater to eliminate them from the WNBA playoffs, just like Shey Peddy did on Tuesday.

Yes girl! Tell me more: In August, Peddy was dropped from the eighth place Washington Mystics and quickly picked up by the fifth place Phoenix Mercury. Thanks to some fun basketball karma, the teams faced off in Tuesday night’s first round single-elimination playoff game.

  • Down by two with less than a second left, Peddy nailed a three-pointer to secure an 85–84 win over the Mystics, knocking them out of the postseason. Talk about throwing Shey-de! The Mercury will now play the Minnesota Lynx in the second round.

Love it! What about the other game?: Before that nail-biter, the No. 7 Connecticut Sun upset the No. 6 Chicago Sky in a not-so-nail-biting 94–81 win and will move on to face the LA Sparks. Reminder: the second round of the playoffs is also single-elimination. How are your nails looking?