Tuesday, September 27, 2011

LosLynx fans greet Finals-bound Minnesota


Whoever earns the right to play the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA Finals will be greeted with a challenge they rarely got in the first 12 seasons of Minnesota's existence.

The Lynx established their position as heavy favorites with a 103-86 win over the Phoenix Mercury Sunday afternoon, securing a two-game sweep and their first Finals appearance in franchise history. Six of Minnesota's eight players who saw floor time scored in double-figures Sunday in a series where Minnesota never went south of fifty percent in the two box scores.

Following their Western Conference championship celebration, the team boarded a return-flight and arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport around 1:45 a.m. Monday.

37 fans and a sprinkling of reporters traded sleep for jubilee, bringing signs, cameras and vocal cords to greet the first Minnesota professional sports team to qualify for a championship round since the 1991 Minnesota Twins.

Watch the video below to see Minnesota's reaction and to hear a word from season ticket holder Carol Berg and marketing manager Megan Luebke.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Western Conference Finals: Defending a sweep


By no means are the Minnesota Lynx believing they can waltz any way they can with the Phoenix Mercury for game two of the Western Conference Finals Sunday at Phoenix's US Airways Center.

Minnesota can advance to the WNBA Finals with a win Sunday afternoon, but they are aware of how rapidly Phoenix can tilt the balance via the perimeter or pushing the tempo with perennial scoring champion Diana Taurasi, who is averaging 19.5 points per game this post-season.

"Phoenix at home is a deadly combination. Phoenix is like a cobra. You have to go in to game two thinking you're down 0-1," said Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who scored 14 points in Minnesota's 95-67 win Thursday night. "They're going to throw everything: kitchen sink, shoes, Corey Gaines (Phoenix head coach). We have to be prepared for whatever they bring us."

While the Mercury were the only team to beat the Lynx twice this season, two Lynx victories in the regular season series came on the road, including a 96-90 win to close out the year.

"They're going to be real upset. If you can't get intense, excited and motivated for this, they've got bigger problems," said Lynx reserve Candice Wiggins, who scored 14 points off the bench in game one.

Scouting the Lynx in the Western Conference Finals is astronomically different than the tentative, jittery exhibition that nearly led to a first-round sweep at the hands of San Antonio. Minnesota rekindled its fluid offensive production after taking scoring pressure off point guard Lindsay Whalen, allowing her to focus on setting up her teammates. She has only eight points in the last two games, but the remaining Lynx starters have scored at least 13 points or more in that span, earning two blowout victories.

To illustrate, Phoenix never got closer than six points in the second half of game one. Their three-point and field goal shooting fell flat for a team considered the bastion of both aspects (Phoenix made 20 percent of their three-pointers and 68 percent of their free throws). As usual, the Lynx dominated the Mercury on rebounds, getting 42 against the Mercury's 26. Had the Lynx not suffered ball control issues early, they could have sealed a victory long before the fourth quarter started.

"We forced the ball out a little bit further, making every shot difficult," said Lynx guard Seimone Augustus.

Minnesota remains mindful of Phoenix's offensive style, as any opponent would when facing the WNBA's top-scoring team. However, the concerns proved to be secret blessings for the Lynx in game one. University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, making a guest appearance for ESPN as a color commentator, believed the Mercury's up-tempo game did not create scenarios for the Lynx to make defensive mistakes on their own.

Another factor favoring Minnesota is emotional stability. While Taurasi's outburst after fouling out in game three of the Western Conference semifinal round at Seattle has faded, Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines was charged a technical foul only 3:14 into game one of the Western Conference Finals. Mercury forward Candice Dupree was called for technical fouls in two consecutive games, earning them in the final game of the Seattle series and in game one of the Minnesota series with 9:00 left in the fourth quarter. Adding to the irony was Dupree's ESPN interview stressing the need to keep Mercury emotions from boiling that aired in the Seattle series.

"From a Dupree standpoint, it's important to keep her out of the transition game. She is such a great rim runner," said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve after game one.

Of course, Phoenix's upset win over Seattle on the road will keep Minnesota's team in check while providing Corey Gaines' team confidence that one clunker does not define a playoff series.

"Augustus hit some great shots. We have got to limit her touches when we're in Phoenix," said Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Western Conference Finals: Rivalry rising?


In order to begin a rivalry, several ingredients are required, with a winning franchise starting the recipe.

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers hold one thanks to its NFL-leading longevity in games played. At the height of the clash between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings, a physical Western Conference Finals in 1996 set up a March 1997 climax with the Brawl in Hockeytown. A similar scrum in the 2003 American League Championship Series renewed a long, bitter grudge between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. NBA fans will tell stories of the peaks and valleys between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, whose 33 combined championships account for more than half of the league's 65 titles.

The 12 teams currently participating in the WNBA does not foster a geographical rivalry, so series history is usually the first indicator. That does not bode well for the Minnesota Lynx, who have had few opportunities with only three playoff appearances in 13 years.

Send in the Phoenix Mercury, whose roster and demeanor can naturally breed angst and aggression for opposing fans. Candice Dupree spoke of the "hothead" perception to ESPN prior to their game three win over the Seattle Storm to earn a match with the Lynx for the right to play in the WNBA Finals. Diana Taurasi has critics with her penchant for earning technical fouls when she disagrees with a call. Of course, there will also be bets placed on how many games both teams will break the century mark in this series with their fluency in the up-tempo, transition game.

"(Phoenix) is always putting pressure on your defense. They're one of the fastest teams. We have to expect a game with a lot of possessions," said Seimone Augustus, following the series-clinching win over San Antonio.

The Mercury pride themselves on the plethora of scorers to keep heat on opposing teams. Highlighting the reserves is DeWanna Bonner. She scored what was a career-high 24 points off the bench in their 112-105 win at Minnesota on July 13, the first of five 20-point games in 2011.

On the other hand, Minnesota's bench was blanked in an 85-80 loss at Phoenix Aug. 9, the low point of their streaky nature. However, observers must also note the 42 points they added in extended roles to close out the season with a 96-90 win Sept. 11. Jessica Adair recorded her first career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

"Our bench play is going to be a serious test. We're going to need them, especially for me. That running up and down, I'm going to need some subs!" Taj McWilliams-Franklin joked, referring to her 40 years of age.

The catalyst for building the potential rivalry is Augustus, the longest-tenured Lynx player in her sixth season with the franchise. Shaking off any sign of drama with her comic behavior, Augustus will seek to add defensive holds to her show-stopping routine.

"I've been in the league a long time, and Seimone has always been considered an offensive mastermind," McWilliams-Franklin said during the press conference after game three. "This year, coach Reeve put the onus on Seimone, as a veteran, to pick up her defensive intensity."

Ironically, while Augustus has been touted for improving her defense, her regular season numbers in all major statistical categories roughly followed her career averages. Augustus' increased supporters accounts for her career-low 16.2 points per game in 2011, even though her free throw shooting increased from 66 percent in 2010 to 86 percent this year and her field goal shooting climbed from 43 percent a year ago to 50 percent.

However, Augustus' first-round performance could create candidacy among the league's clutch players. Augustus is averaging 4.7 rebounds after the first round, up from her regular season average of 3.5. Her 21.7 points per game is 5.5 points ahead of her regular season pace.

In Minnesota's game three victory to clinch the first-round series with San Antonio, Augustus finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, two boards away from what would have been her second career double-double. Her first came June 10, 2008, when she had 11 points and 10 assists in a 75-66 loss to the Connecticut Sun.

"When she puts her mind to it, she's a great defender. She crashes, she plays hard," said Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson.

While little expectation will be placed on Augustus to get double-figure rebounding with Brunson, McWilliams-Franklin and Adair for post options, she will exhibit ambition to defend the superstars to counter those who say she can only score.

"She makes them do something different. Contesting, rebounding and still has the ability to get smooth while she's guarding the best player. That's the evolution of Seimone. To see it on the court, it's awesome," McWilliams-Franklin said.

Phoenix holds the obvious edge in playoff experience. Taurasi and Penny Taylor remain stalwarts from the 2007 championship team, with Bonner and Ketia Swanier able to draw from their 2009 Finals run. Brunson, herself a champion from the 2005 Sacramento Monarchs, sees no need to lecture her title-less teammates about the playoff atmosphere after advancing past the first round.

"They know the tempo that we need to play, the intensity they need to have and the sense of urgency they need to play with. I'm just going to lead by example," she said.

Western Conference Finals: "Anchoring" a rematch


As the Minnesota Lynx host the Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Finals for the right to play in the WNBA Finals, the anchors for both teams will ignite a fire that has smoldered for seven years. That was the last time Phoenix's Diana Taurasi and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen played against each other in post-season play, when Taurasi's University of Connecticut Huskies and Whalen's University of Minnesota Golden Gophers dueled in the 2004 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship semifinal. Fans know it better as the Final Four.

In their first and only collegiate meeting, Taurasi scored 18 points and picked up six rebounds to lead UConn to a 67-58 win over Minnesota, paving the way to UConn's only "three-peat" in school history after winning the championship game over Tennessee. Despite scoring just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting, Whalen previewed what she would bring to the WNBA with seven assists and six rebounds.

Up to this point, Taurasi has the edge in terms of overall success, winning two WNBA titles to go with her three college national championships. Whalen's career could fit the "bridesmaid" role, coming close to titles, but blocked by quality teams.

However, Minnesota has utilized their home-court advantage so far, winning both games in the Western Conference semifinal round against San Antonio. Phoenix won once at Target Center this year, but coming to the first sports arena with a green roof is no longer a "walk in the park."

"It has always been hard to play here. If you look back at our games, we have been blown out here probably by 30 every year, even in our two championship years," Taurasi said after a 90-73 Minnesota win at Target Center August 2. "They are physically hard."

Taurasi and Whalen have started all but one game they appeared in (Whalen missed a start in her rookie season) and brought talent and stability to whatever franchise they represent. Both were the faces of their respective colleges and credited for bringing widespread interest to their programs. Both will be revered when they end their playing careers, whenever they return from prime form.

The wait could go on for years. Although Taurasi's on-court persona makes her the player opposing fans love to hate, she is averaging 20.8 points per game in her career, two-tenths of a point behind Cynthia Cooper. Taurasi is one of eight WNBA players to score over 5,000 career points and is on pace to break 6,000 next year as she has led the league in scoring five times in the last six years.

Whalen led the WNBA in assists during the 2011 regular season, marking a career-high 5.9 per game. Critics who contend her body is not durable enough to sustain a long career may not notice she has missed only eight regular season games in her eight seasons. Whalen is one of six players to record at least 3,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists, highlighting the all-around versatility that opponents have a hard time neutralizing.

"When you have one of the best point guards in the league, you win games. That's what you need, people playing at a high level," Taurasi said about Whalen following Phoenix's 112-105 win over Minnesota in the first game of the regular season series on July 13.

Taurasi was the first overall pick in the 2004 WNBA draft, quickly revitalizing a Phoenix Mercury franchise that finished 8-26 in 2003. However, Taurasi would have to wait until her fourth season to make her first WNBA playoff appearance, doing so in 2007. Even though Phoenix won the title over Detroit in five games and became the first team to be crowned champions on the road, former teammate Cappie Pondexter took Finals MVP honors for the offense she created via points or assists.

Taurasi would wait another two years before she received MVP recognition, earning both regular season MVP and Finals MVP awards as the Mercury would defeat the Indiana Fever in five games to win their second WNBA title. Taurasi averaged 22.3 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game in the 2009 post-season.

Whalen would be scooped up by the Connecticut Sun as the fourth overall pick, where she smoothly transferred her point guard duties from the collegiate to professional level. Whalen would make five consecutive playoff appearances from her rookie year to 2008, including two Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005.

However, Whalen's 13.1 points per game and 5.1 assists per game in the 2004 post-season were not enough against the Seattle Storm in the championship with the Sun losing two games to one in the final year of the three-game Finals format. Whalen would have no better luck the following year, as her Sun fell three games to one in the Finals against the Sacramento Monarchs, giving future teammate Rebekkah Brunson her first and only WNBA championship.

Guessing how Whalen will influence Minnesota's offense is no more accurate than Powerball numbers. Whalen scored 35 points in the first two games against San Antonio, yet the mood suggested Minnesota was outplayed and could have been swept. In game three, Whalen had just four points and three assists, shooting the ball only three times, but her "decoy" role set up an 85-67 blowout to make a Western Conference Finals date with Phoenix.

"The way Lindsay is playing right now, like in some of her Connecticut years where she just controls the floor, and now she has some pretty good weapons, that is pretty good," Taurasi said on August 2.

Taurasi has plenty of weapons in her arsenal too. In game 3 of Phoenix's playoff series with Seattle, Candice Dupree had a breakout performance as Taurasi fouled out with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. Dupree scored 20 en route to a 77-75 win at Seattle's KeyArena. DeWanna Bonner picked up her third consecutive Sixth Woman of the Year award. There is also long-time teammate Penny Taylor, who got a career-high 17 rebounds with 19 points in game three, continuing the reputation that emblazoned her with one of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" for a nickname.

The chemistry among them is strong enough that Taurasi refers to her teammates by shorthand form, and the Mercury's series-clinching win over the Storm signaled the team can play in long stretches without the league's top scorer.

"It really starts with Dupree and Temeka (Johnson) and how they can get the tempo going," Taurasi said on July 13.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Minnesota's Maya Moore mulls rookie growth spurt

Following the Minnesota Lynx's 78-69 win over the Chicago Sky at the team's final regular season home game, TSB Television spoke with rookie sensation Maya Moore. While her numbers may not appear impressive upon first glance, Moore was voted a starter for the Western Conference in the 2011 All-Star Game and was named Rookie of the Month for July and August.

Moore's calendar during her rookie season was filled far beyond practices and games. She offered a testimonial during the team's Faith and Family Night event, detailing the struggles of moving around and being the biggest kid in class growing up. Moore then donned two outfits for the Lynx's third annual Catwalk for a Cure, enjoying her brief respite from studying formations and executing plays.

Watch the video to learn more. The Lynx host the first game in their Western Conference semifinal series against the San Antonio Silver Stars, taking place Friday at 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 2011 Minnesota Machine highlight DVD is coming!


TSB Television concluded its first full season of Minnesota Machine coverage this summer, capturing the movement to a second straight division title. Now you can relive the 2011 season with your own DVD copy of Motoring the Movement, the highlight video covering the entire regular season and playoffs, from the deep unit of running backs to the special teams threat of Abby Smith! The video will premiere at the Machine's Dinner and Awards Celebration on Sunday, September 25th, and DVD copies will be available for $20 whether or not you're able to attend the Sunday gathering.

If you would like to pre-order a DVD copy or have a highlight video made for your team, please contact thesportsbrain@gmail.com. You can also find out how to be a part of the 2012 broadcast season, including sponsorship of a broadcast and guest appearances!

Check out an exclusive preview below!

Friday, September 9, 2011

MVP candidates make last push in Lynx home finale


There was an air of uncertainty at Target Center Thursday night for the Minnesota Lynx's regular season home finale against the Chicago Sky.

Statistically, neither team had anything to play for, with Minnesota preparing for their playoff run while Chicago was eliminated earlier this week.

However, uncertainty was replaced by MVP talk after the Lynx defeated the Sky 78-69. Guard Lindsay Whalen scored 20 points with 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 0 turnovers, the first time any player has put up that many numbers without coughing up the ball. Not to be overshadowed, guard Seimone Augustus scored a game-high 22 points.

"They played harder than any team would expect from a team that's not going to be in the playoffs," Augustus said.

Augustus was right. The Sky (14-18), known for close battles with the Lynx, shut down the opposing post players to prevent a runaway. Center Sylvia Fowles scored 11 of her 17 points in the first quarter. When the Lynx (26-7) contained her, guard Erin Thorn picked up the slack. 15 of her 17 points came after the first quarter, including four three-pointers.

The Sky even took the lead briefly in the fourth on an Epiphanny Prince three-pointer. The Lynx were clinging to a 67-66 lead with 3:49 left before finishing the game with an 11-3 run to prevent another home upset in front of 8,781.

"The guards were aggressive. They hit a couple tough shots when we were rotating. We had to earn everything we got," said rookie forward Maya Moore, who scored 16 points.

While Fowles will be watching the playoffs the same way fans do, she will have a rooting interest in former Louisiana State University teammate Augustus.

"She's back to where she needs to be, and I think her game is only going to get better," Fowles said.

Although predicting who will receive MVP is complicated by the subjectivity of the voting process, Augustus believes Whalen's final regular season home output was a great last-minute campaign effort.

"She's the floor general. She gets me the ball when I need it, she gets everybody in places where they're comfortable," Augustus said.

Augustus was not unnoticed either.

"Seimone is one of those players that puts those daggers in other teams when they're just starting to get a run," Moore said.

Minnesota on the road against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, where the Mercury will attempt to be the league's lone team to win a season series against the Lynx. Minnesota's next home appearance is next Friday, after Phoenix's victory over Tulsa Thursday night cemented San Antonio's fourth seed for the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.


Watch a pregame interview with Seimone Augustus where the mystery of Mike Peden's headband is answered.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lynx clinch best record, Liberty secures playoff berth


The atmosphere at Target Center Friday night had an unusual vibe for the Minnesota Lynx contest against the New York Liberty.

Minnesota could not find their shooting form, making 33.8 percent of their field goals in a 78-62 loss. New York's Leilani Mitchell scored a season-high 24 points, banking six three-pointers. Seimone Augustus led Minnesota with 17 points.

"(Minnesota) was worried about Cappie (Pondexter) and Nicole (Powell) and left Leilani open. She's a good shooter," said Liberty head coach John Whisenant.

"We made their defense shift and work. They were so focused on helping the inside, they left our guards to shoot their shots," said Liberty forward Plenette Pierson, who scored 13 points.

From the start, New York (18-13) played with a sense of urgency knowing a win would secure a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. For Minnesota, a victory or Indiana loss would lock up the first overall playoff seed.

Minnesota (24-7) fought well despite their shooting woes, going up by three with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter, but New York answered with a 15-4 run and never looked back. During that quarter, the public address announcer informed the 8,929 in attendance of Connecticut's 83-55 win over Indiana, giving Minnesota home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Knowing the Lynx clinched the best record in the league, combined with a 12-point New York lead with 5:32 in the fourth, head coach Cheryl Reeve took out lone starter Augustus and sent Candice Wiggins in her place. The Lynx reserves played the remainder of the game, giving the impression they were willing to concede a victory to avoid a needless injury among the starters and prepare the bench for the post-season. Throughout the year, Minnesota's reserves were considered a weakness for their inconsistency.

"It was a conscious decision to give them some opportunities to play in a hard game and see what they can do," Reeve said.

Another sporadic talking point among critics this season is Minnesota's perimeter defense. New York made 13 of 26 three-point attempts, finding an open Mitchell or Powell early and often.

"I've been struggling all season, so they keep telling me to keep shooting," Mitchell said

"I thought I brought her backwards. I'm glad to see she's back shooting," Whisenant said.

Reeve described how difficult it was to tell her players their regular season games no longer matter. Minnesota has never faced this scenario in franchise history, and the team was no less dejected about having their six-game winning streak snapped. Clearly, the Lynx would like to win the last three games for confidence, but their aim may be tempered by the long-term outlook as they have already accomplished their regular season goal.

"All the other long-term goals depend on how we play together, so we have to bounce back and put our focus on Sunday," said Lynx forward Maya Moore, who scored 16 points.

While the Liberty can now breathe after punching a post-season ticket, where they will be seeded is far from certain. New York is 1.5 games behind Eastern Conference leader Indiana, one game behind Connecticut for the second seed and one game ahead of Atlanta for the third seed.

"Everybody wants to win, so all the games are going to be intense," Mitchell said.

The Lynx and Liberty meet again Sunday afternoon at Prudential Center.

Programs available for DVD purchase

Autism Part 1 DVD cover

Autism: The Wall That Knows No Limits - Award-winning documentary series providing insights on autism rarely seen in contemporary media. Produced by someone on the spectrum, this series is a wealth of information for anyone seeking to learn about autism.
$15 for one episode, $50 for the complete series (4 episodes)

What Are You DVD cover

What Are You? A Dialogue on Mixed Race - Originally a school assignment, this one-hour documentary explores a population that existed for many years but didn't get much focus until recently. This program examines how a small but growing segment of the population could shift racial and cultural identity. Screened at the 2009 Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival and will be screened at the inaugural Critical Mixed Race Studies conference at DePaul University. $15

Vices to Verses promo

From Vices to Verses: Featuring Voices Merging - From Vices to Verses: A New Era of Hip Hop and Action is a biannual conference held at the University of Minnesota. The goal is to promote the culture and history of hip-hop, which is often lost in the corporate mainstream representation. In this program, you'll see how the Voices Merging student group absorbed what they witnessed and how their experience will transform them as a group and as individuals. DVD copies come with 14 minutes of bonus footage not seen online or on TV. $15

Machine 2010 highlight promo

Minnesota Machine: 2010 - Geared for Greatness - Join the professional women's football team in their historic 2nd season. Despite several injuries that depleted the roster, the Machine finished 2010 with a 6-3 record and their first division title in franchise history, edging the Iowa Thunder in the Midwest Division of the American Conference. This highlight reel includes clips from the 2010 season and their interview on the cable television show Rollin' and Tumblin' - $15


Silhouettes by RZI Couture - The inaugural breast cancer benefit fashion premiere took place in St. Paul and was met with a fabulous response. All the models were breast cancer survivors or relatives of someone affected by breast cancer and all the clothing was designed by Rosalyn Smaller, owner of RZI Couture and currently fighting breast cancer herself. The TV version features testimonials from the models and co-host Miss Georgia of KMOJ. $10 of every purchase will be donated to RZI Couture to help the breast cancer fight! $15