TV networks preparing special broadcasts for NBA In-Season Tournament games

NBC Sports Chicago is adding cameras, staff and other elements to the production of the Bulls’ first group-play game Friday against the Nets.

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The Bulls will play on a new floor for their two home games in the NBA In-Season Tournament.

The Bulls will play on a new floor for their two home games in the NBA In-Season Tournament.

Chicago Bulls

The NBA season doesn’t hit its stride and maintain fans’ attention until Christmas, according to popular belief. The league is trying to put that theory to rest with the inaugural In-Season Tournament, which tips off Friday.

When fans tune in for a tournament game, it will look different than any NBA game they’ve seen. Teams will play on new floors and wear new uniforms. Their division foes will change. Regular-season games will feel like playoff games in pursuit of the NBA Cup — or at least that’s the hope.

And TV networks have been devising how to capture it all.

“We’ll have the same energy that a playoff game would have,” said Marc Brady, the producer for Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. “With the red court and the City Edition jersey, it’s gonna feel special. I think it’s gonna be an end-of-season excitement in November.”

The Bulls’ first game in group play is Friday against the Nets at the United Center (7 p.m., NBC 5, NBC Sports Chicago, 670-AM). Announcers Adam Amin and Stacey King and insider K.C. Johnson will be joined by NBC 5 lead sports anchor Leila Rahimi, who will serve as sideline reporter.

Brady is adding cameras and staff to the production, he’ll have a musical surprise and guard Coby White will wear a mic. But Brady said his top priority is explaining the tournament format and rules.

“We’ll assume that fans know nothing about it and educate on that,” Brady said. “Also, we’re now in the standings with Boston and Brooklyn [plus Orlando and Toronto], so we’re actually scoreboard-watching early in the year.”

Viewers will see live group standings similar to those from soccer’s World Cup. In fact, the In-Season Tournament was derived from events in international soccer.

Group play is scheduled on four Fridays and three Tuesdays in November, leading to a knockout round in the first full week of December. Quarterfinal games will be played in home markets, and the semifinals and championship will be played in Las Vegas. Each player on the winning team will receive $500,000.

Among the group-play tiebreakers are point differential and total points in the group stage. So final scores hold more significance.

Said Brady: “You’re gonna have to remind players that at the end of a game, if they see a guy going in for a layup with 20 seconds left, he’s not trying to rub it in. He’s trying to advance and get that money. It may not seem like a lot, but they wanna win that money. I don’t care how much money they make.”

ESPN will carry the first national broadcasts of the tournament Friday – Knicks at Bucks followed by Mavericks at Nuggets. Vice president of production Tim Corrigan said the network will unveil new branding, music and graphics to make the games feel different. He also said LL Cool J and The Roots will serve as the musical backdrop for broadcasts.

“[We’ve had] a lot of thought, a lot of care, a lot of support across the board to make this not look and feel like everything else we do,” Corrigan said. “When they start playing, they’re playing basketball, and we pride ourselves in the documentation of that. That doesn’t change. But all the things around it are where we really need to educate and bring everybody in on what’s going on.”

TNT will air its first tournament games Nov. 14, and the network is expected to unveil new visual elements. It’s all part of trumpeting an event the league hopes will keep viewers glued to its games at a time of the year when they generally aren’t.

“I think that Bulls fans are gonna see as close to a national broadcast from a local provider and yet still have everything we love about local television,” Brady said. “We will not constantly remind everyone that Chicago has deep dish pizza.”

Remote patrol

NBC 5 will simulcast two Bulls and two Blackhawks games in the next two months. The Bulls games are NBA In-Season Tournament games Friday against the Nets and Nov. 17 against the Magic. The Hawks games are Dec. 22 against the Canadiens and Dec. 29 at the Stars. It marks the first time the teams will appear on local broadcast TV since 2019.

“Even though these simulcasts are a one-time occurrence this season, we wanted to give NBC 5 viewers a chance to watch NBC Sports Chicago’s expert coverage, as well,” NBCUniversal Local Chicago president and general manager Kevin Cross said. “Plus, with the holidays approaching and friends and families enjoying time together, we felt this was a fun way to kick off everyone’s weekend with live, local sports.”

Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, will air the Iowa-Northwestern football game at Wrigley Field exclusively at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Paul Burmeister, Kyle Rudolph and reporter Zora Stephenson will call it.

The latest episode of the original docuseries “NFL Icons” features legendary Bears linebacker Mike Singletary. It premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday on MGM+.

Andrew Catalon, Tiki Barber and Matt Ryan will call the Bears-Saints game at noon Sunday for CBS.

NBA IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT

BULLS’ EAST GROUP C SCHEDULE

Friday: vs. Nets, 7 p.m.

Nov. 17: vs. Magic, 7 p.m.

Nov. 24: at Raptors, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 28: at Celtics, 6:30 p.m.

All games on NBCSCH; home games simulcast on NBC 5

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