Sparks at Lynx
8:00 pm CDT
Game two will be in Los Angeles on Sunday, with game three if necessary back at Target Center on Tuesday. The winner of this series takes on the winner of the series between the Phoenix Mercury and Tulsa Shock in the Western Conference Finals. The Mercury blew out the Shock in game one of that series last night.
At the start of the season, with Diana Taurasi taking the year off, Brittney Griner suspended, and the entire core (except for Janel McCarville) back in Minnesota, the Lynx were the clear favorite to win a third WNBA title in five years, and there was a belief that they would simply not be challenged.
Indeed, the Lynx enter the post-season with the best record in the Western Conference, but it has not been smooth sailing this season. Injuries have taken their toll and exposed some of the lack of depth that continues to haunt the Lynx despite several trades to improve in that area, as Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus have both missed time and are slated to return tonight after missing several weeks each.
Beyond the injuries, the Lynx just haven't been quite as sharp as we have become accustomed to. They finished 4th in offensive rating this season, down from 2nd last season. Maya Moore, while still one of the best players in the league, was a little off from her brilliant MVP campaign of a year ago. In addition to the injuries, neither Augustus nor Whalen, both on the high side of 30, had their best years, and the team's overall shooting percentages, while still better than league average, showed significant decline.
On the other hand, the return to health of Rebekkah Brunson (the only player to appear in all 34 games this season), and the addition of Sylvia Fowles in a mid-season trade helped the defense and rebounding. The Lynx outrebounded opponents by over 2 boards a game this season and finished 2nd in defensive rating, an improvement from last season's 4th.
The Fowles trade was a terrific move for the Lynx, getting an all-star caliber interior presence for very little in exchange, but it has taken some time to work her in to the lineup. She's incredibly valuable to a team that has to go up against Brittney Griner several times a season, including a possible re-match in this year's playoffs.
First they have to get by the Sparks, though, and that could prove tricky. The Sparks finished only 14-20 on the season, but that's a bit misleading because they started the season a disastrous 3-14 before the return of their star Candace Parker from injury. In the 16 games Parker played, the Sparks were a solid 10-6, including a split of two games with the Lynx.
Expectations for the Lynx are extraordinarily high. Anything short of a championship will be viewed as a disappointment, and while a team with Maya Moore in her prime is always going to have a chance, the aging of much of the rest of the core raises questions about how long the title window will be open for this team.
In order to achieve their goal, the Lynx will need Augustus and Whalen to round into form quickly, and Maya Moore to step up her game to MVP level. It starts tonight at Target Center. I hope you are watching.