Dust to Dust and Darths to Anakins
UNCASVILLE, Conn. _ At one time, the visit of the Los Angeles Sparks to the Connecticut Sun Tuesday night might have had blockbuster implications on a par with some of the biggest summer attractions offered from the filmland capital of America that’s located practically in the Sparks’ back lot.
Instead, the Sparks have pulled a reverse Star Wars.
If one wanted to put a Hollywood title on the second meeting this season between L.A. and Connecticut, just call it Episode II: No Revenge of the Stiffs.
Several weeks after the Sun embarrassed the Sparks, 90-70, in the Staples Center, Los Angeles, trying to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff hunt, struck with punch but no counter in casino country as Connecticut prevailed, 64-51.
Back in May, the offseason addition of All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw joining Sparks superstar Lisa Leslie had virtually everyone handing the 2005 WNBA title to Los Angeles.
But injuries, inconsistency, and the problems adjusting to new coach Henry Bibby’s strategy have transformed the once-feared Darth Vaders of the WNBA into Anakin Skywalkers instead of the other way that Star Wars creator George Lucas scripted in his final production of the science fiction fable.
Holdsclaw, who was held to six points and four rebounds by the Sun, must feel like she’s living in Washington on the Pacific after moving from a Mystics organization that had stumbled and fumbled throughout most of her previous career in D.C.
In fact, her previous club is very much alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
That makes Wednesday night’s visit to the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden quite an intriguing matchup.
The Liberty are in a three-team chase in the East for a playoff berth involving the Detroit Shock and the Mystics, and have little room for error.
The Sparks, fading fast in the West at 12-14, might implode altogether if they fail in the final of a grueling eight-game road trip.
Meanwhile, how about that Sun team beating up on the West this season?
Tuesday’s victory enabled playoff-bound Connecticut to finish with a near-sweep of the left-of-the-Mississippi crowd at 13-1, a mark that has helped keep them in pursuit of the No. 1 overall seed when the playoffs begin at the end of the month.
After the contest, we asked Connecticut coach Mike Thibault what his reaction might have been several months ago if someone had predicted his team would do that well outside the East after a paltry 4-10 performance last season in that aspect of the annual summer competition.
“I probably would have asked them what they were smoking,” Thibault smiled.
“Everybody makes a big deal about going against the West,” he referred to past history in which those teams dominated the league, especially with the Houston Comets claiming the first four WNBA titles and the Sparks following with the next two.
“Right now the East has done pretty well as a group against the West,” Thibault said about the serious competition as opposed to the West’s unbeaten lock on the All-Star series.
“We’ve had a shift in the balance of power. Detroit won the championship two years ago. Seattle and us had a great series last year,” Thibault continued.
“You’ve had a lot of good young players that come up into the league, make and influx into the Eastern Conference. There are a lot of good things going on in our conference.
“I don’t think there is a gap anymore.”
Nykesha Sales, who had 16 points for the Sun against the Sparks, behind the 22-point effort from Katie Douglas, echoes Thibault’s remarks.
“People used to measure themselves by how they did against Houston and L.A,” the former University of Connecticut star said. “Now, I think they’re starting to do that when they play against us.”
The Sun have a league-best 21-6 record, just ahead of the Sacramento Monarchs’ 20-7 effort to lead the West.
Remember, the playoff finals this season will expand from best-of-three to best-of-five with the No. 1 seed opening at home for the first two games and returning for a fifth and deciding game if necessary.
In the past, the top team went on the road first. That formula will still be in place in the early rounds.
Brain Download (2:45 a.m. edition).
If five limousines are parked alongside Madison Square Garden during the week, which one transported Inquirer colleague Stephen A. Smith to his new TV show in an ESPN studio across the street?
Quite frankly, a response is not needed.
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You road warriors who use wireless cards or centrino chips (same thing) built into your laptops, should make the small investment necessary to buy a WIFI finder that detects active networks.
Then, when you’re ready to hook up your machinery, you won’t panic for long in a hotel offering free connections (cable or wireless) when you discover your LAN cable isn’t fitting what appears to be the jack.
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Yours truly once covered Sparks assistant coach Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, the father of Kobe, at a college tournament in New Orleans when he played at La Salle in the early 1970s.
The Explorers upset Jacksonville and Alabama, but the triumphs were tempered when popular team doctor Eugene Gallagher was felled by heart attack and the end of the first game against Jacksonville and died several hours later.
Paul Westhead was then the coach of the Explorers.
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Note to our Inquirer sports editor Jim Jenks, whose daily blog can be found at nestingplace.blogspot.com:
Did any of the people who panned the new edition of the Madden game see it displayed on a mega-wide-screen in stores like Best Buy?
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More than Penn-Pals: This Saturday, former Quakers all-time player Diana Caramanico will wed former Penn men’s star Jeff Owens on the campus of their alma mater.
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If one makes the 230-250-mile trip here from Philadelphia on a day in which traffic is minimal, and the New Haven nightmare portion of I-95 is under control, using the GW Bridge across the Hudson, and also the Merritt Parkway, there will still be 15 tracks left on an Ipod or other MP3 player to be heard on a 42-track playlist of songs featuring Linda Ronstadt.
OK, so I travel to a different brake drum as the Stone Poneys might have said.
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Among the pseudo celebrities attending the Sun game Tuesday night was Big East Conference women’s basketball media contact Rachel Margolis.
One of the (Sun PR chief) Bill Tavares media helpers at a recent game was UConn women’s basketball media contact Randy Press.
Having seen Geno Auriemma’s shadow, there are approximately only nine more weeks until Midnight Madness. :)
Until later (tonight in NYC or tomorrow night in Washington) –