WNBA: Maya Moore Draft Derby Field Set
By Mel Greenberg
Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright Saturday night effectively enhanced UConn senior Maya Moore's chances of landing with the Minnesota Lynx next season when Wright hit the winning shot for the Seattle Storm to produce a slim 76-75 win over the playoff-bound Los Angeles Sparks at Key Arena in the Pacific Northwest.
The outcome effectively eliminated Minnesota from the Western Conference playoffs and the margin of victory had its own symbolism for the Lynx considering the number of their narrow defeats, many after yielding double digit leads.
Going into Sunday's game at the Indiana Fever -- a cross-conference matchup with its own implications in the Eastern race -- Minnesota (12-21) needed to win in the Midwest and also needed Los Angeles (13-21) to beat the Storm (28-6), which was the final regular season game for both teams in Seattle.
A Los Angeles win would have moved the Sparks up to the third seed. Next, if Minnesota won against Indiana and the San Antonio Silver Stars (13-20) would lose at home to the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury (15-18) Sunday the two would finish tied for fourth and the Lynx would have the tie-breaker on their season-series triumph over San Antonio.
Now, the only way Minnesota can catch San Antonio and Los Angeles is in a three-way tie but that does the Lynx no good because they have less common wins than the other two in total won-losses among the three teams.
How big was that shot by the Sparks' Tina Thompson over Minnesota last week at the last second that can be viewed as one of the key impacts on Los Angeles making the postseason and Minnesota sitting home.
The consolation prize is not a bad one though, even though Minnesota might lead the WNBA in its franchise history for landing high draft picks that have yet to translate into long-range success.
Maybe former Stanford star Candice Wiggins should get some kind of psuedo MVP award because surely if she had not gotten hurt, perhaps the Lynx might have been able to avert those tough setbacks. Of course, likewise, Los Angeles would appear much stronger had not superstar Candace Parker been lost early in the season with a shoulder injury dating back to her collegiate days leading Tennessee to two NCAA titles.
So now Minnesota will own two shots in the draft lottery that will yield the 2011 No. 1 pick, which likely will result the selection of Moore a year after her former Huskies teammate Tina Charles was picked by the Connecticut Sun.
That pick had been owned by Minnesota but was dealt to Connecticut along with former UConn star Renee Montgomery for All-Star guard Lindsay Whalen, who hails from the Twin Cities, and the No. 2 pick, which was used to choose former Virginia star Monica Wright.
Minnesota also had the third overall pick, chose former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin, and then sent her to the Sun for Connecticut's 2011 first-round pick.
At the time of the deal neither organization thought that Connecticut (17-16) would miss the postseason for the second-straight season, effectively making the Sun pick part of the lottery.
Minnesota, incidentally, could still be a bit of a spoiler Sunday in the East because Indiana (21-12), the defending conference champion, is locked in a three-way first-place tie heading to the final games so a Lynx win could cost the Fever a shot at a home court in the first round.
The top two teams in each conference will have home court advantage in the best-of-three first round and revised 1-1-1 format from the previous setup of 1-2 with the low seed opening at home.
The same set up will be used in the second round with highest seeds starting at home. The best-of-five finals remain a 2-2-1 format.
Besides owning the Connecticut pick, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star from South Jersey, now also possesses her organization's own pick courtesy of the Lynx playoff elimination.
The team with the best shot at Moore will be the woeful Tulsa Shock (5-29), which actually finished last in the West Saturday night on a winning note beating the Eastern cellar-dwelling Chicago Sky 84-71 in Oklahoma as Tiffany Jackson scored 17 points.
Tulsa was previously the proud Detroit franchise, owner of three WNBA titles, which was taken over in the Midwest last winter when the NBA Detroit Pistons jettisoned the Shock.
Tulsa, who finished 23 games behind Seattle, had lost 25 of 27 games before Saturday night. Sylvia Fowles scored 16 points for the Sky (14-20), which is 7.5 games out of first-place pending Sunday's final conference standings.
Chicago is a newer franchise which has never made the postseason and has had a slew of high picks in the first round. The Sky will be the other candidate in the Moore derby.
The order based on weighted ping pongs balls or whatever is used to determine the No. 1 pick will be Tulsa, Minnesota's own pick, Chicago, which faded down the stretch, and then Connecticut's pick, making it less likely that the Griffin deal cost the Sun another shot at a prized UConn star.
Whoever wins the pick will likely be offered the heavens by other teams in the league, though don't look for the Lynx or Chicago to be receptive. Tulsa is not likely either but perhaps some organization can put together a package that would jump-start the Shock much quicker than the addition of Moore, alone, would do.
Former UConn star Swin Cash, now with Seattle, was picked high by Detroit but languished until Bill Laimbeer, one of the famed Pistons "Bad Boys", became head coach and promised he would build the team around her and of course delivered the road to a title.
Meanwhile, in Saturday night's action, Seattle and Los Angeles effectively became a first-round preview Saturday night.
The Storm, who dominated the West and, in terms of won-loss records, the wNBA, got 26 points from former North Carolina Star Camille Little, while veteran Australian sensation Laura Jackson scored 21 points. The Sparks' Thompson scored 20.
Seattle became the second team in WNBA history to go perfect at home with the best-ever record at 17-0. The 2001 Sparks, who won their first of two titles, were 16-0 when the league played a 32 game schedule.
The 28 wins also matched the record of regular season wins by the Sparks in 2001.
Seattle, which clinched the West title in late July and owns overall home-court advantage in the playoffs pending advancement, is now 12.5 games ahead of second-place Phoenix (15-18) in what has been the worst performance by a conference in the WNBA's 14 seasons.
By comparison, Connecticut in the East, which is at New York Sunday, will finish either at .500 or slightly better, and anywhere from three to five games behind the East champion and only 1-3 games behind the fourth and final playoff slot.
That's much better than anything other than Seattle in the West has to offer.
Phoenix's game at San Antonio Sunday effectively becomes the other Western first-round playoff preview.
By virtue of the Los Angeles loss, San Antonio takes third place outright with a win Sunday or takes the slot anyway via tiebreaker having won the season series with Los Angeles.
Minnesota will finish 15 or 16 games out of first but ultimately may be smiling in a few months when the drsft lottery winner is announced.