Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

WNBA Report: Another Minnesota-Los Angeles Showdown Just Ahead But Certainly Not The Last

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

No hype is needed as the significance of Tuesday’s showdown between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks in Southern California at the Staples Center isn’t lost on Seimone Augustus.

 “It’s a clash of the titans,” the Lynx guard and three-time United States gold medalist said during last week’s WNBA conference call previewing the matchup that tips at 10 p.m. on ESPN2. “Both teams understand what we’re trying to do and where we want to go.”

 To accomplish that, they’ll have to get through each other. 

 Both the Lynx and Sparks enter the eagerly anticipated confrontation with sterling 24-5 records. The Sparks-Lynx contest is also the second-best combined winning percentage (.828) in league history for two teams having played at least 29 games each, falling just short of a 2014 game between the 25-4 Mercury and 24-6 Lynx (.831 winning percentage). 

 The Lynx have been a consistent rock of excellence as evidenced by the three championships in the last five years. 

Minnesota has equaled its best 29-game start in franchise history (also 2012) and is now one victory shy of recording its fifth 25-win campaign in the last six years. As far as regular season games go, this is one of the biggest in the WNBA’s 20-year history, rivaling the old Hoston Comets-Sparks wars during the league's early era.

 The Lynx and Sparks split a pair of meetings in mid-June with each winning on the road. The Lynx won 72-69 on Renee Montgomery’s late three-point shot in a game in which each team entered undefeated. Three days later, the Sparks got even with a decisive 94-76 victory.

 The winner of this final regular season contest between each other will win the season series and own the tiebreaker for homecourt advantage should each squad finish with the same record.

 By the way, unlike previous years, this could also be a sneak peek of the WNBA Finals thanks to the league’s new playoff format, in which the top eight teams, regardless of conference qualify for the postseason and get seeded accordingly at the outset. 

The Sparks, Lynx and New York Liberty have clinched playoff spots. The Lynx and Sparks are close to securing a double-bye into the semifinals.

 “We’re always hunting the No.1 seed and we have never settled for No. 2,” Augustus said. “Now we have an opportunity to be in the position we expected once the season started. 

"We want home court throughout the playoffs because we understand how big that is. That’s what we’re focused on because if we get the No. 1 seed, we know the Target Center will be rocking," she continued.

 "We enjoy playing at home. The atmosphere the fans created (during last year’s decisive fifth game of the WNBA Finals) willed us to victory when we were all exhausted.”

 The Lynx and Sparks have mirrored each other all season. 

It’s only fitting that they find themselves tied with the best record in the league. 

Fueled by MVP candidates Nneka Oguwmike (Sparks) and Maya Moore (Lynx), each team sprinted to league record 13-0 starts, handed each other their first loss of the season and earned wins No. 23 last Friday & No. 24 Sunday. 

 Minnesota is currently tied for the league lead with an average of 85.7 points per game while Los Angeles is fourth with an 84.3-point per game average. The Sparks feature the WNBA’s top scoring defense, grudgingly yielding 75.5 points per game this season. The Lynx rank second in that category, allowing 76.1 points per game. 

 After an amazing 20-1 start to the season, the Sparks wobbled before and after the Olympic break with losses in four of five games. However, with three consecutive victories, it looks like they have found their groove.

Second in the WNBA with 14 double-doubles, Oguwmike has been a beast this season, connecting at an insane 69.6 percent from the field. 

Since June 7 against New York, Ogwumike has shot 180-for-251 from the field, good for an incredible 71.7% mark. 

No player with an average of at least eight shot attempts per game has ever performed that well over a 21-game stretch in league history. She has shot 50.0% or better in 27 of 29 games this season.

 While the dynamic duo of Oguwmike and Candace Parker have paced Los Angeles’ offense, Alana Beard has fueled the Sparks’ tenacious defense.

 “She’s everything to their defense,” ESPN commentator LaChina Robinson said. “She has a high level of intensity from the jump. I’ve seen teams run their offense away from her. The Lynx had Maya bring the ball up earlier this season because of Alana’s pressure. She gets steals and creates offense from defense.”

 Enjoy and get your popcorn ready as these two heavyweights collide in what promises to be a memorable and fun contest. Two teams at the peak of its powers performing with plenty at stake. This is as good as it gets in professional sports.


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