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.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Minnesota and L.A. Resume Their Own Fireworks Thursday Night

By ROB KNOX @knoxrob1

 The much-anticipated heavyweight showdown between the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx takes place Thursday night in prime time at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. The first of three meetings between last season’s Finals participants will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 p.m.

 Many would argue that this confrontation is happening two days late.

 With the Fourth of July holiday being in the middle of the WNBA season, the league missed an opportunity and have for most of its existence to highlight its marquee players and showcase its biggest rivalries.

A game between the Lynx and Sparks would have been perfect on July 4. Players and coaches would be for it.

 “Most of the players in our league are transient,” Sparks head coach Brian Alger said during Wednesday’s conference call promoting the game. “Playing a game on a holiday wouldn’t matter especially if it helps promote our league. I am all for it. I tell my assistant coaches that when I hire them that once you get into our season, you won’t know what day it is.”

 The Sparks spent part of their holiday traveling to Minnesota. The New York Liberty watched fireworks in Seattle while the Washington Mystics, who lost to the Sparks this past Sunday, were in Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun were already relaxing in San Antonio.

 Of course, league schedule makers wouldn’t have known that both teams are a combined 24-4 overall heading into this meeting. It’s an opportunity moving forward that could help elevate the league and give people something to look forward to on the Fourth of July much like NBA fans on Christmas.

 “(Playing on the Fourth of July) has some merit to it,” Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “If you can create something on that day and people know that the WNBA will have a slate of games, it would make a lot of sense.”

 Four years ago to celebrate the much-anticipated arrival of the “Three To See” in Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, the WNBA opened its 2013 season on Memorial Day with a ESPN doubleheader featuring the Phoenix Mercury against the Chicago Sky which pitted the top two draft picks (Griner and Delle Donne) against each other.

 The other half of the doubleheader was the Mystics and fourth overall draft pick Tayler Hill against the now-defunct Tulsa Shock (who are now the Dallas Wings) and Diggins, the third overall pick.

 “Playing on holidays is never ideal,” Minnesota guard Maya Moore said. “The Fourth is in the middle of our season and playing a game on that day wouldn’t be much different from our normal routine. It would be fun. Our league is in the summer so it does make a lot of sense and it wouldn’t interrupt a lot of people’s fireworks either.”

There’s always pyrotechnics whenever the Sparks and Lynx meet.

This is the first matchup since last year’s memorable Finals won by the Sparks in five tense games. The fifth game won by the Sparks on the road at the end of regulation was an all-time classic and easily one of the top five games in the 21-year history of the WNBA.

 Los Angeles will take an eight-game winning streak into its first meeting of the season against last year’s Finals opponent. During the month of June the Sparks was powered by its defense, which led the WNBA in steals (8.89 spg) and ranked second in points allowed (78.0 ppg) and blocked shots (4.67 bpg).  Agler’s bunch were also second in the league in field goal percentage (49.4) and point differential (+8.8).

 “It’s a good measuring stick to see where we are,” Candace Parker said of this matchup. “Returning to Minnesota brings back memories that we had here. We’re excited to play the Lynx and uphold our end of the rivalry.

"Playing on the Fourth of July is an idea for the WNBA and something to bring up.”

 Los Angeles rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Mystics in their last outing on Sunday at the Staples Center.

 Offensively, the Sparks are paced by last season’s MVP Nneka Oguwmike (19.3 points per game) and Parker (17.0). The versatile Parker, who was named WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the 20th time in her illustrious career, is also seventh in rebounding (8.3) and ninth in assists (4.6).

 The Sparks will have their hands full dealing with the Lynx’s myriad of offensive options which include Sylvia Fowles, who was named WNBA Western Conference Player of the Month for June.

Fowles, who also won the honor in May, raised her career total to seven, tying teammate Maya Moore for the second-highest mark in WNBA history behind the New York Liberty’s Tina Charles (eight).

 An early season favorite for league MVP honors, Fowles lifted WNBA-leading Minnesota to a 6-1 record in June, pacing the West in rebounding (9.6 rpg) and field goal percentage (.702, 59-of-84).  She also scored at least 21 points in five of her seven games and ranked third in the conference in scoring (21.3 ppg).  The 10th-year pro was fourth in the West in steals (1.7 spg) and blocks (1.29 bpg).

 Moore has heated up. After scoring 20 or more points in one of her first eight games this season, Moore has topped 20 or more points in six consecutive outings.

 Both teams understand that a trophy won’t be raised following the outcome of the game because they meet two more times on August 11 in Minnesota and August 27 in Los Angeles. Both teams have separated themselves from third-place Washington. The Mystics have lost twice each to the Lynx and Sparks.

 “As a competitor, you love games like this,” Moore said. “There’s always a lot of energy around the matchup whenever we play. The history between us makes it more fun of a game.

"As a player, you look forward to games like this. I am sure it will show when the lights come on. People are attracted to our team because of how we play our game so from that standpoint, I am happy that our team has eyes on it for the right reasons.”