League officials realigned the post-season over the off-season so that the two best teams, regardless of conference, play for the WNBA championship.
As a result, top-seeded Minnesota and second-seeded Los Angeles are meeting Sunday in Minneapolis for the best-of-five league championship, the first time in WNBA history that a Western Conference club is assured to be crown champion after its conclusion.
The two clubs have a combined winning percentage of .794 (54-14), the highest for a Finals series in W history.
“I love that we have the best two teams in the finals,” said ESPN Analyst LaChina Robinson to the MSR, when asked during the October 6 media conference call. “These teams are evenly matched.”
Is there any advantage, known or hidden for either host Minnesota or visiting Los Angeles? The Lynx’s second unit has come together and forged a formidable unit, said Robinson. She also noted that Minnesota’s supporting cast could prove the difference maker.
“They were the deepest team in the league all season. They only got deeper with Anna Cruz coming in off the Olympics,” continued Robinson. “Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins, Natasha Howard — have been fantastic in the playoffs. I think that is a factor that L.A. has to be most concerned with because they don’t have as much depth.”
Also “L.A. has a tendency to get stuck” in their offense, including not moving the ball, noted the analyst. Nonetheless, Robinson still likes Los Angeles’ offensive prowess: “Just how much fun to watch them on the offensive end —You are looking at a team that is extremely offensively talented,” she said.
“Nneka Ogwumike and her efficiency and the three-point shooting of Kristi Toliver and Candace Parker, have been a lot of fun to watch. I think the offensive power of L.A., and how well they move the ball and how they share the ball, and how they spread the floor is really fun to watch, and that will be a challenge for Minnesota defensively.”
If there’s a tipping point on the advantage scale, Lynx center Sylvia Fowles could be it because the Sparks lack a big presence inside, which could create match up problems against Minnesota, added Robinson.
The 6-6 Fowles, in her first full season with Minnesota, became the first Lynx player to win the league’s defensive player of the year. She started all 34 regular season games for the first time since 2011, averaging 8.5 rebounds, 1.79 blocks, and 1.32 steals along with nearly 14 points a game this season.
She joined Tamika Catchings (five) and Sheryl Swoopes (three) as the only players to win the award at least three times.
Fowles humbly told the MSR, “I have a lot of teammates who are also good on defense who I pride myself after. One of them is [forward] Rebekkah Brunson. Just try to be as active as her and follow her lead and lead by example. That’s one person who I look up to.
“My teammates help a lot because everyone brings that energy,” continued the ninth-year center. “I don’t feel like I have to be the go-to person. I think we’re equally balanced from the first team to the bench. I think that’s how I’ve been able to keep up this intensity.”
If there’s an underrated player to watch, “I am going to go with [Los Angeles’] Kristy Toliver,” said Robinson. Her deadly three-point shooting can make a difference in the series, she said.
We like Minnesota’s Perkins, the 5-8 reserve guard in that underrated player to watch role. The 13-year veteran guard, who played in all 34 regular season games, began this season as the top player to play the most regular season games without playing in the finals. She, Montgomery and Cruz can create multiple headaches on defense and make timely shots.
Finally, we asked Robinson if this year’s finals, televised on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 could draw fans and media to a potentially great match-up.
The two teams have “star power,” with current and former league MVPs, and finals MVPs as well, Robinson said: Ogwumike, this year’s MVP, and former MVPs — the Lynx’s Maya Moore (2014) and the Sparks’ Candace Parker (2008 and 2013); Moore, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles — all three earned best player honors after their respective finals performances; four Top 20@20 members (Moore, Augustus, Parker and Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen).
“I think it will draw the fans [and] the media. These two teams gave us much to talk about all season long. Their historical start or just the opportunity with the new playoff system to see the two best teams play each other, despite the fact that they both come from the Western Conference — I think there is a ton of excitement,” concluded Robinson. “The WNBA is made up of great stars. I’m excited to be a part of the coverage.”
MSR News Online will continue our WNBA playoffs notebook entries as the post-season progresses.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.