The Western Conference is quickly turning into a two-team race between the Lynx and the Los Angles Sparks.

Less than three weeks into the regular season, the Lynx (7-0) hold a 1.5 game lead over the Sparks (5-1) and the other four teams are all under .500 and between 4 and 6.5 games back.

Part of the trouble those teams are having stem from missing or injured players. Every team has been affected, including L.A., except the Lynx. The lowdown:

Los Angeles: Backup center Nicky Anosike, a starter for the Lynx her first three seasons in the WNBA from 2008 to 2010,  had arthroscopic knee surgery on her left knee on May 30 and is expected to miss six weeks.

Backup point guard Sharnee Zoll, who played six games with the Lynx as a rookie in 2008, is out for the season with a torn ACL in her left knee.

So the Sparks are playing with nine players.

San Antonio: Tangela Smith, a 6-3 center expected to provide rebounding help, had surgery on the meniscus in her left knee on Thursday and is expected to be out at least a month.

Seattle: Forward Lauren Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP, is training with Australia for the Olympics. She will rejoin the Storm for the second half of the season.

Tulsa: Center Liz Cambage, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 WNBA draft, is gone also. She is one of Jackson's teammates with the Aussies.

Phoenix: The Mercury have been torn apart the worst. Forward Penny Taylor, another Aussie, won't be able to play for her country or for the Mercury this season because of knee surgery for a torn ACL in mid-April.

Guard Diana Taurasi, the WNBA's leading scorer the past four seasons, has missed four games already because of a strained left hip flexor. Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said she is "week to week."

“That's the challenge of an 11-player roster," San Antonio coach Dan Hughes said. "All the pieces are pretty impactful. It’s the reality of what we got to deal with. You are lucky if you are Minnesota and you are not dealing with one of them."

IMPRESSED WITH LYNX

“Last year when I played [the Lynx] in the playoffs, I had a feeling when we were done that they wouldn’t lose again,” Hughes said. “Now this year what they have done is just carried it right over."

After beating the Silver Stars 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, the Lynx beat Phoenix 2-0 in the Western Conference finals and Atlanta 3-0 in the WNBA finals.

“They have done a great job of taking the momentum that they have gathered and not sitting on last year, but kind of building on it," Hughes said. "They are playing really well.

“They challenge everybody with rebounding. We are statistically a little better in rebounding, we are about even at this point."

Last year the Silver Stars were last in rebounding.

So how come the Lynx rebound so well, they are not big? “Ya, they are," Hughes said. "Take a look at their length at the perimeter positions. Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus. Their size is very good for the guard position. And relatively inside, it all starts with Brunson. I am not sure I can name you a better rebounder in our league than Brunson.

“Their length is one of their real secrets. That Moore and Augustus, they are the same size as my post players. Their length there is pretty real.”

Hughes said San Antonio is still looking for a third player to contribute on offense.

“For us to be successful, we probably have to have a third piece to be impactful to beat the really good teams," he said. "We have had fairly balanced scoring. We have had real good play out of [Sophia] Young and Becky [Hammon] both. For us to be really special, we kind of need that third player to really rise up and be impactful at that same level."

"It could be [reserve forward Danielle] Adams. [Jia] Perkins fills it a lot for us. I think Shameka Christon, if she gets healthier, she could certainly add into that area there. When we start getting a third player impacting it at that level, and we get pretty balanced scoring across the board with other people, that is when we go to another level.

The Lynx, Hughes said, are already there: “You never hurry them up. They do what they want to do. And then the part that kicks you the most, they are as good an offensive rebounding team as we play. So if they do occasionally miss, they are pounding it back in. That makes it a hard night for you.”

 LAST WORD

Moore on game strategy: "When the other team counters your Plan A, you have to have a Plan B, a Plan C."

 

 

 

Maya Moore said her grandparents, who are both in their early 80's and watched her play two games at Target Center over the weekend, never critique her. "They are just happy that I am playing," Moore said. "They are just great. They have shown me so much unconditional love and support since I was -- before I was born. I just love having them there and seeing them smile

On the benefits of finishing the 2011 season with six wins in the playoffs: "Ending the season the way we did was definitely a great feeling. But I don't know if we are necessarily looking back at that last season for that. We are looking at it as momentum. But we are not looking at it as we don't have to work hard anymore. It's a new year. We are trying to start new runs. We are trying to do some new things with the same group."