After the Lynx beat her team in late August, Indiana coach Lin Dunn said the Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks were the two best teams in the WNBA.
Saturday night, after his team had lost by 23 points to Minnesota, Seattle coach Brian Agler wouldn’t go that far. But in the Western Conference, he said, it was the Lynx, the Sparks, then everybody else.
The two teams rank 1-2 in scoring and shooting, 2-3 in points off turnovers, 1-3 in fastbreak points. Both like to run, both have MVP candidates. And, on Wednesday night at Target Center, the two teams play each other with the conference title still to be decided.
“There aren’t any secrets,” Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “There is no secret what we’re going to do. It’s a matter of who is going to go out and execute.’’
The Lynx are in first place in the Western Conference; the Sparks are 1½ games back. After Wednesday’s game the Lynx will head to Seattle for back-to-back games, then play at Los Angeles before coming home to finish the regular season against Chicago on Sept. 14.
But the pecking order in the West likely will be set before the regular-season finale.
The Lynx and Sparks will have the top two spots, but in what order? At stake is home-court advantage should they meet in the conference finals.
“We’re focusing on the idea that … this is a tiebreak game,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said.
The season series has been strange so far. The two teams played three times between June 21 and July 2. All three were blowouts.
The Lynx lost by 28 points in L.A. on June 21. They returned the favor with a 24-point victory over the Sparks at Target Center June 28. Four days later the Sparks beat the Lynx by 30. The Lynx need to win tonight to keep alive the possibility of winning the season series, the first tiebreaker should the two teams finish tied for first.
Reeve and her players expect a much tighter game Wednesday night.
“Things are going to tighten up rather quickly,” forward Rebekkah Brunson said. “Maybe [Wednesday], maybe in L.A. … Maybe in the playoffs. The matchups are so interesting.’’
Like the Lynx, the Sparks have a star at nearly every position. The Sparks have the frontcourt of Candice Parker and Nneka Ogwumike — a power forward who has proved a matchup problem for Minnesota. The Lynx counter with Brunson and Janel McCarville. The Sparks have wing players Kristi Tolliver and Alana Beard, the Lynx have Augustus and Maya Moore. Point guards Lindsey Harding and Lindsay Whalen run their respective teams.
Of those 10 starters, seven were on the Western Conference All-Star team, with Parker emerging as the game’s MVP. She and Moore have emerged as leading candidates for league MVP honors.
The WNBA schedule has kept the two teams apart for two months. Both teams have had hiccups. The Sparks lost three of four games in a stretch that ended in early August, but they have gone 9-2 since. The Lynx lost three in a row in mid-August but have gone 5-1 since.
Both teams appear to be peaking at the right time.
“It’s a test of wills,” Reeve said. “Are they going to win their style of play or are we going to win our style of play? I suspect it will be a very spirited game. And I’d be surprised if it didn’t come down to some end-of-game situations.”