Lynx and Sparks: Scoring machines collide in playoffs

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 4, 2012 - 4:25 PM

The Lynx and Sparks fill up the basket, so defense might decide which team goes to the WNBA Finals.

Roll out the red carpet. WNBA royalty is coming to Target Center.

The Los Angeles Sparks are in town to play the Lynx on Thursday in the first game of the best-of-three Western Conference finals.

The Sparks finished second to the Lynx in the West, three games back, but they are the most decorated team in the league.

Even WNBA.com gushes about L.A. Early this season the league's website called the Sparks "easily the most exciting team to watch" in its weekly power ratings.

For sure, the Sparks have star power.

Any L.A. scouting report starts with 6-4 Candace Parker. She was the league MVP and rookie of the year in 2008. Since then, the birth of her daughter, Lailaa, and shoulder and knee injuries have kept her from playing a full season until this year.

A healthy Parker was the player of the month in the West four times out of a possible five -- teammate Kristi Toliver won the award in August -- and player of the week five times. She finished second in the MVP voting to Connecticut center Tina Charles and is a cinch to make the all-WNBA first team when it is announced.

"She is not a player that one person can stop individually," Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson said. "We are going to have to do it as a team. Give each other help. There will be plenty of people on her. We will try to wear her down and do what we can to limit her touches."

Parker watched the Lynx beat Seattle on Tuesday night on her home TV. "Minnesota is a team that we definitely have to block out," Parker said. "Their second-chance points really hurt Seattle. We have to get those 50-50 balls. And we have to have a little bit of luck on our side. That's what it takes in the postseason -- everybody brings their best."

If that happens, the Lynx could be in trouble. Parker is surrounded by talented players, such as:

• Toliver, the Sparks' point guard, was recently named the league's most improved player. In her fourth pro season, the deadly three-point shooter averaged a team-leading 17.5 points -- one-tenth of a point more than Parker -- 4.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds, all career highs. "The thing that is most overlooked about Toliver," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, "because she shoots the three so well, is that she gets to the free-throw line the most on the team."

• Inside with Parker is 6-2 forward Nneka Ogwumike, a virtual lock for the rookie of the year. The No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft out of Stanford averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds. She was named rookie of the month four times.

• Alana Beard is the other guard. Lynx assistant Jim Petersen said Beard was the Sparks' MVP the second half of the season. She was a four-time All-Star and five-time member of the all-league defensive team playing in Washington. Now she has been reborn on the other coast after missing the past two seasons because of foot injuries.

• The fifth L.A. starter is 6-1 forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, a link to the Sparks' glory days. Milton-Jones played on L.A.'s championship teams in 2001 and '02 and is the second- leading scorer in team history. She is in the top 10 in WNBA history in points, rebounds, steals and games played. This is her 14th season; she has played in two All-Star games and seen it all.

"I am looking forward to the challenge of trying to stop L.A.," Reeve said. "We know that can be the separator, our defense.

"Both teams rebound the ball really well. Both teams like to fastbreak. A lot of similarities. Everything [with the Lynx and Sparks in statistical rankings] is one and two on the offensive side of things. So we've got to be really good defensively."

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