The WNBA playoffs get underway tonight, with Los Angeles hosting Phoenix and Atlanta hosting Washington.
As you might have seen in today’s paper, I predicted a couple upsets in the conference semifinal round. I think Indiana has a chance to upset Chicago and I think Washington will beat Atlanta.
Feel free to mock me if I’m wrong.
Of the two, Chicago losing is the most unlikely. They are very talented, they have two MVP candidates and they are healthy. But Indiana is getting healthier, too. Katie Douglas is back, having played in the Fever’s final two regular season games. Tamika Catchings (back), Briann January (shoulder) and Shavonte Zellous (personal) are all expected to play. I am a big admirer of Fever coach Lin Dunn. Her team is playoff-tested and their grind-it-out style is well-suited to the playoffs.
Remember what the Fever did, defensively, against the Lynx in last year’s WNBA finals? I look for the Fever to do much the same against Chicago. Remember, Chicago has never been in the playoffs before. Rookie Elena Delle Donne is in for a surprise here. The officials let a lot more go in the playoffs, whether you like it or not. I see the Fever escaping with a first-round win.
I think the other Eastern Conference series is harder to call. Both teams are 17-17. Atlanta has the league’s best scorer in Angel McCoughtry. But the Mystics – who had an incredible one-year turnaround after winning just five games last year – have a great coach in Mike Thibault. I think he and the Mystics will make it very difficult for McCoughtry and the Dream.
Meanwhile, in the other Western Conference series, I don’t think L.A. is going to run away from this. I still think the Sparks will win, but I think it will go three games. And I would not be stunned if Phoenix pulled the upset. Penny Taylor is back, and that’s huge. And the Sparks were vulnerable on the road this season. This will be a back-and-forth, high-scoring series. Will this be the time when rookie center Brittney Griner comes into her own?
On another topic, the MVP will be announced soon, and the Lynx have two of the top candidates for the award in Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen.
I think this is a very close race, simply because of the age-old debate as to what an MVP really is.
Here are the leading candidates, in my opinion, in alphabetical order:
Tamika Catchings, F, Indiana Fever
Elena Delle Donne, G/F, Chicago
Sylvia Fowles, C, Chicago
Angel McCoughtry, G/F, Atlanta
Maya Moore, F, Minnesota
Candace Parker, F/C, Los Angeles
Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix
Lindsay Whalen, G, Minnesota
So, then, what makes an MVP
If you go for the idea of pure talent, pure dominance, you have to go with McCoughtry or Taurasi, who finished one-two in the league in scoring. Both are wonderful talents, hard to stop. But McCoughtry’s team struggled down the stretch after a hot start and Taurasi’s team – highly-touted as a conference favorite entering the season – struggled for much of the year.
Moore, Delle Donne, Whalen, Fowles and Parker are members of the three teams with the best records in the WNBA this season. Delle Donne’s addition to the Chicago roster made the Sky a playoff team for the first time. She was among the league leaders in scoring, three-point shooting, blocks and rebounds. Moore filled up stat sheets, even more so after the All Star break. But all of these players were parts of deep rosters.
It’s a tough call. But here are my top picks for the MVP:
--Moore. She has taken it to another level. Her three-point shooting has been fantastic, her defense stellar, her scoring consistent. In her third year she has taken another step.
--Parker. Simply too dominant on too good a team to be ignored.
--Fowles. The league’s best center, in my opinion.
--Whalen. I’m very torn when it comes to deciding whether Whalen or Moore is the most valuable player on the Lynx roster. Whalen is coming off perhaps her best WNBA season, and the team would be lost offensively if she wasn’t on the team.
--McCoughtry. Too dynamic a scorer to ignore.
That’s about it for now. I’ll update this blog after