Are you craving some good basketball? With owners and the NBA Players Association still squabbling, or shall I say not even talking to one another, the reality of watching regular season hoops this fall is wishful thinking. And some skeptics believe, and rightfully so, that the NBA will likely scrap the entire 2011-12 slate of games. That’s some serious talk! Where are we going to turn to to fill our basketball fix?
I’ve got the answer right here… it’s called the WNBA Playoffs, and they’re just about to get underway.
I spent the entire summer watching the WNBA and carefully examining our hometown New York Liberty. I have to admit that after a thrilling 2010-11 NBA season and playoffs, I was ready for a letdown. I’m happy and relieved to say that the disappointment never came. The WNBA, the Liberty in particular, knocked me off of my chair (literally – thanks to Kia Vaughn who lunged into the seats for a loose ball) and once again proved its legitimacy in the male-dominated sports world.
But alas, I’m not writing here to defend the WNBA or women’s sports in this particular forum (hint, I will eventually). Instead, I’m going to try to break down the first round matchups of the WNBA Playoffs, which tip-off Thursday night. These are the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the top teams and players in the WNBA… are you excited yet?! Well, let’s get started:
No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 4 New York
Our Lady Liberty narrowly missed out on the third seed in the East, but earning a head-to-head matchup with the Fever isn’t all that bad. The two teams split the season series, 2-2, and the Liberty beat Indiana at the Prudential Center in the second to last game of the season. I’m picking the Liberty to win this series if and only if Cappie Pondexter gets help on the scoring end (I’m looking at you, Plenette Pierson and Nicole Powell), and if Tamika Catchings is held in check. In Indiana’s two wins, Catchings averaged more than 25 ppg. In New York’s two wins, Catchings was held to 11 ppg. I think the Libs know what to do. You can catch Game 1 on ESPN2 beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday night. Game 2, the only one at the Prudential Center is slated for Sept. 17 at 4 p.m. Internet users can watch that game on WNBA Live Access. Prediction: New York in three.
No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Atlanta
This is a very intriguing matchup simply because of the current hot streak that Atlanta has been riding. The Dream, the defending Eastern Conference champs, have won four in a row and are 10-2 in their last 12 games, including two wins over the Sun. Connecticut, however, issued one of those losses during Atlanta’s streak. The teams split their regular season series, and both squads boast top MVP candidates (Sun’s Tina Charles and Dream’s Angel McCoughtry). Against any other team, the Sun’s balance would prevail, but the Dream are on a roll and they’re not about to stop. Prediction: Atlanta in three.
No. 1 Minnesota vs. No. 4 San Antonio
The Lynx earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs following a record-breaking regular season in which they went 27-7. Even though highly-touted rookie Maya Moore grabs most of the national attention, the Lynx have firepower throughout their lineup. Seimone Augustus led the team in scoring, and Lindsay Whalen is one of the most overlooked point guards in the league. And let’s not forget the strength that Rebekkah Brunson brings to the lineup. San Antonio has been up and down all year and hasn’t shown the consistency needed to go very far in the playoffs. Becky Hammon can carry a team, but she won’t get very far against Whalen and the Lynx. Prediction: Minnesota in two.
No. 2 Seattle vs. No. 3 Phoenix
It doesn’t get any better than this for all of you UConn fans. Former Huskies Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi go to battle once again in a matchup pitting the top defensive team (Seattle) against the high octane offense of the Mercury. Seattle finally has Lauren Jackson back in the lineup, but she hasn’t reached midseason form yet. With her contributions still unknown, the pressure will be on Bird, Swin Cash and Katie Smith to help the Storm offense keep up with the Mercury. That is, of course, if the Mercury can get anything done against the stingy Seattle D. With Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Candace Dupree, one can conclude that scoring would be easy, but the Storm have historically shut down the Phoenix attack. This is a toss-up match, with very little separating the two teams. The Storm are hot, however, having won four straight and eight of the last nine heading into the playoffs. They also have the home-court advantage. Prediction: Seattle in three.
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