This is going to be a long post, but it's very in depth.
The playoffs are just around the corner. Today marks the second day of September, also known as Labor Day. Most businesses are closed and many people have off work. Not the WNBA. With less than twenty days until the playoffs, teams are hoping to get the playoffs spots they want. And for the Los Angeles Sparks and the Atlanta Dream on this Labor Day, that playoff spot is in sight. These teams will take the court against each other today at 6pm ET. The Sparks are just one game behind the Minnesota Lynx for the top seed in the West, while the Dream are six games behind the first place Chicago Sky, who have run off with the Eastern Conference title. So the focus for the Dream now turns to seeding. They are just a game ahead of Washington and a game and a half in front of Indiana.
As the season comes to an end, my predictions for the Finals are shaping up. Surprisingly, my predictions are the same as they were in the beginning of the year. Here they are:
Los Angeles Sparks
I've mentioned in other blog posts that I am a huge Sparks fan, so this choice may be a bit bias. But I have a way to back up my choice. The talk has always been about Minnesota's big three (Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Semoine Agustus), but what about LA's big three? Do the names Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Kristi Toliver ring a bell? They've been carrying a majority of the scoring load for the Sparks this year. Together they are averaging 46.4 points per game (Candace: 17.9, Nneka: 14.3, Kristi: 14.2) and 18.6 rebounds per game. Toliver averages 3.2 assists per game and, surprisingly enough, Parker is averaging 3.7.
Those are impressive statistics, but that's only the beginning to the Spark's success. Alana Beard and Lindsay Harding, the two to join Parker, Ogwumike, and Toliver in the starting lineup, have been contributing as well. Beard is a superb defender while Harding provides the Sparks with a true point guard, which they've been missing since Ticha Penicheiro retired.
The Sparks basically have an eight player rotation. Marissa Coleman, Ebony Hoffman, and Jantel Lavender come off the bench and give quality minutes. Lavender showed that she could play at the beginning of August when Parker missed three games because of a wrist injury. Lavender was putting up Parker caliber numbers and earning more minutes in later games. Coleman has also been contributing by stretching the defense with her 3-point shot. And Hoffman can hold her own on the post as well as hit a shot from the outside.
I think the Sparks are a Finals contender because they play as a team; a whole team.
Last year's runner-ups have a good chance of making it back. Ever since they drafted Maya Moore first back in 2011, the Lynx have been on a rise. They made it to the Finals in Moore's first year and defeated the Atlanta Dream in three straight, close games in order to secure the championship. Last year was another great year for the Lynx which found them in the Finals again. This time with a much different outcome. They lost to the Indiana Fever in four games and weren't able to complete the repeat.
The Lynx look like a strong team once again this year. Their big three (Moore, Whalen, and Agustus) have been playing exceptionally well. Together they average 49.7 points per game. Whalen is dishing out 5.7 assists per game which is fourth in the league.
But these three aren't the only players who are producing for the Lynx. Rebekkah Brunson has been a solid post player for the Lynx once again. She averages 10.6 points per game and pulls down almost 9 rebounds per game, one shy of averaging a double-double. She's been pushed out of the spotlight so to speak, because of how the big three are playing. But she's still working hard and getting the job done for the Lynx.
If they can keep up momentum, the Lynx may be back in the Finals for the third straight year.
To be honest, I don't see any other team representing the East in the Finals. The Sky have proven that they are a contender over the past couple of months. With the acquisition of Elena Delle-Donne, the team has flourished. They're boasting their best record yet and have clinched the top seed in the East and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
After going 14-20 for the past three seasons, the Sky have finally found their touch. They boast a 21-8 record, a complete turn around from last year. Most of that turn around can be accredited to rookie Elena Delle-Donne. She's flourished in Chicago under Pokey Chatman's system. She's averaging 18.3 points per game which is good enough for fourth in the league.
It's impressive to watch her play because of how poised she is. She's still getting double and triple teamed as she was in college, but it's much more intense in the WNBA. These are the best athletes in women's basketball and Delle-Donne keeps finding ways to get around them. In her young career in the league, she has only scored in single digits once. In the 25 games she's played in this year, she scored in double digits in 23 of them. And in 12 of those games, she scored 20 or more points. Those are some serious stats for a rookie. She has a great chance of winning Rookie of the Year as well as the league MVP award.
But Delle-Donne cannot be accredited with the whole of Chicago's success. Epiphany Prince, Sylvia Fowles, and Courtney Vandersloot have also become huge contributors to the team's success. They are basically the three who led the team last year. They've continued having success this year and have really flourished with the addition of Delle-Donne.
So basically there are two matchups I can see in the Finals:
Minnesota vs. Chicago
Los Angeles vs. Chicago
The last games of the regular season will be played on September 15th. Once those are finished we'll know exactly what the seeding will be and then the playoffs will begin. I can't wait to watch the playoffs this year. It'll be an interesting year.