Sunday, September 7, 2008

Seeing Stars

Greetings from Mohegan Sun Arena, where in a few minutes the Sun and San Antonio Silver Stars square off. San Antonio, already assured a playoff berth, dropped into second in the West late Saturday night after Seattle dealt Minnesota's postseason hopes a blow. That doesn't really change the fact that today's meeting is a possible WNBA finals preview and is important as far as homecourt advantage goes through the entirety of the playoffs.

Both teams are 20-10, and as discussed in today's story , they're actually quite similar. They both have a play-maker and MVP candidate at point guard, a frontcourt full of players who are likely to go outside as much as in and they're two of the league's deepest teams, the Sun boasting a bench six-people long and San Antonio rolling out Ruth Riley and at times this season, Erin Buescher, who is starting today. (Check the bottom of this post for full lineups.)

"The fact of the matter is they don’t have a (Sylvia) Fowles or (Lisa) Leslie that backs you down deep in the game," Sun coach Mike Thibault said of the Silver Stars. "Their post players are versatile like ours. They can step up and shoot. They run a lot of pick and rolls. We’re pretty similar teams in how we play."

Some other notes for today's game:

(1) Despite featuring a lineup with the 6-foot-4 Ann Wauters, 6-foot-5 Ruth Riley and 6-foot-1 Sophia Young, San Antonio ranks second to last in the league in rebounding differential (-3.1).

(2) The Silver Stars may have been the league’s deepest team before losing Shanna Crossley for the season. But they’re still capable of running out different types of lineups. In recent games, they’ve combined Riley, Wauters and either Young or Erin Buescher in the frontcourt for a bigger look. “It makes for tough match-ups,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said.

(3) The Sun have reached 20 victories for the third time as a franchise. All 20 of their wins this season have come when they’ve scored 70 points.

(4) During Connecticut’s seven-game win streak, its average margin of victory is 16.5 points.

(5) The Sun are asking fans to stay following today’s game to help break the Guinness World Record for greatest number of people to yo-yo simultaneously for two minutes. Every fan will receive a yo-yo prior to the game. The previous record of 435 was set in late July in the United Kingdom. The Sun are also hosting another “Pack the Place Pink” promotion to help raise breast health awareness. All fans are encouraged to wear pink to the game.

Also, with San Antonio's Becky Hammon and Sophia Young in the house today, it got me thinking about the MVP race. There have been lists posted all over the Internet for weeks now about who's leading the race (and here's an interesting look at it from a defensive standpoint), but I'm paring mine down to five. In no particular order, I believe the MVP will come from this group:

(1) Sue Bird (14.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 44.5 percent shooting): Notice I said I think the MVP will come from this group, not necessarily who my personal favorites are. That's not to say I don't like Bird, and she does have good enough numbers to garner consideration. But she's a fan favorite, the league would love to give it to her and her play since the Olympic break is putting her in the thick of the MVP discussion. Plus, when your team owns the league's best record (at least as of today), someone has to get consideration, and I can't see Lauren Jackson still in the mix.

(2) Lindsay Whalen (14.2 points, 5.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 47 percent shooting): I've written about Whalen all season, but here's why she's here: She's putting together a season that no one in league history has ever touched, as far as all-around play. Even with her injury and down numbers of late, I still think she gets the nod over Bird and Becky Hammon as the league's top point guard and possibly the MVP.

(3) Sophia Young (17.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 48 percent shooting): I give Young the nod over Hammon because she makes more an impact defensively and in my opinion, is the more dangerous offensive player. Sun fans (and those watching nationally on ABC) will get a good look at her match-up with Asjha Jones, who I think deserves heavy MVP consideration but I just can't see winning it with more popular choices at her position.

(4) Candace Parker (18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 blocks): The more I read about the MVP race, the more I find people trying to make a case for Parker not winning it. And as a rookie who isn't always taking the big shots late in games and is on a team with two other Olympians, they have a point. But Parker is the face of this league and if no one else, the combination of fans (who have 25 percent of the vote) and media who see her regularly will give her votes. Plus, her numbers have been pretty ridiculous. You can't deny that.

(5) Seimone Augustus (19.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 47 percent shooting): Minnesota has faded and is likely not going to make the playoffs, but no team probably relies more on a player on the court than the Lynx of Augustus. Plus, she has the numbers to back it up. There has been talk that Minnesota needs her to be more of a vocal leader, but as far as getting between the lines, she's having a great season.

A note: I don't think too many people who argue with these choices as there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut favorite at this point. But I guess I can defend why certain players didn't make it, namely Lisa Leslie (probably the Defensive Player of the Year but I can't see her getting the nod over her teammate Parker) and Diana Taurasi (great scorer, great talent, but I can't justify giving the MVP to a player on the last-place team).

A second note: With a Sun win and a New York loss to Chicago, the Sun are guaranteed homecourt advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. In that scenario, New York would be three games back of the Sun in the loss column with three games left on Connecticut's schedule.

And last but not least, starters:

G Lindsay Whalen
G Amber Holt
F Kerri Gardin
F Asjha Jones
C Tamika Whitmore

San Antonio
G Vickie Johnson
G Becky Hammon
F Erin Buescher
F Sophia Young
C Ann Wauters

Officials: Clarke Stevens, June Courteau, Cameron Inouye

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