Column: Is the field catching up to the Lynx and Sparks?

Photo Credit: Courtney Pedroza/Minneapolis Star-Tribune

The last pair of WNBA seasons have concluded in memorable Finals between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks with both series going the distance of five games.

Ask pundits and prognosticators throughout WNBA circles, and they are practically already telling fans in Southern California and the Land of 10,000 Lakes to start printing out Finals tickets for Lynx/Sparks Part III.

A primary storyline of the 2018 WNBA season will be if any of the other 10 teams can break the stranglehold that the Sparks and Lynx have established on the rest of the league.

The WNBA’s updated playoff format does not make things too easier on those other ten teams looking to knock Minnesota and Los Angeles off their respective perches as the top of the W’s food chain. It practically gives a plethora of meaning to the regular season along with the elimination of conferences as a factor in playoff seeding.

All Minnesota and Los Angeles have to do is win more games than the rest of the field and they are already penciled into the playoff semifinals. And barring any unforeseen circumstances, both will be heavy favorites to win their respective semifinal matchups.

If the offseason and draft was any guide, the 2018 season has a chance to be – at least – the first steps of a changing of the guard in the WNBA. While the Los Angeles Sparks did improve with the signing of Cappie Pondexter, the Lynx lost Jia Perkins and Plenette Pierson to retirement as well as Renee Montgomery to the Atlanta Dream.

As long as the Lynx still maintain their core which includes Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota is still going to be in contention.

If it is anything we know about basketball – either on the women’s or men’s side – it is that veteran-laden teams are the ones that win championships. That’s part of the reason why the Sparks and Lynx have had so much success as of late – both are veteran-laden teams with experienced coaches and rosters with all the playoff pedigree in the world.

So, when looking at teams that have the best chance to dethrone either the Lynx or Sparks, look at the teams that have veteran talent.

The Washington Mystics have that.

The Phoenix Mercury have that.

The New York Liberty have that.

The Dallas Wings are slowly, but surely, developing that.

The Seattle Storm still have Sue Bird.

And the Atlanta Dream are getting back their signature player in Angel McCoughtry along with the Montgomery signing, that great draft they had, plus a new coach (Nikki Collen) that came from the Curt Miller coaching tree in Connecticut.

Oh, and speaking of those Connecticut Sun. Last season for the Sun was as successful a year a team can have without winning the championship at the end of the year. They are still relatively young both in terms of their team and in terms of their playoff experience, but if the Sun’s 2017 was any indication, a case can be made that they are the Lynx or Sparks of the future.

That youth for now is their Achilles heel in terms of their championship prospects for now, but give it a couple more years and the Sun should finally capitalize on a future that, right now, is as bright as their name and logo.

That is just one of the many reasons to watch the WNBA. The parity in the league appears to be on the rise. And lots of teams made improvements this past offseason via free agency and the draft.

So, for now – the potentially smart picks are indeed on another Finals between the Lynx and Sparks. One can even make an argument to say that the Sparks would be the favorite if the Finals were to be held today.

But basketball games are not played on paper or on online columns. They are played on hardwood and if the last two Finals are any indication, one can have a list of reasons to pick either Minnesota or Los Angeles and all of those reasons would be completely valid.

But while the Lynx and Sparks still remain ahead of everyone else, both teams would be remiss if they did not check their rear and side mirrors. Because the objects may very well be closer than they appear.



By: Akiem Bailum (@AkiemBailum on Twitter, Instagram)

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