Mercury/Lynx: A Budding Rivalry?
The Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx are on top of the Western Conference standings, but does that make them rivals?
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Currently, the Phoenix Mercury sit on top of the Western Conference standings with a record of 10-4 record, while the Minnesota Lynx are tied with the San Antonio Silver Stars for second place with 9-4 records. Wednesday in Phoenix, the Lynx will travel to town to attempt to get some revenge against the Mercury after their first meeting of the season, a 112-105 win for Phoenix in Minnesota.
Games between the Mercury and Lynx are always high-scoring and entertaining, as six of the top twenty-five individual scorers in the league in 2011 are on the two rosters. Diana Taurasi ranks second in the WNBA with 19.3 points per game, while her teammate Penny Taylor ranks tenth with 15.9 points per contest. The Minnesota Lynx leading scorer is Seimone Augustus, who ranks 17th in the league at 15.2 points, followed by rookie Maya Moore in 19th place at 14.2 points. Lindsay Whalen ranks 21st at 13.8 and Rebekkah Brunson is 24th at 13.3 points per game.
There are always fireworks when these two teams meet up. Which begs the question: is there a potential rivalry brewing between the two teams now that the Minnesota Lynx are showing promise?
That question has been brought up a lot recently, so here are some thoughts in response.
What Do The Stats Say?
Since the rookie season of Seimone Augustus, the Mercury do hold a substantial edge over the Lynx in head-to-head matchups, leading 13-6 after their last win in Minnesota last week. Yet, at closer examination of those games, the scores are consistently close, showing that historically the Lynx have been able to keep up with the Mercury, only to come up short in crunch time. The Mercury are consistently in the playoffs, winning two championships and know how to perform in the clutch already, while the Lynx are still learning how to do so.
This season there are many similarities between the teams, making a potential rivalry seem appropriate. The style of play between the two teams is quite similar and they have had nearly the same amount of success this season, so the statistical similarities are not very surprising.
Minnesota ranks first in the WNBA in point differential so far this year at +7.70 points per game, while Phoenix ranks second at 7.15. For those not familiar with the stat, Minnesota averages 81.85 points and holds their opponents to 74.15 points per game, making for the differential of 7.70. Phoenix scores 92.29 points per game, while their opponents average 85.14 points, making for the differential of 7.15.
In short, the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury are defeating their opponents by the two largest margins of victories on average in the WNBA so far in 2011. They may lose a game here and there, but when they win, they win big.
Both Phoenix and Minnesota love to get out in transition and score the ball, but in order to do so, you have to rebound the ball well. The Lynx lead the WNBA in rebounding with 38.92 rebounds per game with a big portion of those going to somewhat under the radar MVP candidate Rebekkah Brunson and her 11.2 rebounds per game. Comparatively, Phoenix ranks third in the rebounding department, grabbing 35.43 boards per game with Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner combining for 14.2 boards per game.
The UConn Factor
Women’s college basketball is accepted by a much-larger fan base than the WNBA, although the professional league has the best of the best female players in the world. Whether someone follows women’s college basketball or not, they are most likely aware the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program has dominated for years. Casual fans and even those who are tempted to just give one game a shot know the names of some of UConn’s best, such as Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore.
Now that both the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx are contenders, they should be on national television as much as possible, especially now with the UConn connection. If ESPN or NBATV were to hype up games as a matchup of the two teams with two players that have risen to great heights in the public consciousness, the viewership may very well increase dramatically to see these female players they have come to know are dominant. To a certain degree, this can get new viewers and consumers in the door to give the WNBA a shot and, more than likely, it will be enough to keep their interest.
Quite simply, the Phoenix Mercury are two-time WNBA champions. The Minnesota Lynx have only achieved a playoff berth twice in their existence. As far as impact on the league to this point, Phoenix remains light-years ahead of Minnesota.
Statistical similarities may be present, but also show the difference between the two teams at this point. Both teams are leaders in the WNBA in both blocks and steals, but while Phoenix’s stats rise when on the road, the Lynx are focused on taking care of home court throughout the year. To illustrate the point, Minnesota averages a consistent 3.15 blocks at home or on the road so far this year, as well as 7.31 blocks at home with 6.23 on the road. Phoenix, on the other hand, finds their statistics on the rise when they hit the road. The Mercury average 3.86 blocks at home, as opposed to 4.21 on the road. They average 7.43 steals at home, compared to 8.21 on the road.
There is one statistic that stands out above the rest when determining if the similar play and historically fun games between these two teams can be considered a rivalry. That statistic is the outcome of head-to-head games and in that category, the Phoenix Mercury dominate. Since the beginning point of the Lynx rebuilding project—the rookie season of Seimone Augustus—the Mercury have won 13 of the 19 games between the teams. While many of the games were competitive throughout, the only thing that matters is coming away with the win. Therefore, it is impossible to overlook the dominance of this statistical fact.
What Does It Mean?
With four games remaining between Mercury and Lynx in the summer of 2011, Minnesota’s revamped and improved roster could potentially make up some of the gap of wins versus Phoenix. Even if the Lynx were to sweep the remaining games, it doesn’t matter until the teams meet in the playoffs, whether this year or some season coming soon. While there are many similarities between the teams this year and, by all indications, in the future, it cannot be considered a rivalry until Minnesota defeats the Mercury in the playoffs. Of course, winning a title or two to compare rings with Phoenix would also help their cause.
One thing is for sure: Wednesday night’s game should be another entertaining game. Since both teams are high in the Western Conference standings this season, it is also an important contest. Games like this with high quality players on each roster is the best of WNBA basketball.
I will be tweeting during the game, interacting with fans from both teams. Be sure to give me a follow on Twitter @stephenlitel and join the conversation. Chat with you Wednesday night, WNBA fans.