WNBA Playoff Preview
Who will reign victorious in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs?
by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup
The Playoffs are finally here. Everything else that happened earlier in the season is forgotten as these teams embark on a fresh journey. This year has easily been one of the most exciting in recent memory, with more star power than possibly ever before in the league.
There is no clear-cut “best” team in the WNBA or favorite this postseason. The great balance throughout the league has left the door open for some dramatic finishes. SLAMonline is here to give you our picks on the first round series.
CONNECTICUT SUN VS NEW YORK LIBERTY
The Sun look to turn a new leaf this year, as the last three years they have came into the postseason as the 1-seed, and have been upset. Connecticut is led by Olympic Gold medalist Tina Charles, who is having a career year down low, averaging 19 points and a league-leading 10.5 rebounds per contest. Kara Lawson is also playing the best basketball of her career (due in part to being healthy for the first time in years), with averages of 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game.
The Liberty have rebounded after a tough first half of the season, by mixing up their starting five and getting healthy bodies in the frontcourt. The Liberty are led by Cappie Pondexter, who has been a dominant force this year with averages of 20 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Essence Carson has also been solid this year in her starting role averaging close to 12 points and 3 rebounds per game.
Key Matchup: Plenette Pierson vs Tina Charles
The Liberty go with a frontcourt by committee approach with a steady rotation of Kia Vaughn and Kara Braxton, but the X-factor is grizzled vet Plenette Pierson. Pierson is a versatile forward who can knock down the 15 footer, yet is willing to mix it up and bang down low. She is the obvious candidate to matchup with Charles, and will look to slow her down on the offensive end as well as make her work some on the other side of the floor. With that being said, Tina Charles for any player has just been a handful to guard. Tina has done a great job running the floor and getting easy looks, and when you foul her she makes you pay at the line shooting close to 80 percent.
Prediction: Sun in 3
ATLANTA DREAM VS INDIANA FEVER
The Fever have been on cruise control all year it seems, as the veterans have kept this team on point as they pulled a 2-seed in the East. They are led by last years MVP Tamika Catchings, who has improved her numbers from last year across the board. Katie Douglas has been quietly putting together quite a year for the Fever averaging close to 17 points while shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc this year.
The Atlanta Dream started off the year slow but have found their way as the season progressed. The Dream are lead by the WNBA’s leading scorer in Angel McCoughtry who unstoppable in transition. Sancho Lyttle loves to mix it up as well, and in the half court they throw the ball down low to her and allow her to create.
Key Matchup: Lindsey Harding vs Briann January
Briann plays the game at one speed: fast. Against many teams, her tempo wouldn’t be a problem for the Fever, but Indiana does not want to get in a track meet with the Dream. January will need to slow it down and focus on another strength of her game, which is getting to the rim at will. Former No. 1 pick Lindsey Harding is a perfect fit for this system and will look to attack and spoon feed her crafty bigs in transition for easy layups. I believe this series will be a come out party for Harding.
Prediction: Dream in 3
L.A. SPARKS VS SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS
The Sparks have been amazing this year. L.A. is almost unstoppable at home posting an amazing 16-1 record. They are led by MVP candidate Candace Parker, who is one of the hardest covers in the league. Rookie Nneka Ogwumike has made a smooth transition to the league averaging 14 points and close to 8 rebounds per game this year.
San Antonio was one of the hottest teams in the WNBA at points in the season this year. They are led by their star wing player Sophia Young, who has lived at the rim this year. San Antonio has been a dominant half court team and will maximize each possession, making them a hard out this year. The Silver Stars have the Sparks number this year, winning 3 out of 4 matchups, so it seems they have the answers to the questions that many don’t have in stopping L.A.
Key Matchups: Becky Hammon vs Kristi Tolliver
This may be the most fun matchup to watch this postseason. Hammon is a grizzled vet who has endless range on her jumper and is a willing passer averaging over 5 assists per contest. Kristi Tolliver is having a breakout year for the Sparks. The team has a balanced starting five and Tolliver does a great job keeping everyone involved in the game as well. Kristi shoots close to 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from behind the arc, so she can score at any given moment. It will be interesting to see how Hammon will play Tolliver off the pick and roll with Parker, as Tolliver has her game clicking on all cylinders right now.
Prediction: L.A. sweeps
MINNESOTA LYNX VS SEATTLE STORM
The defending champs look to start their journey to back to back with a dominant effort against the Storm. The Lynx are led by the dynamic duo of Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore. The former Lady Huskie has found her game in the second half of the season on the offensive end. She has also been a beast on the boards, averaging 6 per game.
The Seattle Storm look to wash away the back-to-back dreams of the Lynx this post season. The Storm have a dynamic duo of their own with Sue Bird and one of the league’s best centers in Lauren Jackson. We are just starting to see the full product of the Storm this year as Jackson missed the early goings due to Olympic play with her native country Australia. Seattle fans will hope that Lauren is ready to take her game to another level this postseason for them to have a chance.
Key Matchup: Lauren Jackson vs Taj McWilliams-Franklin / Rebekkah Brunson
Brunson’s game is super aggressive, and she’s relentless on the boards. She and Taj both know their roles and play them well for the Lynx. There are a couple questions as to whether Jackson has shaken off the rust and really begun to gel with this new look Storm. If we get the Jackson of old, the Lynx may be in for a long ride, because Jackson is just a handful down low and they will be forced to double. If Jackson plays up to her potential she may be able to level the playing field for the Storm in this series.
Prediction: Lynx in 3