You would be hard-pressed to find two teams as evenly matched as the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, which is why it’s fitting that they are playing each other for a WNBA championship.
With the new playoff format, two teams from the same conference are facing off for a championship; however, when it comes down to who will come out on top? It’s nearly impossible to predict who will hoist that trophy.
In their three meetings this season, the Lynx won two while the Sparks won one. In fact, the first time these two teams played each other, another piece of history was made -- it was the first time in American professional sports where two teams faced off with at least ten wins apiece and zero losses.
History being made really surprising when you look at the personnel on both teams. There are some key match-ups to watch out for as we progress through this five game series. Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike was just named league MVP, while the league defensive player of the year is Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles.
Fowles and Ogwumike offer one of the premier match-ups in the league, despite their size difference. Given their individual season accolades, a win or a loss for either team could come down to this match-up.
But perhaps the battle most people will be paying attention to is between two juggernauts. For the first time in their careers, Maya Moore and Candace Parker will face off on the league’s biggest stage.
To say that both are instrumental in their teams’ success is an understatement. Moore averaged 24 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.8 apg. Parker posted even better stats for the Sparks, contributing 25.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg and 4.6 apg.
Moore obviously knows what it’s like to get to the top of the mountain, and is driven to reach the summit again. Oftentimes, in playoff situations, experience is essential in overcoming adversity. And while Moore has all of the skills and then some, her experience in winning three WNBA championships is what is most valuable.
But for Parker, the motivations are different. She has never won a WNBA championship and experienced a year filled with tribulations, including not making the Olympic roster and the death of her college coach, the legendary Pat Summitt. This could be the perfect storm of circumstances for Parker to take over when it matters most.
The comparisons don’t stop there. Each team has three former No. 1 overall draft picks (Ogwumike, Parker and Ann Wauters for the Sparks. Moore, Seimone Augustus and Janel McCarville for the Lynx.)
And of course watching Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve and Los Angeles head coach Brian Agler face off is like witnessing a strategic chess match. These two top basketball minds will work on any given night to try and give their team any slight advantage to come out on top.
However, given the stats comparison between LA and Minnesota, that’s going to be tougher than it sounds.
The Lynx had the best offensive and defensive net rating in the league. The Sparks had the second best. And while the Sparks lost some efficiency points after the Olympic break, they still hold the number one league rankings in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage.
But perhaps the most illuminating stat other than shooting is both teams’ assist numbers. The Sparks and Lynx are first and second in the league, respectively. That’s because they both have depth and play team basketball. This is what led to their final seeding when the regular season came to an end. Both have so many weapons; teams essentially have to pick their poison.
Ultimately, the winner will come down to this one question: Who can play well when the going gets tough?
September 6th gave us a clash between these two top teams that ultimately determined their playoff seeding. Neither team played particularly stellar, and Reeve even acknowledged this after the game. Yet, Minnesota still found a way to win (on the Sparks home floor no less).
So when it comes to personnel and stats, the Lynx and Sparks are in a dead heat. Each game will come down to composure and intangibles. Whoever can do the best when it comes to the mental game will be your 2016 WNBA champions.