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Preview: Sparks-Lynx rivalry renews today — but first, Whalen’s jersey retired

The 2016 and 2017 finalists will face off today on ABC as the rivalry enters a new era. Before that, though, they’ll honor one of the Lynx’s best.

While Lindsay Whalen’s final Lynx team relied heavily on its veteran stars, today’s Lynx are defined by their balance between the new (rookie Jessica Shepard, left) and the old (11-year veteran Sylvia Fowles, right).
Courtesy of Minnesota Lynx via Twitter

Today’s game renews the best rivalry in recent WNBA history — but first, the Minnesota Lynx will be honoring one of their best.

Before taking on the Los Angeles Sparks, the Lynx will officially retire Lindsay Whalen’s number 13 jersey. Now the head coach for her alma mater Minnesota Golden Gophers, Whalen’s WNBA career highlights include a No. 1 ranking in regular-season wins, No. 3 in career assists, a host of Lynx franchise records, six All-Star Game selections (counting 2004’s The Game at Radio City) and, of course, four league championships — all won since joining the Lynx in 2010.

But then, there’s a game to be played. After meeting in two straight Finals, the Sparks and Lynx’s last postseason meeting rather unceremoniously took place in the first round of last season’s playoffs. The Sparks got the 75-68 win, then went on to lose to the Mystics in their next game.

This season, both teams are looking a lot different — not just from their 2016 and 2017 runs, but from last season, too. While the Lynx are still anchored by Sylvia Fowles, they’re also relying heavily on rookies Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard. The Sparks, meanwhile, are relying on the Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike tandem down low, in addition to giving rookies Marina Mabrey and Kalani Brown some solid minutes.

No matter how the rosters look, both these teams’ competitiveness should make this another classic, its place on ABC well-earned by this point. The Lynx have been the more dominant team this season so far, but the Sparks have had their own moments of brilliance. Minnesota has the advantage today in more ways than one, but Los Angeles should stay in the contest — if they don’t, it won’t exactly be an encouraging step looking forward to the rest of a difficult season.

Game information

Los Angeles Sparks (2-2) vs. Minnesota Lynx (4-1)

When: Saturday, June 8, at 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: ABC

Keys to the matchup: Both teams have been suffering from cold shooting lately, with one or two players stepping up to carry their team forward. In the Sparks’ Thursday loss to the Sun, it was the Ogwumikes’ combined 17-for-22 shooting performance on a night where the team shot 43.9 percent. For the Lynx, who shot 40.3 percent Thursday in a nail-biter win over Phoenix, it was Odyssey Sims’ 15 points and Lexie Brown’s career-high 12 points that pushed them to the win. But the Ogwumikes won’t always have standout scoring performances, and the Lynx shouldn’t have to rely on career-best nights to stay in games (nor should the Sparks). While the bones for consistency are there on both sides, it’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out in today’s high-pressure contest.