Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tyus Jones, USA 16 & U Sweep Worlds

The USA Basketball 16 & under boys swept five games and the gold medal at the FIBA Americas 2011 championships. Tyus Jones, Apple Valley HS, was the team's back-up point guard, playing about 17 minutes per game, and led the team with 28 assists (5.6 per game).

USA scored 100 points or more in every game and averaged 108 to their opponents' 66.

Jones scored in double-figures just once, with 10 points against Argentina. He scored 23 overall or 4.6 per game. He shot 11-for-20 FG, but 11-for-16 on 2s as opposed to 0-for-4 on 3s.

Five players averaged in double figures. Aaron Gordon of San Jose Archbishop Mitty HS was the statistical star of the team with 17 ppg on better than 66 percent shooting, plus 11 boards, almost 5 assists and better than 3 blocks per game, though Jabari Parker of Chicago Simeon scored 15 ppg and was named the tournament MVP. Jahlil Okafor of Chicago Whitney Young scored just under 15 points on 71 percent shooting, Theo Pinson of Oakridge Military Academy 11.5 and Justin Jackson of Spring (TX) Home School Christian Youth Association 10.

Overall the 16 & unders shot 54 percent to their opponents 38. The US routed Argentina inthe final 104-64.

Other Men's Teams

Meanwhile, the men's 19 & unders lost a pair of exhibitions to Lithuania, but hammered Egypt 115-60 to start the world championships. Joe Jackson of Memphis, TN, and the U. of Memphis and Doug McDermott of Ames, IA, and Creighton, have scored in double figures in all 3 games. The 19 & unders renew action today vs. Serbia.

Then there's a World University Games team that will open training camp in late July. 22 players have been invited to the camp including the Gophers' Trevor Mbakwe, formerly of Henry Sibley and St. Bernard's HS, and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor of Bloomington, MN, and formerly Benilde HS.

Finally, in April a U.S. Junior Select team defeated a World Junior Select team 92-80.Bismack Biyombo of the Congo and the World team, who more recently was a lottery pick in the NBA draft, was the star with 12 points, 11 boards and a record 10 blocks for the 1st triple-double in the 14 year history of the game. Austin Rivers of Winter Park, FL, the high school player of the year, led the US with 20 points. 3 of the US' 10 players will attend Kentucky this fall.

Women's Teams

The 19 & under women are the featured team among the US women in 2011, as is the case with the men. 5 of the 12 women on the roster will be attending the U. of Connecticut in the fall, including player of the year Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from Mater Dei HS in Anaheim, CA.

The 19 & unders beat Brazil 49-37 in an exhibition June 5 as Elizabeth Williams scored 15 points and Breanna Stewart 11. The two also led in rebounds with 6 and 7 and blocks with 5 apiece. Stewart is among the UConn recruits while Williams is heading to Duke.

World championship play begins on July 21.

Like Tyus Jones and the 16 & under men, the 16 & under women also won the championship of the Americas with a perfect 5-0 record. The Gold Medal game was played June 18, with the US hammering Brazil 73-40.

Rebecca Greenwell (Owensboro, KY, 15.6 ppg), Mercedes Russell (Springfield, OR, 11.6) and Stephanie Mavunga (Indianapolis, IN, 10.6) averaged in double figures. Russell led with 11.4 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. Linnae Harper of Chicago Whitney Young was the assist and steal leader with 17 of each.

Meanwhile, 14 women have been named finalists for the US team for the World University Games--3 from Notre Dame, and 2 each from Stanford and Tennessee.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rostampour to St. Cloud

Has anybody reported that Mike Rostampour, former Henry Sibley standout, will be playing for the St. Cloud State Huskies starting this fall? Many thought Rostampour to be a D1 prospect out of high school, but the right offer never came along, and he ended up going the junior college rout. Now comes word that he will be playing at St. Cloud.

The Huskies figure to be rebuilding after losing the 2 stars of their 2009 D2 Final Four entry--post Matt Schneck, class of 2009, and guard Trevor Witt, class of 2010.

Rostampour's energy, intensity and strength will be assets for the St. Cloud program. The question is whether a team for whom Rostampour is the best player can be a contender. I haven't seen Mike play since high school, of course, (he attended a JC in Texas), but his skills are perhaps such that he'll need a pretty solid sidekick (preferably a scorer) for the Huskies to return to NSIC championship and D2 Final Four contention. Still, he's a great addition to what has been a sound program and should remain so as long as coach Kevin Schlagel is pulling the strings.

Timberwolves Back to Reality

The Timberwolves had a big week, but wouldn't you know that doesn't include a single win on the court. It was all in the realm of hope and potential. But you know what hope and potential have gotten the Wolves so far.

Still, David Kahn would probably say (and probably will say at some point) that the Wolves roster continues to improve. The latest upgrades, we hope, include Ricky Rubio over Jonny Flynn, and Derrick Williams over, well, not-Derrick Williams, not to mention Brad Miller over Darko Milicic.

But if Kahn has been accused in the past of an infatuation with point guards, now it's forwards. Add Williams to Kevin Love and Michael Beasley and you still may not have a small forward in the bunch.

So the Wolves depth chart has now settled and it looks like this.

C- Milicic and Miller, or Miller and Milicic
PF- Love and Williams
SF- Beasley and/or Williams and Martell Webster
PG- Rubio and Luke Ridnour
SG- Wesley Johnson and Wayne Ellington

How exactly this team will be any better than the ones that won 15 and 17 games the past 2 years remains to be demonstrated. OK, sure, Milicic and Miller is better than Milicic and Pekovic. And maybe Love, Beasley and Johnson will be better, and Webster healthier, and maybe Anthony Randolph has a breakout (taking playing time away from Love, Beasley and Williams?). How exactly do the pieces fit together even if, as Kahn has said, the "roster" is better. Does that make the team better?

The fact is the only thing that makes the Wolves categorically better is Rubio and Williams, and they're not going to do that in 2011-2012. No way. Too young, too green, too much to learn. So for the moment it probably comes down to Beasley becoming a more mature, consistent, reliable fellow. And that might be worth 5 wins.

So hope and potential is better than the lack thereof. But both will take time to come to fruition and it's already been an awfully long time since the Wolves were worth a damn. And by the time Rubio and Williams are ready to contribute, Kevin Love might be a free agent looking for someplace with a little bit of a winning attitude to play.

Well, I guess I should add that the second cause for hope is the possibility that Kurt Rambis was a worse coach than you even think, and a competent coach can boost these guys on to another plane. But you're also left to ponder the fact that the fellow who hired Rambis will be doing the hiring again this year.

Bottom line: If the dust has really cleared and the roster now is what it is, and assuming the coach is not gonna be the second coming of Bill Musselman? 22 wins.

Lynx Back to Reality

The big "statement" came earlier than expected. But the Lynx gave one back last night at home, losing 75-72 to Indiana. So at 5-3 and in 3rd place in the West, just one-half game away from dropping out of the playoffs, the Lynx are back to square one, trying once again to prove that they belong in the championship conversation.

On the bright side: The Lynx are consistently winning the possession game, hitting the offensive boards and limiting turnovers. But that by itself isn't enough. They still have to out-shoot their opponents to win. If they have the higher FG percentage, they win, and if they don't, they lose. They dominated the possession game against the Fever, and lost.

And so, on the other side: They're a terrible 3-point shooting team and a terribly inconsistent FT shooting team. The 2-point shooting has been good, well, except for half of the loss at Seattle and most of the way against the Fever.

Here's the way the numbers stacked up. The Lynx were +13 on the offensive boards but had 1 additional turnover. So they got off 74 shots versus just 59 for Indiana. And so the Lynx made 30 FG to 27, despite being out-shot 46 percent to 40 percent. Usually that's a recipe for victory. Get more shots and keep the FG percentage at least close.

But Indiana made 8-of-18 3s (44 percent) to 3-of-10 (30 percent) for the Lynx. And Indiana also made 16-of-18 FT (89 percent) to the Lynx' 12-of-19 (63 percent). 15 extra FG attempts but only 1 extra point, and 1 extra FG attempt for a deficit of 4. Not good.

Lynx guards Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen were the chief culprits, shooting a combined 9-for-29.

The real problem was down the stretch. The Lynx had played poorly but had managed to struggle to a 67-61 lead at 7:12. It looked like a tough and somewhat uninspired win at that point, especially being at home. Instead, the Lynx defense retired early and allowed the Fever to make ALL of their final 6 FG attempts and to score on 8 of their final 11 possessions.

The Lynx, meanwhile, made just 3-of-12 FG down the stretch, all 3 of them by Rebekah Brunson. And there were 2 devestating turnovers, both by Mya Moore. Augustus missed her last 4 shots.

The loss might have been a bit unlucky or maybe the Lynx are lacking in mental toughness, but either way Indiana would not have won this game--nor even been in position to win--but for a couple of key buckets. The Lynx had fought back from a 29-18 deficit to lead 41-38 when Jessica Davenport hit a 2 at 0:00.5 to make it a 1-point game. Then, the Lynx had pulled out to 49-44 and 56-52 and 60-53 leads when Zellous hit a 3 at 0:00.4 of the 3rd to pull the Fever within 60-56.

Even so, the Lynx started the 4th period with a 7-5 edge for that 67-61 lead, but Indiana closed on a 17-8 run.

At this stage, the Lynx have yet to establish a real identity. Initially (and surprisingly) it was Brunson who was the Lynx' MVP, tying a WNBA record with 6 double-doubles to start the season. Defenses have adjusted to her now and nobody is quite filling the "go-to," MVP type of role. Augustus is the veteran scorer who would seem most likely to fill the role but last night she played well below that level. Meanwhile, Moore is obviously the future star and led the way last night with 21 points, but those 2 turnovers go to her lack of experience at this level. Those plays that worked in college aren't always gonna work here. And her big play ability has been more opportunistic than otherwise, meaning it doesn't tend to come when most needed. She isn't so good just yet that she can turn it on. But, of course, who can? Well, Maya Moore is expected to do so. But in 2011? Time will tell.

The Lynx' fate in 2011 probably rests in Moore's hands. Brunson remains a force and will tie up a lot of the opponent's interior defense, though the Lynx posts are not the sort of people who can capitalize on the relative inattention to them. So it's up to Augustus or Moore, and so far neither one can be described as a WNBA MVP candidate or even a reliable "go-to" scorer at crunch time.

The really scary thought is that by the time Moore is playing at that level, Taj and Seimone and Lindsay may all half lost a half-step. And whenever the whole crew is at their cumulative peak--almost surely this year or next--the whole enterprise might be torpedoed by weak leadership and the inability to develop a consistent and reliable rotation that leverages the Lynx overall roster fully enough. Meaning you've got a tired starting 5 in there at the end of the game.

The Lynx have some nice talent, but it's not so good that it can overcome poorly conceived and/or executed game plans.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lynx "Statement" Comes Early

If the Minnesota Lynx were going to become WNBA title contenders, as many anticipated, then sooner or later there would be a "statement" game in which they would declare themselves as such. Well, not that soon!

But they wasted no time at all, humbling the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm, in Seattle no less, in the 3rd game of the year for each team. The Lynx ran out to an astonishing 50-24 half-time lead and stretched it to 58-30 before the Storm came, er, storming back to within 71-62 at 1:46 and 74-67 at :41. The Storm outscored the Lynx 35-17 in the 4th quarter, but it wasn't enough and the Lynx had made their statement, 81-74.

Then they avoided a let-down at home against 1-4 Atlanta, pulling away from a 39-all half-time tie to win 96-85.

This Week

They'll have to avoid a let-down twice this week and in the WNBA's quirky scheduling they'll have to do so today at Atlanta and next Friday again at Seattle. Beating Atlanta twice in a row, back-to-back, home-and-home sounds tough enough. But Seattle again? In Seattle? The Storm will have to be bigger favorites than they were last week.

Last Week

The Lynx shocked the world, scoring 22 points at Seattle before the Storm got on the scoreboard. Lynx fans were doubly shocked, and have continually been shocked, to see that on this star-studded roster Rebekah Brunson is the obvious team MVP so far. She scored 9 of those 22 points and pulled down 6 boards, 3 on each end of the court, in the first 7 minutes. By half-time she had 18 points and 8 boards, Lindsay Whalen had 7 and 8 assists and Seimone Augustus had 7 points.

The 3rd quarter was about even and the 4th proved to be much more exciting than the Lynx would have preferred. But beating the Storm in Seattle by any score was, well, a "statment," so we'll leave it at that.

Then came the Dream, but it was the Lynx who looked to be in a dream, trailing by as many as 6 in the 1st quarter and 5 in the 2nd. Atlanta still led 43-41 at 8:22 of the 3rd when the Lynx took charge with a 13-0 run. Atlanta cut the lead to 2 late in the 3rd and the Lynx ran off 9 more unanswered points. The, finally, with the Lynx up 88-82 at 1:13, a 6-0 run put it away.

The 3 2nd half spurts added up to a 28-0 edge. During those 3 runs, 7 Lynx scored and each of the 7 contributed at least 1 assist, rebound or steal. Augustus scored 8 with 2 boards, Brunson 7 with a board and a steal, Whalen 5 with a steal. In fact, it was back-to-back-to-back steals by Maya Moore, Brunson and Whalen that kicked off the 1st and most crucial of the 3 runs.

The Lynx shot over 50 percent in both games (though as of yet they appear to be a poor 3-point shooting team [1-for-10 against Atlanta]), but lost the possession game both times. Seattle had both more offensive boards (11-5) and fewer turnovers (11-13). Atlanta had an alarming 15 offensive boards which helped offset their 18 turnovers.

So as of today, it's a little early to count one's chickens--statement or no. Winning at Atlanta is not a given and winning at Seattle again seems highly improbable. Still it's probably time to revise (upward) my previous estimates of Lynx victories--10 by the end of July and 21 at the end of the season.

Final NBA Draft Preview

All you people who are still reading all about Enes Kantor? Forget it.

Once upon a time, I thought the Wolves would take Kantor with the 3rd or 4th pick.

Now? The Wolves have their best pick ever at #2! It's a two-man draft, with Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams being the only two sure things. And the Wolves now have signed the elusive Ricky Rubio, the man (the boy?) David Kahn wanted as his 1. So all of the suspense has gone out of the NBA draft, which occurs on Thursday.

There are only 2 scenarios.

1) Cleveland takes Irving, a point guard. We take Williams, a combo forward, or

2) Cleveland takes Williams, we, ah, we, er, umm, we.... Well, maybe not all of the suspense is not gone out of the NBA draft, not even for the Wolves. But the likelihood that Cleveland takes Williams is regarded as slim to none. They need a 1 almost bad as we did before signing Ricky.

Still, the possibility exists that when David Kahn's turn comes up (nobody helps David Kahn decide who to draft!), the best athlete available will be Irving. What do you do? Well, maybe you trade the #2 for Pau Gasol. But more likely, you don't have any sort of prior arrangement fully ironed out. So you pick Irving, and you trade him later.

Personally, I'd grab Irving and trade Rubio, but I guess that's just me. I mean, here's a guy who is scoring about 6 1/2 points, with 4 assists and 3 boards in the European League. (Well, that is to say, about 6 points, 4 assists and 3 boards in the Spanish League, and 6 1/2, 4 and 3 in the Euro League. With FG percentages of 32 and 31, respectively, this past year. 32 and 31 percent. Think about it.) As for all this crap about his game being better suited to the NBA than to the European League, well, crap. The NBA's not a half-court game when good opponents want to force you to play a half-court game? Steve Nash can't always force you to play a full-court game. Can a kid who scores 6 1/2 points with 4 assists do that? Can he shoot a better percentage in the NBA than in Europe. Hey, it's a full-court game (in the NBA), so his shooting percentage will rise. Say, what?

End of rant.

If it were up to me, I would pick Irving if he's available. If yes, then move Beasley and Rubio for an experienced shooting guard. If no, then move #2, Beasley and Rubio for a #4 through 9 and an experienced point guard. If you can.

But none of those things is going to happen. Kahn can hardly admit that his draft picks of 2 years ago--point guards Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio--were both wasted. We now know that the Flynn pick was wasted. So all the more reason for the stiff upper lip going in to 2011. And if the Wolves continue to lose 8 out of 10, hey, he's young! We surely can milk another couple years out of that before we go back to the drawing board. Again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

NBA Draft Update

About five months ago I predicted that the Wolves might pick Kentucky center Enes Kanter with the 3rd or 4th pick in the NBA draft, or maybe they would trade down.

Then a couple months ago I said they would by Kyrie Irving with the 1st or trade the 2nd.

Apparently y'all prefer Kanter, or maybe you prefer the 3rd or 4th pick. Because that 1st post has remained among the most popular ever since and today it's the 2nd most popular post on this blog. The more recent blog has disappeared from view.

But now we know that the Wolves have the #2 pick. It ain't exactly #1 but it's the best pick the Wolves have ever had in the NBA lottery. And now that they have also signed the prodigal son, Ricky Rubio, to an NBA contract, well, they don't need Irving (a point guard) anyway. So who cares about some old #1 pick, we would be looking at taking Derrick Williams regardless. Meanwhile, don't worry, Cleveland is not gonna take Williams, they need a point guard almost as bad as we do and they haven't just signed any European phenoms.

Meanwhile, a bunch of guys who have been projected anywhere from #1 to #14 in the lottery have decided to stay in school--Jones, Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and more, making this a weak draft. Which, in turn, means that that #2 draft pick could be worth a lot, as in a veteran player of some kind who is ready to go now rather than another rookie, who like Rubio, will need a couple-three years seasoning while Kevin Love is in the prime of his NBA career. Maybe the Wolves should think about accelerating the growth curve a little bit. I don't know if spending most of one's existence in or near the cellar cultivates a little too much patience? Or a little too little? I guess we'll find out.

As to Irving, by the way, there are those who project the Cavs to take Williams with the #1. Who says David Kahn won't grab Irving? In a weak draft, he would be "the best athlete available." And having threatened to pair two 1s before--Rubio and Jonny Flynn--why not Rubio and Irving?

But that is the full extent of the options. Williams. Or Irving. Whichever the Cavs leave for us. Or trade it. My personal opinion is you trade it and Michael Beasley for a scorer with his head screwed on straight. Or you grab Irving and you trade Rubio for, er, a scorer with his head screwed on straight. If you gotta through Beasley into that deal (#2, Rubio and Beasley) to get the head screwed on straight part, well, then you consider doing that.

The Wolves, after all, are no longer the least talented team in the NBA as was the case 2 and 3 years ago. Now they are merely the team that gets the least mileage out of the talent they've got.

So here again are your options.

1) If Cleveland takes Irving: Trade #2 and Beasley for a 20 ppg scorer.
2) If Cleveland takes Williams: Take Irving and trade Rubio and Beasley for a 15 ppg scorer.
3) Or either way, just trade the whole mess of 'em, #2, Rubio and Beasley for a 7 assist guy.
4) Or either way, throw Kahn into the deal and get a GM who has HIS head screwed on straight.

The bottom line: No matter what happens with the draft, the Wolves are likely to be again next year the NBA team that gets the least mileage out of the talent it has and that's assuming a better coach than Kurt Rambis is named sometime before training camp opens up. I don't see Rubio or Williams upsetting the dysfunctional dynamic that has become the Wolves' newest curse. I'm sorry. I don't. Something more radical, along the lines of a male Maya Moore, is needed (think Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Duane Wade, LeBron James), and there just ain't one of those out there. The class of 2010 is a little light on saviors.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lynx Open 2011 Season

Timberwolf nation is cautiously optimistic over the signing of Ricky Rubio and having the highest draft choice (#2) in the franchise's star-crossed history with the NBA draft lottery.

But that ain't nothin.' Lynx Nation is positively giddy. Hey, they're 1-and-1! They've demonstrated that they're still at parity with the L.A. Sparks who, like the Lynx, won 13 games and lost 21 a year ago. Of course, these are also the Sparks who had beaten the Lynx 8 straight times including the season-opener Friday night at L.A., and who aced the Lynx out of the 8th and final WNBA playoff spot a year ago on a last second shot by Tina Thompson.

More to the point, of course, the Sparks--also like the Lynx--have vastly higher hopes for 2011 with the return of former WNBA MVP Candace Parker, who missed 2/3 of last season due to a separated shoulder suffered against, you guessed it, the Lynx. The Lynx also have significantly higher hopes because of a truly "new" player, already pretty much conceded the Rookie of the Year award and generally expected to be the best woman player on the planet in 5 years. That would be Maya Moore. Maybe you've heard about her.

And let's admit that the Lynx put on a pretty good show for the home folks in Moore's home regular season debut--much of it by players not named Moore, by the way. Moore had 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in Friday's loss versus 16 points, 3 boards and 1 assist in Sunday's win. But no matter. After spending much of the 1st half on the bench with too many fouls, Moore recorded a steal and assist, and 2 3s in the opening minutes of the 2nd half and suddenly a 46-40 half-time lead was 54-42. The Lynx pushed out to a 23 point lead and the Sparks never again got within 10.

But it was Seimone Augustus who put the Wolves over the top with 15 1st half points. Even so, things looked pretty shaky after 6 quarters of ball. The Lynx had lost on Friday in the same dispiriting way they had lost too often in 2010--taking an early lead, then watching it rapidly disappear. In this case, it was 43-37 Lynx at the half, but the Sparks came out and hit 5 3s in the 3rd period, 3 by former Lynx Noelle Quinn. Overall L.A. outscored the hapless Lynx 45-29 in the 2nd half.

Then on Sunday the Lynx had pain-stakingly built a 46-34 lead inside of 1 minute when--bang! and bang! again--the Sparks hit a pair of 3s to get within 46-40. It was a familiar feeling and not a good one.

But that was when the new gun in town went off and the Lynx cruised from there.

Still, they have not exceeded expectations by one single iota, nor even met the expectations of many. They're 1-and-1. They've not shown the ability to win on the road, another bugaboo of last year and, well, pretty much every year of Lynx history. And the ability to win on the road will perhaps not be fairly tested in 2 of the next 4 opportunities, coming as they do at the best team in the WNBA, the Seattle Storm. Meanwhile, a 3rd road game is at the worst team in the WNBA, the Tulsa Shock. So the next real chance to test the Lynx road prowess is perhaps Sunday, June 19 at Atlanta. June home games against Atlanta and Indiana should end up in the W column. Let's just say that anything less than a 6-3 record as of July 1 will be a disappointment, and only a win at Seattle will demonstrate that the Lynx are ready to contend for a WNBA title.

Of course, the truth of the 2011 Lynx will be known by September, and I guess after a dozen years, we can wait. But, no, we want a sign and we want it now, that pro basketball in Minnesota can be a success. And so far, the Lynx have out-rebounded their opponent over the 2 games, they've won the possession game (fewer turnovers, more offensive boards) across the 2 games. But still, the team with the better shooting percentage has won each game, and the Lynx perimeter defense, as expected, has not looked good.

The other question mark has been Coach Reeve, but it was nice to see her adjust. In L.A. her starters played 151 minutes and other than Candace Wiggins, it was Alexis Hornbuckle and Charde Houston who got the most minutes with 10 and 9, and the bench contributed 18 points and was a cumulative -33. At the Target Center, Wiggins again led the bench with 19 minutes but it was Monika Wright and Amber Harris who got the next most minutes with 19 and 18, and they each (Wright and Harris) contributed 11 points and the bench was a cumulative +8. And with Harris getting more than triple the minutes, the Lynx turned a -8 rebounding margin into a +16 domination. If anybody can give Maya Moore a run for that Rookie of the Year award, it just might be #4 pick Amber Harris, if Reeve keeps giving her the minutes.

Still, it says here that the Lynx will be something like 10-7 at the end of July, but more like 19-11 by the end of August and 21-13 at the end of the regular season, an exact reversal of last year's 13-21. That should be good enough for 2nd in the west and one playoff win. But then comes Seattle and an end to the 2011 season. But the Lynx are the youngest team in the WNBA and if they hit these two milestones (2nd in the west and a playoff series win) it will bode better things ahead.

But the improvement will take time. Seattle will continue to punish the young Lynx, and L.A. will continue to be the measuring stick.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lynx Look to Make History

All eyes are on the Minnesota Lynx. Most improved. Best off-season moves. Sleeper for the WNBA title. 2-and-0 in the pre-season. They are a good prospect to make history, which would mean that they would be a decent, competitive team for the first time in the star-crossed existence of the franchise.

I mean, hey, this is a roster with 7 all-stars:

C- Taj McWilliams-Franklin
F- Rebekah Brunson, Charde Houston, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus
G- Lindsay Whalen and Candace Wiggins

Here is the rotation:

C- Taj. She's 6-2 and she's 40. She's an offense-first post. So rookie Amber Harris will see a lot of action. Critics point out that she's never been a post, despite her 6-5 size. I figure she can cope with that (lack of experience) with that size.

PF- Rebekah Brunson and Charde Houston.

SF- Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus.

PG- Lindsay Whalen and Candace Wiggins.

SG- Augustus, Monica Wright, Alexis Hornbuckle.

The starting team (the 1st player listed at each position) might not see a lot of action as a unit, especially if they get out ahead. They are not a good defensive team, lacking size in the post and a stopper's attitude and athletic skills at 1, 2 and 3, or at least at 1 and 2. Harris and Wright or Hornbuckle will be called on to do a lot of the dirty work once the Lynx have fashioned a bit of a lead.

But: Will they run roughshod over people, taking a nice early lead and enabling coach Reeve to play defense the rest of the way? Well, I was being facetious because, no, they're not gonna run roughshod over people. They're 2-and-0 in the pre-season, but those were a pair of close games against the Indiana Fever 71-66 at home and 76-70 on the road. Indiana is approximately an average team, having made the play-offs a year ago, but lost in the 1st round. And they're integrating two new starters, including 2nd-year pro Briann January at the point, where she had a couple of underwhelming performances. The Fever, in short, have the look of a team going in the wrong direction, though anybody with Tamika Catchings on their side cannot be taken for granted.

And so the Lynx had to come from behind to win at home, then took an early 23-12 lead in Indiana, and once led by as much as 15, but ended up with a narrow 76-70 win. In other words, the Lynx themselves are anything but a well-oiled machine at this stage.

Of course, they're better off than a year ago when three of their stars arrived late due to injuries, surgeries and foreign commitments, and the Lynx started off 1-7 and never really recovered. Nor did they have, one year ago, the Rookie of the Year favorite and expected to be the best player in the game five years from now--this, of course, being the #1 overall draft pick, Moore.

Moore has not been the best player on the planet yet. In fact, her baptism in the first Indiana became was well nye unto a debacle. But she showed improvement in her second game. But will she be half the pro that Candace Parker was in 2007 when she was the Rookie of the Year and the MVP? We will have some idea of that over the next few days because the Lynx open up with Parker's team, the LA Sparks.

Parker is probably rusty, however, having missed the bulk of last year with a dislocated shoulder suffered against the Lynx. You may remember that the Sparks nevertheless edged the Lynx for the WNBA's final playoff spot on a tie-breaker, as both finished 13-21 in the West. It was veteran Tina Thompson who put a dagger in the Lynx' playoff hopeswith a last-second game-winning bucket.

So these should be 2 well-matched teams. Same record a year ago. A "new" player to integrate into the lineup. Some good veteran supporting talent. The difference may be that the Lynx are a team of young veterans, while Indiana and LA rely on some real old-timers from Catchings and Tangela Smith to the Tinas--Thompson and Penichiero in LA.

We will have a better idea if that means the Lynx are at or near their prime after this weekend's home-and-home series with the Sparks. Most likely is a split and, longer term, a reversal of last year's 13-21 record. 21-13 will get 'em 2nd in the West, home ice for the 1st round of the playoffs. And one playoff series win is probably as much as you should hope for. None is more likely than two.