Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WNBA Has High Expectations of Lynx

So lemme get this straight. The American League had a 33-man roster for major league baseball's mid-summer classic, and the Twins got exactly 1 of those 33 slots (or 3 percent). The Western Division of the WNBA will have a 11-woman roster, and the Minnesota Lynx took 4 of those 11 slots, or 36 percent.

Joining starting forward Maya Moore, elected by the fans, are all-star reserves Seimone Augustus, Rebekah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen, selected by the WNBA coaches. All of this from a team that is tied for 2nd in the West, and the 3 reserves all played for a 13-21, 5th place, non-playoff team a year ago.

It's cool. But it's a bit of a guilty pleasure, too, in that it hasn't really been earned yet. It's a hedge against the upside potential that this team has, but hasn't really demonstrated yet. I mean, given the checkered history of the Lynx, we're going to have to come back in September and see if all the hooplah is really deserved. They ain't done nothin' yet.

Still, it's cool.

I suppose you could say that Moore has in fact earned her starting spot by virtue of her fabulous career at UConn, where some regard her as the greatest college player ever. As a Lynx, she's been inconsistent with a team 3rd-best scoring average of 14 ppg in 29 minutes. She's had her moments, to be sure, but everybody knows that the Lynx MVP has been Brunson, who opened the season with a WNBA-record 7 straight double-doubles. She's now averaging 13 points and a league-leading 11 boards while shooting 58 percent. The WNBA's own MVP Tracker has her at #4 right now.

Augustus, meanwhile, is #12 and Whalen #13 in the MVP Tracker. Moore is not rated in the top 15. Whalen is probably the Lynx #2 MVP with 14 ppg and 6 assists, while Augustus is their leading scorer by a smidgen at 15 ppg.

In fact, it's quite likely that Brunson will end up starting, too, as post Candace Parker of LA is out with an injury and will not play. Brunson at #4 and Penny Taylor of Phoenix at #9 on the MVP Tracker are among her possible replacements, though the WNBA could also announce another all-star to replace Parker both on the roster and in the starting lineup.

The Lynx are now 9-4 and tied with San Antone one-half game behind Phoenix, and the Lynx close out the 1st half at Phoenix tonight. A win would be a surprise but with these Lynx cannot be ruled out. What can be ruled out is the idea that Phoenix will score another 122 points on the Lynx, as it did at the Target Center last week. That loss, and specifically the Lynx' abominable defense, should provide some motivation for a reversal. But, on the other hand, Phoenix still has Diana Taurasi (#3 on the MVP Tracker), Taylor (#9) and Candice Dupree (#10), and so they'll be tough to beat.

Look for the half-way standings to be Phoenix 11-4, San Antone 10-4, Minnesota 9-5.

The Lynx had best make a move early in the second half, what with 4 of their 1st 5 games at home. Then comes a brutal stretch in which 7-of-10 are away from home, before they finish up with 3-of-5 at home.

Early on I said the Lynx would be 10-7 at the end of July and 21-13 overall, which was meant to be faint praise. Now I see 'em at 11-6 at the end of July and 13-6 on August 4, when that road stretch begins. A 5-5 record over those next 10 games will be disappointing but, frankly, acceptable, paving the way for a final record of 22-12. Their chances of doing better than 22-12 depend entirely on those 10 games.

But if I'm right and they indeed finish 22-12, that one extra win from my earliest forecast goes back to that June 9 game in Seattle, in which the Lynx took a 20 point lead en route to an 81-74 shocker over the defending WNBA champs. Unfortunately that win doesn't look quite so impressive now as the Storm are just 7-7 and without the injured 2010 MVP Lauren Jackson. Of course, Jackson played against the Lynx that night, but was ineffective. But so she was generally averaging (for her) a paltry 9 points and 6 boards before going on the DL.

So if Jackson and the Storm come storming back, the West will be a tough, tough place to make a living. That 22-12 record (projected) could even fail to secure the home court for the 1st round of the playoffs. It won't win the division. So right now I'd envision the Lynx starting the playoffs on the road, at San Antone. The good news is that I still see them beating the Silver Stars in that series. A series against Phoenix would follow and I'm not sure that winning 2-of-3, with 2-of-3 games being down in sun city, is in the cards.

So, yes, the Lynx have made tremendous strides this year. Their 4 all-star selections is a solid endorsement of where they're heading. But that's the point. It has little to do with anything they've accomplished so far. They've still got everything to prove. And that surprise win at Seattle is no longer their signature game. Phoenix 122 Minnesota 115. That's the new signature. And until and unless they can beat the Mercury in the playoffs, it will remain so.

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