East vs. West: The All-Star Difference Makers

Jul 21 2011 7:20PM
San Antonio, Texas – The hottest stars in the WNBA are in one of the hottest cities in America (the high in San Antonio today was 101 degrees) for the annual event pitting the Eastern Conference All-Stars versus their Western counterparts. The game, which takes place Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC, features the best of the best, with nearly half of the players making their first trip to the midseason gala.

The All-Star Game returns to its previous form after last year had USA Basketball against the WNBA Stars. USA won 99-72 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. One year prior, the West snatched away a two-game win streak from the East. That stretch came after six consecutive (there was no All-Star game in 2004 due to the Olympics) wins by their West opponents.

Tamika Catchings, Angel McCoughtry and the rest of the returning East All-Stars will look to reclaim the All-Star Game trophy on Sunday. As typical with this type of event, both teams are absolutely stacked. That doesn’t mean each doesn’t have any advantages, some of which are about to be explored.

The East Will Win If…

With the Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker out (knee), that opened the door for a premiere battle in the paint between two of the WNBA’s youngest, toughest players.

Fans voted Connecticut Sun center and reigning Rookie of the Year Tina Charles into the starting center spot in the East. There was no reason not to as Charles is fourth in the league in scoring (18.3 ppg) and second in rebounding (10.1 rpg). Those MVP-type numbers have garnered much praise in the weekly rankings.

Charles will go up against Parker’s replacement, Liz Cambage, who was added to the Western squad on Wednesday. The Aussie freshman from the Tulsa Shock is putting up over 13 points and five rebounds a night. The two took on one another in their only meeting one month ago, with Charles (19/8) edging Cambage (16/2). If Charles plays as she has all season long, the West will have a tough time getting down the lane and be forced to take a lot of outside jumpers. That’s not going to be easy there either though with four-time Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings guarding the perimeter.

When Charles is not on the floor, East coach Marynell Meadors (Atlanta Dream) will swap in the league’s leading scorer, Sylvia Fowles. The Chicago Sky center is also third in rebounds (9.8 rpg), meaning the West is going to have to bring their A-game in the paint.

The West Will Win If…

It would be easy to simply write that the West would win if they stop Charles and Fowles, but that’s only one area that will help them keep the trophy. The bench is where the West has a chance to pick up an advantage. Compared to the East, the West reserves have a total of 28 years more experience. There is also only one first-time All-Star – depending on whether both Danielle Adams and Cambage start the game on the bench – on the West, while there are five on the East. This veteran leadership off the bench from the likes of Seimone Augustus, Becky Hammon, Penny Taylor and Lindsay Whalen will certainly play in to the West’s favor.

Touching on the outside shooting talk from before, that’s where Diana Taurasi will need to excel. The Phoenix Mercury guard is the only Western Conference player among the league’s Top 5 in scoring – her 19.6 ppg ranks second. With those four other players on the East squad, Taurasi will need a big offensive output or she and her teammates will need to play some stellar defense.

Finally, Maya Moore. The freshman phenom is making her All-Star debut with three fellow rookies. She’s the only one, however, who was voted a starter by the fans. The Minnesota Lynx guard has respectable numbers this season (14.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.6 apg) and is one of the reasons her team has the best record (10-4) in the entire league. Moore has shined on the biggest stages in college and this is one of the biggest at the professional level. Her performance will definitely play into whether the West prevail on Sunday.

Writer's Prediction: East 98, West 87

MVP: Tina Charles

Follow Scott Stanchak from 2011 WNBA All-Star Weekend on Twitter (@ScottStanchak).