Series Preview: (2) Los Angeles Sparks vs. (3) San Antonio Silver Stars

Sep 25 2012 9:18PM

By: Aman Ali, WNBA.com


Both the Los Angeles Sparks and San Antonio Silver Stars have rebounded from last season and transformed into two of the top teams in the league right now.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images



Which team will win the Conference Semifinal matchup between Los Angeles and San Antonio?
Which team will win the Conference Semifinal matchup between Los Angeles and San Antonio?
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Game 1: San Antonio at Los Angeles
Thu Sept. 27, 10:00 ET, ESPN2
Game 2: Los Angeles at San Antonio
Sat. Sept. 29, 3:00 ET, NBATV
Game 3*:San Antonio at Los Angeles
Tue Oct. 2, 10:30 EST, NBATV
* if necessary
After being a lottery team last season that didn't make the playoffs, the Los Angeles Sparks have bounced back this year as one of the most explosive teams in the Western Conference. The star-studded roster of the Sparks might be widely seen as potential WNBA champions this season, but if anyone can put a stop to that, it might as well be the underdog San Antonio Silver Stars, who had the league's hottest winning streak this season at 12 in a row.

This series might very well be the most unpredictable and even matchup of the postseason this year, with no likely favorite over the other. The Los Angeles Sparks went from a 15-19 record last year to 24-10 this season, largely in part to drafting Nneka Ogwumike, a strong favorite for this year's WNBA Rookie of the Year honors, and the resurgence of Candace Parker, a favorite for MVP. It's Parker's first full season since 2008 after being sidelined several times with injuries the past few seasons. This year she's been putting up some of the best numbers of her career with close to double-double averages of 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game. Throw in the lethal shooting of Kristi Toliver, whose lowest scoring night in 10 games in July and August was 19 points, and you have a superstar trio that will be hard for anyone in the league to contain.

The Silver Stars, on the other hand, flew under the radar for most of the season before busting through with an impressive 12-game winning streak - a franchise record for the team. The immortal Becky Hammon continues to be one of the most lethal point guards in the league with the ability to drain buckets (14.8 points a game this season) just as well as setting up her teammates to (5.3 assists per game - third best in the league). She's an exemplary player that is not only tough to compete against, but she also makes her teammates better on the court. Sophia Young is having one of the best seasons of her career for the Silver Stars, averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. Coach Dan Hughes has been the architect behind the team's brilliant performances this season making the team one of the best coached squads in the league. The Silver Stars may not have the star power that the Sparks have, but they have one of the most consistent rosters the league has to offer.

But as good as both teams have played this season, they've also had several head-scratching slumps. The Silver Stars waltzed their way to 12 wins in a row this season only to follow up by losing seven of their next 11 games. The Sparks had a nine game winning streak of their own only to have it snapped by a string of three loses - started by the Tulsa Shock (a team that won only nine games all season). On the surface, both team's have had stellar seasons marred with inconsistencies.

The Los Angeles Sparks will be hard to stop on offense. If the Silver Stars try to freeze out Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike from attacking the glass, there's always Kristi Toliver hanging out on the perimeter waiting to throw down some tear drops. They're also being coached by Carol Ross, who joined the Sparks this year as head coach after being an assistant for the Atlanta Dream during their back-to-back Finals appearances in 2010 and 2011. Ross' game strategy has relied heavily on scoring while the ball in transition, which may be tough for the Silver Stars veteran lineup to keep up with.

But that same strength is also the biggest weakness for the Sparks as rapid fire scoring makes them prone to turnovers. The Sparks are averaging 16.18 turnovers a game as a team - one of the worst totals in the league - to the Silver Stars 13.31 turnovers - the fewest in the league. If the Sparks superstars can keep the ball in their hands as they try to maneuver around the basket, then they will be tough to stop. Having the home court advantage will also be a huge boon for them. In home games this season, the Sparks have been 16-1 in games where they were up at any point by double digits. The Silver Stars embrace the underdog reputation and enjoy rallying to come-from-behind wins when their backs are against the wall, but playing against the Sparks is definitely where that would be difficult to happen.

The Silver Stars, meanwhile, have Becky Hammon as their most prized possession. She has one of the most unstoppable crossovers in the league right now. The Sparks are likely going to play big relying heavily on forwards Parker and Ogwumike to dominate the boards. But just let the 5-foot-6 Hammon rip and she'll zoom right under them for easy baskets.

Hammon's greatest strength though is making her teammates better simply by playing with her, as evident to Sophia Young and Danielle Adams' stellar performances all season. The Silver Stars have built a tremendous chemistry this season and it shows every time the team hits the court. Hammon possesses an almost psychic-like ability to read where her teammates are going to be setting them up with passes that even the toughest of defenders have trouble stopping.

But also like the Sparks, the Silver Stars' greatest strength is also their vulnerability. When Hammon isn't explosive, her teammates follow suit. It's like she causes a tidal wave of sluggishness. Hammon had nine games this season where she scored 10 or fewer points, and when that happened, the Silver Stars lost all but two of those games. She's going to have to stay energized throughout the series otherwise the Silver Stars will be toast.

It's extremely difficult to predict who will come out on top during this matchup. Both teams have had stellar runs that make them worthy championship contenders but are also prone to erratic gameplay. Either way, this is definitely a conference semifinals matchup that would be foolish to miss out on.

Some fast facts about the first-round matchup:

-- The Silver Stars won their season series against the Sparks, 3-1.

-- Both teams are in the top three scoring teams in the league, with Los Angeles coming in at No. 2 with 84.0 points per game and San Antonio at No. 3 with 82.1 points per game.

-- The Sparks lead the league in blocks this season averaging as a team 5.3 a game.

-- The Silver Stars' highest scoring average against a team this season has been against the Los Angeles Sparks, averaging 90 points a game compared to the Sparks 84.3 from their season matchups.





2012 Regular Season: San Antonio 3, Los Angeles, 1

Saturday June 16, AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX: Sparks 85, Silver Stars 98 | Box Score | Highlights
San Antonio: Becky Hammon (24 pts., 7 ast.), Sophia Young (24 pts., 8 reb.)
Los Angeles: Alana Beard (23 pts., 4 reb.), Candace Parker (21 pts., 11 reb..)

Sunday, June 24, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA: Silver Stars 91, Sparks 71 | Box Score | Highlights
San Antonio: Sophia Young (20 pts., 9 reb.), Becky Hammon (12 pts., 10 ast.)
Los Angeles: Candace Parker (15 pts., 15 reb.), Alana Beard (10 pts., 4 ast.)

Thursday June 28, AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX: Sparks 80, Silver Stars 94 | Box Score | Highlights
San Antonio:Sophia Young (23 pts., 3 ast.), Becky Hammon (17 pts., 6 reb.)
Los Angeles: Candace Parker (25 pts., 13 reb.), Alana Beard (14 pts., 10 ast.)

Thursday, August 23, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA: Silver Stars 77, Sparks 101 | Box Score | Highlights
San Antonio: Danielle Robinson (22 pts., 5 reb.), Shenise Johnson (15 pts., 5 reb.)
Los Angeles: Kristi Toliver (29 pts., 6 ast.), Alana Beard (21 pts., 3 stl.)



See how the teams match up position by position

Kristi Toliver, G, Sparks
17.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.9 APG
Becky Hammon, G, Silver Stars
14.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.3 APG
Alana Beard , G, Sparks
11.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.3 APG
Danielle Robinson, G, Silver Stars
9.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Candace Parker, F, Sparks
17.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 3.3 APG
Shameka Chiston, F, Silver Stars
7.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.3 APG
DeLisha Milton-Jones, F, Sparks
10.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.8 APG
Sophia Young, F, Silver Stars
16.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.1 APG
Nneka Ogwumike, F, Sparks
14.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.2 APG
Jayne Appel, C, Silver Stars
3.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.2 APG