Gm 1: at L.A, Wed., 8/31, 10:30 p.m. ET. NBA TV/
Gm 2: at Conn., Fri., 9/2, 10 p.m. ET. NBA TV/
Gm 3*: at Conn., Sun., 9/4, 9 p.m. ET. NBA TV/

Should we really be surprised that the Monarchs and Sparks are slated to go at it once again? Perhaps fueled by another loss in the Western Conference Finals last year, the Sacramento Monarchs got out to an early lead in the Western Conference standings in 2005 and never looked back. They went on to win their first-ever regular season conference crown. Led once again by Yolanda Griffith and point guard Ticha Penicheiro, the all-time leading assist-scoring duo in league history, the Monarchs challenged for the best overall record in the league until the last weekend of the season. This is a team that stresses team defense and finished with a league-low 61.8 points allowed. However, injuries to All-Star forward DeMya Walker and guard Kara Lawson pose serious questions about the Monarchs durability in the Playoffs.

The Los Angeles Sparks were not without their share of drama this season, either. The heavy favorites to win the championship before the season after the acquisition of Chamique Holdsclaw, the Sparks had to go down to the wire just to make the playoffs. However, Holdsclaw will also garner MVP consideration, center Lisa Leslie is still the best center in the world and the team responded down the stretch to new coach Joe Bryant. Mwadi Mabika is recovered from surgery that kept her out of the first half of the season, but point guard Nikki Teasley went down in July and has not returned. The Sparks will be contenders as long as Holdsclaw and Leslie are doing their thing. These two teams always seem to meet in the postseason, and until last year, the Sparks owned the Monarchs. But Sacramento, as the four seed in 2004, upset the top-seeded the Sparks.

2005 Regular Season: Sacramento Monarchs 3 - L.A. Sparks 1
Some fast facts about the Sparks-Monarchs first-round matchup:


Monarchs guard Ticha Penicheiro became the all-time WNBA career assist leader during the 2004 season, eclipsing the mark held previously held by Teresa Weatherspoon, who also happens to be the all-time career assist leader in the playoffs..
DeMya Walker was the team's leading scorer with 14.1 ppg and second-leading rebounder with 5.3 rpg, but that came in only 22 games this season.
Talk about a pair of fast-improving sophs, Nicole Powell is a leading candidate for Most Improved Player after being traded to the Monarchs in the offseason, finishing with 11 points per game. Meanwhile, Brunson started in 16 games and averaged nearly 8 ppg and 5.6 rpg.
Holdsclaw and Leslie are the top tandem in the WNBA, but in case you're curious, their combined 32.6 points per game is the best among teammates in the WNBA and their 14.2 rebounds per game is second to the Shock tandem of Ford and Riley (14.5).
Sparks coach Henry Bibby left the team with just a few weeks to go in the season. Sparks owner Johnny Buss indicated that Bibby was not fired, but regardless, assistant coach Joe Bryant, the father of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, took over and won their last five games.


Saturday, June 4: Monarchs 81, Sparks 53 | Box score

Sacramento Leaders: Nicole Powell (22 pts., 4 reb.), DeMya Walker (14 pts., 8 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Chamique Holdsclaw (11 pts., 10 reb.), Tamika Whitmore (10 pts., 3 reb.)
NBA TV highlights: Play

Saturday, June 11: Sparks 81, Monarchs 74 | Box score
Sacramento Leaders: Yolanda Griffith (16 pts., 6 reb.), DeMya Walker (13 pts., 7 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Chamique Holdsclaw (25 pts., 7 reb.), Tamika Whitmore (19 pts., 6 reb.)
NBA TV highlights: Play

Friday, July 29: Monarchs 79, Sparks 59 | Box score
Sacramento Leaders: Yolanda Griffith (17 pts., 6 reb.), Rebekkah Brunson (15 pts., 8 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Chamique Holdsclaw (14 pts., 3 reb.), Lisa Leslie (12 pts., 4 reb.)
NBA TV highlights: Play

Tuesday, August 16: Monarchs 72, Sparks 63 | Box score
Sacramento Leaders: Kara Lawson (16 pts., 6 reb.), Rebekkah Brunson (17 pts., 12 reb.)
Los Angeles Leaders: Chamique Holdsclaw (10 pts., 6 reb.), Mwadi Mabika (12 pts., 3 reb.)
NBA TV highlights: Play