Doris Burke’s Keys To the Series:
Western Conference First Round
By Doris Burke, WNBA.com
As the first round gets underway on Thursday, we will look at all four first round series. Yesterday we looked at the Eastern Conference. Today we will look a tthe great series out West...
In the first quarter of the first game of the season, Seattle's Sue Bird came out on a mission offensively. She was very aggressive, pushing the ball in transition looking like she was more into the offense. She showed that at times this season, but Sue needs to become even more assertive on the offensive end. It is incredibly important to the team that she does not pass up any open shots.
Another key issue with Seattle is that the Storm have a lot of injuries that may dictate the outcome. With Betty Lennox and Lauren Jackson, the rigors of playoff basketball are more strenuous than the regular season and players are playing harder. Nothing comes easy, these are injuries that don't go away. That being said, Lauren Jackson is still one of the most dangerous players in the league. If Seattle can get points from her and contributions from Iziane Castro Marques, Barbara Turner and the bench, they will be competitive in this series.
I think with Seattle, the one key roster addition that they made at the start of the year was ten-year veteran forward Wendy Palmer. She set the tone in practice on a daily basis and her leadership skills were evident in the locker room. But with her injury, the lack of continuity of the leadership has put the pressure on Sue and Betty. If you look strictly at the names on the roster, you have to believe that Seattle has a chance to contend not only in the first round, but also in the Conference Finals, as well. Perhaps they are ready to make a statement and the playoffs will energize them.
For the Sparks, Lisa Leslie's is greater than just points and rebounds and blocked shots. She provided great leadership and was a huge rock for a first-year coach to build around. She was scoring 25 points a night before Chamique Holdsclaw returned to the lineup about eight games in, but now with two players of such a hugh caliber, it kind of reminds me a little bit of when Shaq and Kobe were together in Los Angeles. They carried the team on their combination of skills, and when you combine them with Temeka Johnson, that's a great triumvirate of talent.
I thought that trade worked out well for both teams. Nikki Teasley hadn't been as productive in L.A. since Michael Cooper left and needed a fresh start. Temeka Johnson had an outstanding rookie season in Washington, but the Sparks, who have a ton of talent in terms of scoring the basketball, provided very good fit for her skills. The two finished the season with the most assists in the WNBA. Johnson can get anywhere she wants off the dribble, she plays bigger than her size, knows how to run a team, can knock down some perimeter jump shots and is comfortable running a half court set.
But If Mwadi Mabika gets 20 points or even averages 15
per game, and Chamique and Lisa average their career numbers, I think it will
be very hard for the Storm to compete with the Sparks. Those three players require
so much attention, and if you close on them, that leaves Temeka Johnson, Doneeka
Hodges or Christi Thomas to get double digits. Los Angeles has star power and
support players, and there is a great chemistry about that team. When they won
those two titles, you saw that they were truly a tight team. You also cannot say
enough about Joe Bryant and the job that he has done. Instead of clouding the
message, he has allowed them to play to their physical abilities and lets them
make the decisions. When you give a team the ownership to make decisions, they
take pride in that. And that starts with Lisa Leslie.
Despite winning the championship last season, Yolanda Griffith and the Monarchs have made it known that they feel their team is still the underdog. I agree with Yolanda Griffith about Sacramento being unappreciated. She is a player who thrives on being underappreciated. In the way she conducts her business, she is overlooked by nature. She is no flash and is all substance, without a whole lot of style (and I mean that as a compliment).
In order to be successful against Sacramento, a team has to do a few things. The Comets have to keep floor space and maintain their composure against their pressure. The Monarchs thrive on putting on a lot of pressure, taking away the passing lanes and taking teams outof their comfort zone. So a team's ability to keep the floor space and not get caught in a quick double team or off balance with the ball in their hands is really key. The Monarchs have not been quite as successful with it this year, but it is still quite effective. The rule changes this year were designed to increase scoring and that might have played a role in Sacramento's slight dip this season.
The interesting thing about Houston is that they make no secret about the fact that their offense is designed to get Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson shots. More specifically, the offense is designed to get the ball in the spots where Sheryl likes to shoot the ball. On the flip side, the Monarchs pride themselves on those same types of shots away, like the pick-and-roll on the left hand side of the floor. Everybody knows that Sheryl wants to go left and nine times out of ten, she gets left. The other place she likes to operate is the middle of the floor. The Comets run a lot of screens that get Swoopes to the elbow area, where she likes to go one-on-one. Sacramento also prides itself on taking that middle of the floor away, as well as that high post.
Because of Dawn Staley, Sheryl and Tina, the Comets are going to play at the pace they want to play at. For that reason, this series is really intriguing to me. I was worried that Tina was not going to come back from her injury and be very sharp, but she is really playing well as we saw in that triple-overtime game against Phoenix.
So I think depth is the key factor in this series. Sacramento goes legitimate ten deep, and I think the Monarchs relentless style and their ability to stay fresh will ultimately wear Houston down, not to mention the Comets injuries. The Monarchs just bring so much pressure. Now if the Comets were a really high scoring team, you could say that Houston could outscore them. But that is not the case. I think that this series will come down to depth and Sacramento will have the advantage. Houston's injuries contribute to that lack of depth factor. Tamecka Dixon and Tari Phillips have missed time, as has Dominique Canty. Canty has the ability to play so many positions and was very valuable defensively for Houston, yet the loss of Thompson overshadowed Canty's injury. Clearly they will miss her, especially when playing a team with so much depth like Sacramento.