Ann Meyers’ First Round Notes:
Things To Watch For This Week
By Ann Meyers, WNBA.com
With the 2006 WNBA Playoffs beginning this week, the one thing that really makes this year different is that any team is capable of knocking out any other team this season. These teams proved that they can beat each other in the regular season, so anything is possible. That said, here are a few things to keep an eye on this postseason.
Houston Has A Chance, But..
I think Houston has a very good chance of upsetting Sacramento, though I am not sure it will actually happen. While Sacramento's numbers may not wow you, they are the defending champions. The Monarchs are a deeper team, even though they do not have the superstars on offense anymore that can dominate every night. Yolanda Griffith can be a big-time scorer if she needs, though all of her points come off of the boards. Kara Lawson has been very productive off the bench, but Nicole Powell's numbers have dipped a bit from her Most Improved season because teams have keyed in on her a bit more (because DeMya Walker was out). Rebekkah Brunson's numbers were okay starting in place of Walker, but with DeMya playing so well again, I really think the Tina Thompson-DeMya Walker matchup will be the key to this series.
With a healthy Dominique Canty, Houston is probably the favorite. Yet with so many players injured or out of the lineup, the Comets really are relying on their stars to come through. Dawn Staley is playing really well with a lot of confidence and controlling the game. I give her the edge over Ticha Penicheiro because Staley has the ability to score. Sheryl Swoopes had a very solid season if you look at her numbers across the board, but I wonder if Houston will have the legs to keep up with the Monarchs. Monarchs coach John Whisenant plays his players three to four minutes at a time, expects them to play hard and will give them a break by putting the subs in.
No one has talked about Yolanda Griffith's potential retirement and I hope the league honors her in the same way they have honored Dawn Staley.
Do Not Overestimate The Importance of the Bench
I think we overrate the importance of the bench in these playoff series. Most teams shorten their bench and will use three players or so. The only time that reserves will play a key role is if there is foul trouble or an injury. There are teams like Sacramento and Connecticut that go to their bench. Detroit relies on its Fab Five for so much. But with Cheryl Ford, Katie Smith, Swin Cash, Deanna Nolan and Ruth Riley, you don't need too much from your reserved. Each plays 30 minutes or more per game, though Kara Braxton and Plenette Pierson have been big off the bench and they got deeper with the addition of Elaine Powell. Indiana pretty much stays with its starters, with Tan White as the primary option off the bench. Washington brings in three or four players, Coco Miller, LaTasha Byears and Nakia Sanford. Seattle and Los Angeles also use their bench to an extent, but the Sun and Monarchs are the only teams we will see go 10 deep this postseason.
The Margo Dydek Factor
With the play of Katie Douglas, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Nykesha Sales, the play of Margo Dydek in the middle for the Connecticut Sun has gone virtually unnoticed. In the past, Dydek would come out of the game when the Sun wanted to push the tempo. Teams knew that if the Sun ran with Margo, they could run right back on them. But this season, Coach Mike Thibault has been able to keep her in the game longer. She has been so effective. At 7-2, even if she is a bit slower than people, she changes the dynamic of teams defensively. Plus, she has 3-point range which we see less of here in the United States and more so when she plays overseas. She is an excellent shooter and presents matchup problems for opposing teams. If they double team her, she can look right over the defense and just dump it down to Taj, Nykesha or Asjha. What a great weapon she is.
The Best Player In The World Will Win
The Sparks-Storm series will be a great one to watch. Seattle won the regular season series. People have debated over whether Lisa Leslie or Lauren Jackson is the best player in the world over the past few years. Lauren is just remarkable. Seattle has battled a lot of injuries this season and you cannot take anything away from how amazing Jackson has been this season, playing through injuries and still putting up those numbers, but Lisa Leslie elevated her game even more this season. It just shows you how durable she is and what she can do when she is healthy. The Sparks have had great chemistry since the first day of training camp. Coach Joe Bryant has given his team a lot of confidence. For example, Jessica and Tamara Moore have played well because Bryant has put them in a position to succeed.
Seattle is a physical team, they can go to the bench with Barb Turner and Tiffany Johnson, who has been in the Playoffs before. They are also fast. They can push the ball. Sue Bird and Jackson are two of the best running the pick and roll. L.A. is going to have to play terrific defense in order to win. I expect these to be high scoring games. Mwadi Mabika is another key for Los Angeles. She has to play consistently, both hitting her shots and getting to the basket. And Chamique Holdsclaw coming off the bench has been huge. It takes a lot of pressure off of her. Overall, I think this is a great matchup. The Sue Bird-Temeka Johnson battles will be fun to watch, both teams will play zone a lot and both teams will play within themselves. It is just a matter of executing. I'll pick Los Angeles because of the home court advantage.
Road Losses Will Change The Series
The disadvantage remains in these three games series that the better seed has to open up on the road. That is really tough. Los Angeles has a pretty good road record, one of only two teams to win double digit games on the road (Connecticut's 12 was the most) but also has the best home record in the WNBA Yet Seattle was the only other team in the Western Conference with a winning record away from home.
There Will Be A First Round Upset
The biggest advantage that the Washington Mystics have is that no one is picking them. That creates incentive. Richie Adubato always has his teams prepared. In order to win, though, Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton-Jones have to put up big numbers over the entire series. Nikki Teasley also has to be on her game, taking care of the basketball and average around eight assists per game, getting everyone involved. Chasity Melvin also has to have a big series. She cannot be a no-show. But the Sun have played with such consistency and they have at least two M.V.P. candidates. Taj McWilliams-Franklin had another solid year this year, Katie Douglas could be First Team All-WNBA and Nykesha Sales combined with Douglas to be one of the top scoring tandems until Sales got hurt. Lindsay Whalen has gotten stronger as the season has progressed and she is so strong. Connecticut is a physical team and while I do not think it is a lock, I give the Sun the edge over the Mystics.
The Indiana-Detroit series can go either way. But I think Indiana will upset Detroit. Detroit has more offensive power, but it's all about the defense.for the Fever. Catchings works so hard on every possession, but it's about the team. It is never about her. But Tully Bevilaqua also deserves credit. She runs this team well and you will see six to eight points per game from her. The key may well be Anna DeForge. She has been up and down this season and she has to be able to hit her shots. Detroit is ready for Katie Smith, who is a scorer but can also defend, to win a championship. The Shock are a lot more mature than when they won it all in 2003 with many of the same players. Detroit has been up and down, though you wouldn't know it from their record. But Indiana just makes you play ugly. I think the Fever will win the first game at home and if they get that one, it will give them the edge. I will be at Game One for this series on Thursday, so we'll see!