SECAUCUS, N.J., August 17, 2010 -- The old saying goes, "It's not how you start, but how you finish." That's the exact theory that will be put to the test as we head into the final week of the Race to the MVP. Seattle's Lauren Jackson has been, and remains in this week's installment, the perennial No. 1. However, Indiana's Tamika Catchings and New York's Cappie Pondexter have put together some big performances worthy of MVP consideration over the past few weeks. Will LJ's limited time on the court coming down the home stretch affect her MVP candidacy, or does her dominant play leading up to Seattle's ability to clinch an early playoff berth and subsequent home-court advantage stand as a big enough reason to make her the top choice?
It's all a matter of whether or not first impressions last.
Last ranking: 1
LJ sat out Friday night's game against the Connecticut Sun with what was referred to as back spasms, just another example of Coach Brian Agler taking care of his starters before playoff time. Before Agler could surround LJ in bubble wrap and slap a note on her forehead that read "Do not open until playoffs," she was right back in the lineup again Sunday night against the Mystics, logging 25 minutes, 14 points and two boards. It's just as much a concern for rust as it is an interest in rest. Coach Agler wants his team healthy for the playoffs but he also wants them prepared to play. If LJ takes a game or two off or plays under 15 minutes a game from hereon out, it wouldn't be a surprise. Regardless of how much more regular season play LJ, there's no denying that she remains hungry for another championship.
Last ranking: 2
Last week Tamika Catchings and Angel McCoughtry tied for second place in the rankings. This week, Catchings claims sole possession of the No. 2 spot after posting 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists Friday against the Mercury and 26 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists Sunday against the Sun. As the playoff picture starts to take form in the East, Catchings will turn up the heat and make a strong push for not only MVP consideration but also for the Eastern Conference title.
Last ranking: 5
While we're on the subject of players who can take over games, you have to throw Cappie Pondexter's name into the mix. To say the Liberty's recent streak of eight-straight wins is the sole product of Cappie's recent play would take away from the significant contributions of her teammates throughout the run. However, if you were to ask whether or not the Liberty would have been able to string together that many wins without Cappie, the answer would be a definitive "no." That's what lifts CP23 to the No. 3 spot in this week's rankings. Need proof? How about three Player of the Week honors over the last four weeks?
Last ranking: 2
It's harsh to say Angel "falls to fourth" this time around. In reality it's more of a nudge than anything else, especially when you consider she was able to take most of the game off Sunday against the Sky after logging 20 minutes and 13 points. On Friday against the Liberty, Angel dropped 22 points, dished four assists and snagged three boards but the end result amounted to a 90-83 loss. On the plus side though, Atlanta is guaranteed a spot in the postseason for the second-consecutive season. If the team wants to make a push for a higher seed, it'll come down to Angel's ability to take over a game.
Last ranking: 4
Diana Taurasi registered a season-low five points Saturday night against the Liberty in what ended up being a debilitating 107-69 Phoenix loss. Admittedly, DT played only 22 minutes but she also shot 1-for-7 in that span. Taurasi and the Mercury are currently in the grips of a four-game skid and will look to turn things around so as not to back into the postseason.
Last ranking: 6
For the first time in three seasons, Tina Charles' year will not end with a championship of any kind. However, that doesn't negate the fact that she produced one heck of a rookie campaign. This season alone, again her first in the WNBA, Charles set new records for double-doubles in a season, double-doubles as a rookie and total rebounds in a season. If those numbers don't give the Sun and its fans enough confidence heading into the 2011 season than I don't know what will. Maybe cushioning those numbers over the last three games can persuade any doubters.
Last ranking: 7
Crystal Langhorne has remained consistent all season long for the Mystics. At six-foot-two, Langhorne may not be the tallest center in the league but she positions herself well, fights inside and still manages to make a living inside the paint. It also doesn't hurt that she's shooting 58 percent from the field, good enough for third overall in the league behind only sharpshooter Candice Dupree and six-foot-six big Sylvia Fowles, and has hauled in a total of 13 double-doubles, placing her fourth overall in the category.
Last ranking: 8
The Chicago Sky were officially eliminated from playoff contention this past weekend, but that shouldn't stand as a knock on Sylvia Fowles' season or MVP considerations. Sure, she may not be post-season bound, but her healthy year has up to this point included an all-star nod, an MVP Trophy at the Stars at the Sun game and career highs across the board in points, assists, rebounds and blocks per game. With Fowles at the five, Chicago can expect big things from her again in 2011.
Last ranking: 13
Similar to how the Los Angeles Sparks have cracked the top four in the West and put together a late-season run for playoff contention, DeLisha Milton-Jones cracks the Top 10 for the first time this season in the MVP Rankings, and with good reason. DMJ has amped up her offensive production since mid-July, posting double-figure points in every game since July 27 and recording three assists in five-straight games. Adding to her notorious hard-nosed defense, Milton-Jones has also picked off four steals in each of the last two games. If the Sparks remain in the playoff picture, Milton-Jones will be a big reason why.
Last ranking: 9
Candice Dupree's strengths undoubtedly rely on accurate, consistent shooting, but her ability to step up and crash the boards for a few rebounds is also an aspect of her game that might go unnoticed. Hard to imagine when she's averaging 7.7 rebounds per game. When you think of the top shooters in the league, Dupree's name will consistently rank among the top. The silent attribute, and one that certainly adds significant value to the Mercury, is her rebounding game.