For as much as they can help steer us in the right direction -- a Netflix queue is a sacred thing, after all -- they can also lead us off track from time to time. Ordinary People, famously, won the Oscar the year that Raging Bull, The Empire Strikes Back and The Shining were released. "Who Let the Dogs Out" won a Grammy.
So when Candace Parker took home her second straight Player of the Month presented by Boost Mobile award on Monday, making that a clean sweep for the Sparks' star on the season, we tried to look past it. To take the season as a whole and make sure that it didn't necessarily lock her in for the No. 1 spot in this week's Race to the MVP.
Then her performance on Thursday did.
Through the first two-plus months of the WNBA season, no player has mattered to her team more on both sides of the floor than Parker. Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles have continued their own marches into WNBA Legend status, while Angel McCoughtry's evolving and a pair of Silver Stars are shining. But with just one week left until the Olympic break, Parker leads the way into this week's rankings.
On Thursday, with the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Lynx in town and the second-place L.A. Sparks reeling after their third straight loss -- two of them coming at the hands of the third-place San Antonio Silver Stars -- the Sparks needed a win. Up only half a game in the standings from the Silver Stars, they were in danger of falling into the middle of the conference after looking, for weeks, like the league's best answer to the Lynx dynasty. What they got was a 28-point, 13-rebound day from the league's best player.
Playing 35 minutes, Parker turned out one of her finest performances of a year already packed with brilliance. It was her second straight double-double, after she'd gone 25-13 in a loss to San Antonio on June 28.
And after she'd played limited minutes the week before to nurse a sore knee, the Sparks needed everything she could give them.
Parker responded. The league's fourth-leading scorer exploded out of the gates, scoring 11 of her 28 points in the first quarter and all-around mauling the Minnesota interior. By the time the Lynx mounted a late charge, nearly rallying back from 19 down with seven minutes left, LA's lead was just too great, thanks in large part to the work of Parker on both ends of the floor.
The Sky ask a lot of Fowles. Always have. After leading the WNBA in minutes in 2011, she's threatening to do the same in 2012, with her 34.3 mpg second only to Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner on a night-by-night basis.
They ask because they need it.
With leading scorer Epiphanny Prince still sidelined, Fowles has gone back to shouldering the bulk of Chicago's burden. Her 12.9 boards per game rank her top in the league. Her 18.8 ppg, fifth. And when a string of four games between June 16 and 29 that saw her average 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds -- including three of her WNBA-best 12 double-doubles on the season -- all ended in Sky losses, she came back with a nearly perfect game on Sunday. Going 6-for-8 from the field and 9-for-10 from the line, she missed only three shots in 33 minutes (raising her career-best field goal percentage to 63.3), scoring 21 points with 13 boards to lead Chicago past the Dream.
For the Sky to earn their first-ever trip to the postseason this year, Fowles can't do it alone. But not many players in league history can do as well as Fowles, at making it look like she can.
Charles, the Eastern Conference Player of the Month presented by Boost Mobile for June, has sputtered a bit over her last few games.
After a parade of games that saw her score 18 points or more in nine of her first 10, she hasn't scored more than 14 in her last four. Facing 30 minutes of double-teams a night, she's shot only 32 percent and averaged 11.5 points over that quartet. She's still rebounding -- she's brought down 40 boards in that span -- but without her offense to rely on, the Sun has begun to dim a little.
Every year, it takes McCoughtry -- and, by extension, the Dream -- a little time to get going. Like their star player, the team spends most of the first half of the year lurching through fits and starts. Thirty-one points on 18 shots one night, 23 on 20 the next. Win over the Silver Stars, loss to the Liberty. You get the picture.
But this year, more than ever before, McCoughtry's ratcheted up the consistency. She still has nights where she shoots and shoots and shoots until she finds her stroke -- which sometimes happens about three games later, but she's never been more active on the defensive end (her 3.2 steals a night are a full steal above her previous career high) or the boards (her 5.7 a game are also a career-best). Atlanta still hasn't found its groove, after a three-game win streak ended with a loss to the struggling Sky, but the league's leading scorer is starting to evolve into something even greater.
Catchings is doing it all. Again. A year after she won her first-ever MVP trophy by leading her team in virtually every statistical category, she's the Fever leader in points (17.2), rebounds (7.4) and steals (2.1) and sits in second on the team in assists (3.1). She won't put up the huge scoring nights McCoughtry will, but on a Fever team with a little more support than Angel has in Atlanta -- at least until the Olympics are over and Erika de Souza returns -- she doesn't need to. She'll just do the kind of stuff she did in her lone game this week, like put up 17 points with 15 rebounds.
Right now, there's not a hotter team in the WNBA than Young's. Winners of five in a row now, the Silver Stars have climbed within a half-game of the L.A. Sparks -- a team San Antonio has beaten twice during the winning streak -- for the second spot in the West. And so much of that comes down to what Young has done. Playing far taller than 6-foot-1, she's averaged 18.4 points and 9.2 rebounds during the run, including two double-doubles over the past week (22 and 10 against the Lynx on July 1, 12 and 14 against the Mercury on July 3) and a 15-point, 8-rebound, 3-assist, 3-steal night in a win over Eastern Conference power Indy.
After the Lynx started the year at 10-0, the predictions started swirling. Birth of a dynasty. Best team ever. Undefeated season. Since then, they're 3-3, and now the owners of a two-game losing streak -- which should prove that 10 games into a season is a little early for coronations. Everything falters at some point, after all. Including Seimone Augustus. After spreading her work around, racking up armfuls of rebounds, assists and steals through the Lynx' winning streak, Augustus hasn't done much except for score lately. And even that has fallen off with last year's Finals MVP putting up 13.5 points over her last four, while recording only one rebound and four assists -- total -- in two games this week.
All the talk this year around Phoenix has centered on its missing superstars. No Taurasi. No Penny Taylor. No Candice Dupree, of late. Meanwhile, Bonner's putting together a season worthy of any of them. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year just finished up a week that saw her average 29 points (thanks to a 38-point, 8-rebound night in an 82-81 loss to San Antonio on July 3) and 8 rebounds, bringing both yearly averages to 21.5 and 7.3, respectively. She's third in the WNBA in scoring, ninth in rebounds and a brilliantly bright spot in a dismal season in Phoenix.
On June 28, as her team took its third straight loss -- this time against San Antonio -- to plummet back toward the Western Conference pack, Toliver, the league's ninth-leading scorer, didn't take a shot.
On Thursday, as L.A. clipped Minnesota to get back (at least momentarily) on track, she didn't miss many. Scoring a game-high 29 points on 8-for-13 shooting (7-for-8 from the foul line), Toliver also chipped in six assists and three boards to pace an L.A. offense that Minnesota simply couldn't stop. When she's on -- and with Epiphanny Prince out in Chicago -- she and Parker combine to form the league's most dangerous pair. When she's off, Parker can look like she's by herself. If Toliver can get some consistency, watch out for the Sparks.
Well, Hammon's back. Far behind her is the shaky opening to the season in which she followed up back-to-back 21- and 30-point performances with a string of three games in which she scored a total of 17 points. Ahead? An apex of the Western Conference that once looked unattainably far away. As San Antonio's caught fire over the past two weeks, Hammon's helped to light the spark. She's put up 21.3 points in her last three games, along with five assists and a steal a night.
Sure, Hammon, at 35, isn't as quick as she used to be. Though the Lynx, Mercury and Fever might beg to differ.
Last week, Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University courageously took the floor for her first college game, refusing to let an inoperable brain tumor keep her from achieving her dream – and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.