The Minnesota Lynx were the last team to take the court in 2013, but it didn't take long for the latest incarnation of a squad which could have been a two-time defending WNBA champ if not for a historic, gritty performance by Tamika Catchings in the 2012 Finals, to establish their bonafides for this season.
Against a solid, if somewhat snake-bitten Connecticut Sun on Saturday night, Maya Moore was...well...Maya Moore (26 points, seven rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers in just over 32 minutes), while Seimone Augustus was...well...you get the point (20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-3 from downtown).
The end result, a dominating 90-74 season-opening victory, was even more impressive with Lindsay Whalen having a so-so night while her former collegiate teammate with the Minnesota Lady Gophers Janel McCarville was relatively quiet in her Lynx debut, not even attempting a shot in the game. Look closely at the box score, however, and McCarville posted a game-high +34 in the plus/minus column.
Things should get interesting on Thursday June 6, when the Lynx host Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and the winless Mercury (More on that below).
2. Sun By The Numbers
At first glance the numbers don't look good for the Connecticut Sun, who were hoping to build on their Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season and make the big push into the WNBA Finals. One week into 2013 and they are sitting on a 1-2 record, which could lead some to wonder what's wrong.
But a deeper dive hints that reports of Connecticut's demise may be at least premature if not out-right exaggerations. First, let's look at the opponents.
Connecticut handled New York alright (81-69) in their first game, before losing two in a row. Both of those losses, however, were on the road against two teams -- the Elena Delle Donne-Epiphanny Prince-Sylvia Fowles-led Chicago Sky and the aforementioned Minnesota Lynx -- who have Finals-worthy talent. And despite this tough opposition, two key performers for Connecticut -- 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player Tina Charles and veteran point guard Kara Lawson -- have posted consistently strong numbers thus far.
Charles, a veritable double-double machine, has reached that mark in all three games, going 19 points, 13 rebounds vs. NYL, 16 pts, 15 rebs vs. CHI and 22 pts, 10 rebs vs. MIN. Lawson is averaging 18.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, and has already buried 11 treys in just three games, with an impressive 0.524 three-point percentage. Add it all up and the Sun should be rising on the Eastern standings.
3. Wild Finish
Speaking of the Liberty, Bill Laimbeer's squad rebounded from the loss to Connecticut to pull off a thrilling, if unconventional, overtime victory in their home-opener, edging the Tulsa Shock 78-76 in dramatic circumstances.
Cappie Pondexter knocked down a short jumper from just outside the lane on the right with 0.5 seconds to play in overtime for a two-point New York lead.
Here's where it got interesting. Coming out of the timeout, where presumably the Liberty discussed how to defend for the last five-tenths of a second remaining, rookie point guard Skylar Diggins made the in-bounds pass directly into the post where Glory Johnson was more open than Wal-Mart on Black Friday. After Johnson laid it in, the Shock celebrated, Laimbeer and the Liberty shared a priceless "that's NOT how we drew up our defense" moment, and eventually the officials waved off the potentially game-tying bucket as it failed to beat the clock.
4. There Are No Gimmes in The WNBA
That's right, folks, there are no gimmes in the WNBA. With more and more good players coming into this 12-team, 11-players-per-roster league, regardless of what the schedules and record look like, on any given night it's the team that plays harder, better and faster that gets the W.
Exhibit's A and B from this past weekend were San Antonio's 83-78 win over Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Lyndsey Harding, Kristi Toliver and Los Angeles and Seattle's 75-72 win over Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Phoenix.
With Becky Hammon and Sophia Young sidelined by injury, the Silver Stars rode solid efforts from Shenise Johnson and Danielle Robinson over the star-studded Sparks, while the similarly medically challenged Storm (both Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson out for the the season) relied on Tanisha Wright and Camille Little to lead the way over the talent-laden Mercury.
5. Not Getting Any Easier
Speaking of the Mercury, sporting an 0-2 record after a highly optimistic offseason, highlighted by the addition of No. 1 pick Brittney Griner and the return of Aussie sharpshooter Penny Taylor, to an already impressive roster -- Taurasi, Bonner, Prahalis et al -- things will not be getting any easier over the next few games.
Taurasi and Company face the Lynx in Minnesota on Thursday, June 6 and then head down to Indiana where Catchings and the defending WNBA champion Fever await on Saturday, June 8. Luckily for Phoenix, they then fly home for a Friday, June 14 matchup with Candace Parker and her Sparks. On the plus side, wins against the Lynx, Fever or Spark would help the confidence of any team.