Race to MVP: Lynx And Sparks Set For Star-Studded Matchup

Note: WNBA.com’s Race to the MVP, released every Wednesday during the season, is the opinion of this writer and does not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

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The game of the season in the WNBA will be played Thursday night, when the defending champion Sparks visit the Lynx in a Finals rematch (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The two teams are once again at the top of the league standings, and they also happen to feature four of our top six MVP candidates.

Candace Parker is rapidly climbing on this list, while Sylvia Fowles has been No. 1 for six consecutive weeks. Ahead of what should be a highly-entertaining matchup, here are the latest MVP rankings.

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 20.7 points, 66% FG, 10.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.8 steals

In a matchup of the two leading MVP candidates, Fowles got the best of Brittney Griner last Friday in Phoenix. She did much of her damage with Griner on the bench in foul trouble, but Fowles finished with 17 points and eight rebounds compared to Griner’s six points and three boards. More importantly, the Lynx pulled out the road victory to improve their league-best record to 12-1.

2. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 3
Stats: 19.4 points, 59% FG, 43% 3FG, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals

It wasn’t a spectacular week for Ogwumike, but her Sparks continue to roll, to the tune of eight straight victories. The Sparks’ supporting cast deserves plenty of credit for the winning streak, especially young guard Chelsea Gray (16.2 points, 4.3 assists per game). Still, Fowles is the only player with a higher Player Efficiency Rating than Ogwumike this season. It won’t be easy to close the gap in the MVP race, but a win on Thursday would help.

3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 5
Stats: 17.0 points, 47% FG, 40% 3FG, 8.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.9 blocks

As they showed last year during the regular season and playoffs, both Parker and Ogwumike are capable of being the Sparks’ MVP at any given moment. The nod here goes to Ogwumike, but Parker is making a serious case for herself. After recording 21 points, 13 boards and five assists at Atlanta, she led a furious comeback against Washington two days later. Parker helped slow down Elena Delle Donne in the second half as the Sparks overcame a 17-point deficit.

4. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 2
Stats: 21.8 points, 56% FG, 7.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks

As mentioned above, Griner was outplayed by Fowles during a disappointing loss that dropped the Mercury to 7-6. It was in part due to foul trouble, but Griner’s overall performance ranks as the worst in an otherwise stellar season. She must figure out a way to overcome Fowles and the Lynx, as the two teams face each other twice more in the next couple of weeks.

5. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Last Week: 4
Stats: 19.6 points, 47% FG, 97% FT, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Delle Donne looked unstoppable in the first half on Sunday as Washington jumped out to a big lead at Staples Center. In one sequence, she blocked a Chelsea Gray attempt at the rim, then drove down the court and past Candace Parker for a bucket plus the foul. She was quiet in the second half as the Sparks made their comeback. Delle Donne is struggling from three-point range, shooting just 31.4 percent compared to 42.6 percent last season.

6. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 7
Stats: 16.4 points, 42% 3FG, 6.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals

Moore was announced as the league’s leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game after early fan returns, and it’s well-deserved considering her dominance of late. She has risen four spots on this list in the last few weeks. As part of another all-around performance, Moore added to her highlight reel with a monster chasedown block against Phoenix. She recently became Minnesota’s all-time leader in blocked shots.

7. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 6
Stats: 19.6 points, 45% FG, 8.9 rebounds

Charles and the Liberty have lost three straight games and dropped to 7-7. The former MVP couldn’t get going against Delle Donne and the Mystics, tallying just eight points on 3-of-15 shooting. Still, Charles is among the league’s top five in points, rebounds and overall plus-minus. Next up is a trip to Seattle to face Breanna Stewart and the Storm.

8. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 9
Stats: 18.4 points, 46% FG, 8.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks

After three consecutive losses, Stewart led Seattle to a much-needed victory at Dallas on Saturday. The reigning Rookie of the Year dropped a season-high 30 points (13-of-21 shooting) with 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks. Stewart showed off her versatility with three-pointers, nifty post moves and midrange jumpers. Her numbers are now almost identical to last season, when she finished sixth in the MVP voting.

9. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 10
Stats: 16.1 points, 53% FG, 52% 3FG, 12.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks

To follow up on an incredible month of June – for which she was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Month – Jones started July with a bang. She scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a victory over Indiana, her fourth straight double-double. Jones nailed both of her three-point attempts and is now 12-of-23 from downtown this season. It’s a key factor as opposing defenders are dragged away from the rim to guard her at the three-point line.

10. Skylar Diggins-Smith
Last Week: 8
Stats: 17.3 points, 44% FG, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals

In her only game of the week, Diggins-Smith was held to 13 points and four assists as part of a disappointing loss to the Storm. Dallas is now 8-9 for the second consecutive season. Last year, the Wings went on to finish 11-23 and miss the playoffs. Can Diggins-Smith lead them back to the postseason?