Just like the players, Basketball Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman has stepped it up for the WNBA Playoffs 2004. In addition to holding down the fort in the studio during the pre-game, halftime and postgame shows for ESPN, Lieberman is doing double duty. Last week, she outlined the keys to all four first round series and now she is breaking down the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.


Connecticut Sun vs. New York Liberty

These two teams really match up well, but for the Connecticut Sun to win, they need to have the same balance and aggressive style that they showed in the last two games of the Washington series. The Sun are an up-tempo, rebounding, push-it-up-the-floor kind of team and have tremendous balance in terms of how they can score. They can score both in transition and have excellent shooters. They may not shoot the 3-pointer as much as New York does, but Sun have excellent perimeter players and great passers. I love the matchup with Becky Hammon and Lindsay Whalen, which is as marquee as it gets. These two are the catalysts for their respective teams.

Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut Sun
Where New York has to stay the course, as they showed in the second half of Game 3 against Detroit, is that their shooters just have to shoot. No matter what their percentage is, they still need to keep shooting and cannot be gun shy. Players that can put the ball in the basket have an innate confidence and need to keep telling themselves, "I can always hit the next one or that last shot even though I may have missed ten in a row."

I have to give the edge in the post to the Sun with Nykesha Sales and the two veteran, former All-Stars in Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Wendy Palmer (the co-recipient of the 2004 WNBA Most Improved Player award). Bethany Donaphin made a tremendous shot for the Liberty to win the game agaisnt Detroit and I thought that La'Keshia Frett did a marvelous job for them as well. What a great pickup for the Liberty. She is a veteran that doesn't get rattled and really adds to the flavor of the team.

Connecticut may have more firepower inside and outside, but New York proved that they won't quit. Defensively, the Liberty have to find and defend Connecticut's shooters in transition. They must also defend the post to be successful. Connecticut is not a power post team, but they are a good post team. The Sun are smaller, more agile and better shooters than the power players of Detroit. On the other hand, the Sun have to find New York's shooters and stop them more in the halfcourt game. They also cannot let Crystal Robinson go right. She is a much better shooter going to the right than the left. She was also a key in that if she didn't hit those two 3-pointers and if Detroit made their free throws, we are talking about a Shock-Sun series as opposed to a Liberty-Sun series. I agree with Geno Auriemma in that Connecticut should trap New York's dribble handoff move. I wouldn't switch or slide on it.

As for how the series will play out, I cannot really answer that question because I just don't know... This season has been very bizarre. I think New York has to win Game 1 to have a chance. They are capable of winning on the road, having done so in the first game in Detroit as well as in Connecticut at the end of the regular season when they needed a win to get into the playoffs. But I just see Connecticut playing with so much confidence right now. They are a tremendous offensive team, they have great leadership, and I am still waiting for someone to stop Whalen. She knows how to use her body and is smart, strong, savvy and pretty cool.


Seattle Storm vs. Sacramento Monarchs

The Sacramento Monarchs have to feel quite confident because they are back in the Conference Finals and the albatross around their neck all these years, the L.A. Sparks, are home watching. The Monarchs are big and athletic and playing with a whole lot of confidence right now. They believe in each other. This team really thought that they could beat Los Angeles, and did so in L.A., which speaks volumes. They are getting it together at the right time. Momentum, confidence and even a little bit of luck mean something this time of year. But can Sacramento sustain it? Seattle played very well against the Monarchs this year, winning the season series, 3-1. I like what I'm seeing out there from these teams.

 
Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento Monarchs
The Monarchs' defensive pressure forces turnovers (nine steals per game), and from there, they know what to do with the ball. Seattle has to make sure that they get back in transition because Sacramento would like to run and get their post players running the floor. They want to get Tangela Smith, DeMya Walker and Yolanda Griffith in transition - when one rebounds, another releases. The Monarchs primarily rely on these post players. They average 67 points per game as a team, but 33 or 34 of those are from their big three players. When Sacramento gets the ball inside, they don't need the outside shot as much. That said, Kara Lawson, Edna Campbell and Ruthie Bolton are still very important to the success of the Monarchs

Where Sacramento has a propensity to struggle is in the halfcourt offense. They are more athletic and need to make something happen running the floor. If the Monarchs are shooting the ball well from the outside, they will play well. If they are not shooting well, then they struggle. I would also make Lauren Jackson run, so whoever she is guarding as to make her play defense and get her tired. I would wear her out by going at her.

Defensively, Sacramento needs to double team Jackson on the low blocks, get the ball out of her hands and make Sheri Sam, Betty Lennox and Sue Bird try and beat them. They can play the percentage game and force Seattle to settle for shots from 18-feet as opposed to 8-feet.

So why does Seattle have a chance? Because they have two of the best players in the world in Bird and Jackson. They are smart, veteran tean and when things get tough, you know they can execute in the halfcourt set. They didn't make the playoffs last year, got swept the year before and really feel like this is their year.

Seattle can also run, and Sue is such a good decision-maker. I like the fact that she can push the tempo when she sees it available to her, but Seattle is the better halfcourt team. I hope Sue is able to come back and is okay. All signs are that she will give it a go, and she told me it looked worse than it actually was. If she can't go, Tully Bevilacqua will step in.

Now I liked Tully before, but I was so impressed with the job that she did coming off the bench when Sue got hurt against the Lynx. She averaged 11 minutes per game in the regular season and played 27 in that second game. She score nine points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. I thought she should have been an Olympian for Australia - I have always liked her game. Other bench players will be critical for Seattle as well. Adia Barnes did a nice job doing what she does best - rebounding, hitting shots and playing solid. Alicia Thompson had a very nice series against Minnesota.

Both teams are playing great and this should be a fantastic series.

Send Nancy a question or comment