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Basketball Hall-of-Famer and ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman answers your questions and e-mails throughout the year. Click here to submit a question of your own.
Hi Nancy, I've been a big fan of yours for a long time. With the playoffs coming
up next week, who do you see as the hottest teams in each conference heading into
the postseason? And are they your favorites to reach the Finals?
-Len, West Bloomfield, Mich.
Well, the Shock are at the top of their game, even with the Kara Braxton fiasco, the fact that Cheryl Ford is still out of the lineup and the fact that Swin Cash's back is acting up. They're the most complete team. And from the West, I have to put the Mercury in there too. Those are two teams that are playing just very solid basketball right now. There are others, too, but there's a reason Detroit and Phoenix are leading their conferences right now.
Detroit is going to be a favorite to reach the Finals until they're knocked out because they're the defending champions. If Indiana doesn't get Tamika Catchings back, which no one knows about at this point, I don't think they can hang with Detroit. If Catch does come back, I think the Fever will be a contender and give the Shock a run. But we don't know how that's going to play out right now. Even if she returns, we don't know how she'll affect the team chemistry.
As for Phoenix, I love the Mercury and everything they do. But in the playoffs, people will ask the same questions that were asked about the Suns in the NBA. Can you win a title with their all-offense, up-tempo approach? Good teams will be able to stop their offense, lock down on their shooters and take away their fast break, which will slow them down. Could Phoenix win a championship? Yes! Is it likely? Well, it depends how hot they get.
If I had to pick, I'd probably have an easier time supporting the case of a team that wins with defense… a team that can win even when it's not shooting the ball well. I don't think the Mercury can win when their shooting is off. The Mercury might not be worried about that, but people who watch the game are unsettled about Phoenix if they have to play possession-by-possession, half-court basketball.
I am a fan of Lauren Jackson's and I wouldn't dream of diminishing her fantastic
season. However, everyone is saying she should be MVP because of her stats.
But Diana Taurasi broke records left and right last season and didn't win the
MVP because her team wasn't on top. Seattle made the playoffs, but not very
impressively. Why should Lauren get MVP honors now when Taurasi didn't get it
-Merc Fan, Fort Lauderdale
I don't think it's just about Lauren's stats. She's a great defender. She's a terrific passer. Her team obviously benefits from her big-time stats, but that's not all she brings to the table.
If Catchings doesn't come back, I don't think you can put her in the mix because she's missed so many games. So I think it comes down to Lauren and Becky Hammon. Another player you could toss in there is Penny Taylor. Everybody knows that Penny is a terrific player, but she has really taken her game to a higher level this year. I think she deserves to be in the conversation… maybe even more than Diana. They've both had great years.
Hello Nancy, would my darling Penny Taylor-Gil be on your All-WNBA team?
You know, Rodrigo, your darling is an amazing player. And yes, she definitely would be on my All-WNBA team. In fact, if I had to redo my picks right now, I would put Penny at least on my second team… maybe my first. She's worthy of it. I love the way she plays and what she's done to improve each year.
Hi Nancy, it drives me crazy how when I'm watching a game on TV and many
times someone scores and the "announcers" just keep talking about
something other than the game. "Enough!" I said. But Nancy, I changed
my mind. Terry Gannon, Carolyn Peck and Heather Cox, who called the Indiana-Chicago
game on ESPN2 last Tuesday night, were just PERFECT. I don't believe they missed
calling a basket and still interjected interesting commentary. Maybe you had
-Lew, Huntsville, Ala.
We have great announcers at ESPN. It's not a surprise that you're responding to the fantastic job those guys have done. There's a reason they work for the worldwide leader in sports. Both Terry and Carolyn played the game, and Carolyn coached the game. And Heather is so amazing at getting stories and insight. They're a great team and it makes me happy to read your note, because that's exactly the way I feel about them. I watched too, and I love listening to them.
Generally, though, I think it's their job to create a flow to the game, and that depends on what's happening on the court. Is it a blowout? If so, you might want to add some more personal stories to keep in interesting. Is it close? If so, you'll want to make sure that you're very focused on the game itself, the X's and O's, so there's really a fine balance. You can tell a story, but let the action be the main focus. And those things are just what Terry and Carolyn do so well.
Nancy, I am a WNBA freak, especially when we're talking about the L.A. Sparks!
I love the team and have been a season ticket holder for years. I even travel
to see the Sparks play in other cities. So what the heck happened this year
with Lisa Leslie on leave? It seems that the team was lost without her. It almost
looks like it's the first time they've ever played together. What do you think?
-Jane Leslie (no relation to Lisa!), Los Angeles
If you're such a huge Sparks fan, then you know their success in the past wasn't just about Lisa. In the past few years, they've had some other excellent players: DeLisha Milton-Jones and Nikki Teasley, who ended up playing in Washington, among them. They've lost core players from their championship teams of 2001 and 2002.
And among the players they still have, Mwadi Mabika has had her injuries. They have a new coach this year in Michael Cooper. And they didn't have Lisa… that means a lot. It's like the Lakers without Shaq. She's a superstar. And then losing Chamique Holdsclaw? And losing your point guard Temeka Johnson for much of the year? C'mon! They're getting the best they can get out of the young players they have, like Marta Fernandez and Sidney Spencer. I think their performances have been remarkable. But no one could sustain the kind of personnel losses this team has seen.
Next year, though, Lisa will come back… and then you team her with Taj McWilliams-Franklin? Wow! Taj has had a really good season for L.A. I think they could be a super team next year. Lisa comes back, Temeka comes back healthy, Taj has another solid year, Mwadi stays healthy, Spencer and Marta continue to grow as WNBA players. I don't see any reason they couldn't come back and have a big year.
Hi Nancy, as this 11th year of the WNBA draws to a close, I believe that
the league's future is now at a critical crossroad. The current CBA expires
at the end of the season, and I believe negotiations will be tough. What do
you think the critical issues are for the league in the offseason? Expansion?
Player salaries and salary caps? Increasing attendance?
-TonyL222, Reston, Va.
I think the league is in a great position for growth, which could mean expansion somewhere down the line. This agreement is a partnership between the players and the league, and I think both sides see that. We still have to grow our TV audience and we still have to grow our in-arena audience. And every plan that should be is in place to try and do just that.
The money overseas is obviously wonderful and there's a big draw for the players because of that. But you don't command those kinds of big salaries in Europe if you don't have those fabulous four letters -- W-N-B-A -- attached to your name. Playing here in the world's best league gives you value and uniqueness overseas. And I think most of the players realize that.
Did you broadcast with Robin Roberts? I seem to remember that you did. She
is such a great anchor and I always appreciated that she was a woman reporting
on women's sports. Have you been in touch with her since her breast cancer announcement
and how is she doing?
-Anne, Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Robin and I have been friends for many years, since the late '80s. We worked many games together, both on the sidelines and in the studio. In fact, Robin helped me write my book Basketball for Women. And yes, we have been in touch. We were texting back and forth the day after her first treatment. I love her and pray for her and only wish her health and a 100 percent recovery. Robin is an awesome person and a tremendous role model for all of us.