Sparks Streak to Top Spot
By Aman Ali,

The WNBA is back in action after a dozen WNBA stars spent much of the past month clobbering their way to another gold medal for Team USA.

Since the break, the Los Angeles Sparks picked up where they left off and brought the San Antonio SIlver Stars down to earth last week in a blowout win, ending their franchise-best 12-game win streak. Meanwhile, the defending champion Minnesota Lynx are back in their ferocious groove as they became the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs.

The Sparks and SIlver Stars have since joined the Lynx in clinching playoffs berths, thus creating what's bound to be an exciting postseason in the West. But where all the other teams fit into the playoffs mix is just as exciting to watch. Time to rank 'em!


TEAM (last week) W / L NOTES
Los Angeles (1)
19-6 The Los Angeles Sparks are red-hot as they put the kibbosh on the San Antonio Silver Stars' 12-game winning streak last week. They didn't just beat the Silver Stars - they handled them by 24 points - and they're now on a nine-game winning steak of their own now. But what's exciting about the streak isn't just Candace Parker returning to her MVP ways or Nneka Ogwumike becoming a shoe-in for this season's Rookie of the Year, but it's the fact that the team's other players, especially Kristi Toliver, have stepped up their roles to support their superstars. Toliver has scored at least 19 points in every game during this win streak. Expect the Sparks to be the best suited team to stop the Minnesota Lynx come playoffs time.
Upcoming Games: 8/30 @Tulsa, 9/2 @Chicago
Minnesota (4)
19-4 The Minnesota Lynx took some tiny stumbles before the Olympic break but are once again looking dominant during a six-game winning streak. After bringing home another gold medal for Team USA, the chemistry of Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus is likely stronger than ever. Minnesota has the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and if it is able to hold on, that will make its quest to pick up a second-consecutive WNBA trophy much easier. But make no mistake, the way the Sparks, Silver Stars, and Sun have been playing this season will make the Lynx's quest anything but a guaranteed one.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 vs. San Antonio, 8/31 vs. Tulsa
San Antonio (1)
17-6 The San Antonio Silver Stars had their 12-game winning streak snapped by the Los Angeles Sparks last week, but the fact that they managed to win 12 games in a row is a spectacular feat that deserves recognition (only three teams in WNBA history have won more in a row in a single season). The Silver Stars' underdog race to the top has been a spectacular one led by the dynamic duo of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young. Hammon has been the glue, bringing out the strengths in her teammates like Jia Perkins. Perkins racked up 21 points in the team's last win against the Shock - the fourth time she's reached the 20-point plateau this season. Not many would have thought a team written off as a lower-tier competitor at the beginning of this season would turn things around and make a run like San Antonio has, but if it wants to get anywhere, they're going to have to work on closing games against the league's toughest (like the Sparks) first.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 @ Minnesota, 8/30 vs. Connecticut
Connecticut (2)
17-6 The Connecticut Sun are the top team in the East in addition to having the best road record in the league this season. But they've had trouble breaking through to the top of the rankings board this season with some inconsistent performances. Case and point, the Sun lost to the Chicago Sky this past weekend which, on paper, should have been an easy victory. The Sky played without their star player Sylvia Fowles and in the process were able to put an end to their nine-game losing streak by beating the Sun, 82-70. Granted it's only one game, but it's not the only sloppy loss the team has had this season. With a few more wins, the Sun could clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the team needs to fine tune their nit-picky weaknesses if they want to make it to the top this season.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 @ Chicago, 8/30 @ San Antonio
Indiana (5)
14-8 The Indiana Fever are 4-1 since returning from the Olympic break after handing the Phoenix Mecury their tenth-straight loss. Briann January led the Fever with 22 points that game while five other players on the team put up double-digit scoring numbers. But in order to get to the top in the Eastern Conference, they're going to have to get through Connecticut first. The Fever have been playing consistent basketball all season, but they're going to need an extra push to propel themselves ahead of the Sun. At this point, they may be the second team in the Eastern Conference, but the Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, and even the New York Liberty can each make strong case for knocking them out of a playoffs.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 vs. Washington, 8/30 @New York
Seattle (7)
11-13 The Seattle Storm's 2012 roster is finally back to full strength with the return of their clutch player Lauren Jackson. In the team's win against the Liberty, Sue Bird led Seattle with 18 points and 10 assists while Jackson and Camille Little dominated inside the paint with a combined 31 points and 14 rebounds. Three spots in the Western Conference are already locked in, but Seattle's attempt to clinch the final spot in the conference should be a fairly easy task to accomplish when at full strength. Instead, the team should focus on their chemistry now that everyone is back because they're going to need it come playoffs time.
Upcoming Games: 8/30 vs. Phoenix, 9/6 vs. Tulsa
Atlanta (6)
12-12 The Atlanta Dream have been playing consistent basketball all season thanks to the help of scoring-fiend Angel McCoughtry. But last week, it was the Dream's Sancho Lyttle that was grabbing all the attention with her 24 points that led the Dream past the Sky, 82-71. But this is still McCoughtry's team. She played off the bench during the team's last game against the Lynx, and her lack of playing time played a large role in losing 82-74 to the Lynx. This team will go as far as McCoughtry will take them and given the fact that she's been playing explosively all season, she will likely be able to carry this team to the playoffs.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 vs. Tulsa, 8/30 vs. Washington
Chicago (8)
9-14 With their star scorer Epiphanny Prince back into the mix after an injury, the Chicago Sky were finally able to put an end to their nine-game losing streak with a solid win against the Connecticut Sun. Prince put up 15 points that game with Swin Cash and Carolyn Swords each putting up 14 points. The Sky are only a few games shy of being above .500 and are making a strong case to being a playoff contender this season.
Upcoming Games: 8/17 vs. Atlanta, 8/19 @Washington
New York (10)
9-15 The New York Liberty's success is highly dependent on the play of Cappie Pondexter. And throughout the season, she's been playing superbly. In each of the past 11 games, she's scored at least 17 points - and most of those games her scoring totals have been in the mid 20s. In last week's game against the Mercury, the Rutgers product put up 31 points - the third time she's scored more than 30 points in a game this season. Unfortunately she's one of the only parts of the team that seems to be playing consistently and healthy. The Liberty have a very real chance of making the playoffs this season, but they need to play better as a team if they want to knock out Chicago.
Upcoming Games: 8/30 vs. Indiana, 9/1 vs. Washington
Washington (9)
5-18 The Washington Mystics picked up a solid win against the Chicago Sky last week to earn a much-needed "W". The team has had trouble moving up the rankings board this season because of their inability to beat tough teams and last week was no exception after losing to both the Atlanta Dream and San Antonio SIlver Stars. The Mystics have struggled all season to figure out their team chemistry and probably won't have the problem sorted out by playoffs time.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 vs. Indiana, 8/19 @ Minnesota
Tulsa (11)
4-19 The Tulsa Shock may be near the bottom of the Western Conference, but in fairness they also have had one of the toughest schedules to play.The team is a talented one, they're just young and need time to nurture their skills on the court. However, considering the fact they're playing so many tough teams, this season could be a good preparation for much better runs in the seasons to come. Expect the second half of the season to be a tough one though, originally the team had hoped their superstar dunking phenom Liz Cambage would return to the team after playing for the Australian national team in the Olympics but today the team announced she wouldn't return for the season. But with players like Riquna Williams and Glory Johnson stepping it up as defensive powerhouses on the team, the Tulsa Shock are only going to get better with age.
Upcoming Games: 8/28 @Atlanta, 8/30 vs. Los Angeles
Phoenix (12)
4-19 After the Olympic break, all hopes were pinned on Diana Taurasi to turn things around for the Mercury. But, unfortunately for Phoenix, she came back... only to sit out again after having surgery. Have no fear, though, Phoenix fans. It was just a wisdom tooth. Time is running out, however, for the Phoenix Mercury. At 4-19 and riding a 10-game losing streak, they have a long way to go in order to make a case for a coveted playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sure, the Mercury are a talented team with a young and hungry roster, but this year they have been dealing with one setback after another.
Upcoming Games: 8/30 @ Seattle, 9/1 vs. San Antonio