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Race to MVP: Fowles Can Inch Closer in Sparks Matchup

Note:’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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With just 10 games remaining for the Minnesota Lynx and nine for the L.A. Sparks, Friday’s contest between the Western Conference rivals could be a pivotal one in the MVP race.

Sylvia Fowles has a sizeable lead over the rest of the field, and a standout performance on Friday coupled with a Lynx win might all but end this race. On the other hand, her two biggest competitors for the MVP award could start to close the gap by shutting down Fowles and evening the season series with Minnesota. In the first meeting, Fowles and Nneka Ogwumike both had double-doubles while Candace Parker was limited to two points.

Here are the latest MVP rankings ahead of Friday’s WNBA Finals rematch (8 PM ET, NBA TV).

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 20.7 points, 68% FG, 10.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.4 steals

Fowles finally showed she is human, scoring just six points in Minnesota’s loss to Indiana. But that was mainly due to foul trouble, and her other two performances this past week were typical of the player sitting comfortably in the driver’s seat for this MVP race. Eight different players have won MVP in the last eight years, and each week it looks more and more likely that trend will continue.

2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 2
Stats: 16.6 points, 48% FG, 8.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.5 steals

Although the Sparks saw their four-game winning streak come to an end, Parker had another ultra productive week. She reached double figures in the first quarter against New York, and the two-time MVP would go on to finish with 24 points and six assists. Parker can hardly be blamed for the loss to Dallas, though her 1-for-5 outing from three-point range contributed to the Sparks’ poor shooting night.

3. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 3
Stats: 19.6 points, 57% FG, 7.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals

As has often been the case, Ogwumike’s plus-minus rating was the highest of any player in Friday’s win over the Liberty. The Sparks outscored New York by 22 in the 30 minutes she was on the court. Just as Parker did, Ogwumike scored 21 points against Dallas despite the loss. Could she get hot down the stretch and become the first back-to-back MVP since Cynthia Cooper in 1998?

4. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 4
Stats: 20.1 points, 45% FG, 9.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists

Early foul trouble hurt Charles and her team last Friday, and the result was a lopsided loss to the Sparks. But the Liberty bounced back on Tuesday, marking their return from a road trip by beating Indiana as Charles led the way with 26 points. Charles continues to carry a heavy load, ranking first in the league in total shot attempts for the second straight season. She gets another crack at L.A. and its dynamic frontcourt this Sunday.

5. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 7
Stats: 15.9 points, 54% FG, 44% 3FG, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

The Sun needed Jones to step up this past week – especially with fellow All-Star Jasmine Thomas injured – and she delivered a pair of monster double-doubles. First it was 19 points and 15 rebounds against the Mercury, and then Jones helped lead a furious comeback against Seattle with 20 points, 14 boards and three blocks, including a huge rejection of Breanna Stewart. After four straight victories, Jones and the Sun (16-9) are now just two games behind L.A. for the No. 2 seed.

6. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 5
Stats: 17.0 points, 43% FG, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals

Moore picked up the slack when Fowles was in foul trouble against Indiana, but her 28 points weren’t enough to prevent Minnesota’s third loss of the season. After a dominant stretch of three-point shooting, Moore cooled off this past week, going just 1-for-10 from deep in three games. She made up for it by getting to the foul line often, including a 10-of-10 outing against the Fever.

7. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 6
Stats: 20.4 points, 49% FG, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks

What more can Stewart do? She just scored 20-plus points in 12 straight games, a streak that tied Diana Taurasi’s single-season record and was capped off by a 32-point night in Seattle’s overtime loss to San Antonio. That was the second night of a back-to-back, by the way, and Stewart also tallied eight boards, four assists, a career-high four steals and a pair of blocks. Seattle (10-16) has now lost four consecutive games and six of its last seven, but you certainly can’t point the finger at Stewart.

8. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 8
Stats: 14.2 points, 50% FG, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals

Similar to Jones, Thomas played heavy minutes this past week and was solid in both victories for the short-handed Sun. Thomas may not lead Connecticut in scoring or rebounding, but the advanced numbers prove she is a vital piece to the league’s third-best team. As of Monday, she led the entire WNBA in plus-minus.

9. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dallas Wings
Last Week: 9
Stats: 18.4 points, 44% FG, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals

After losing to Seattle and L.A. on the road the previous week, Diggins-Smith helped Dallas earn crucial wins at home over both of those Western Conference rivals. She nailed five three-pointers as part of the Wings’ record-tying performance of 16 treys against the Storm. Diggins-Smith now has her team in the No. 7 spot with a bit of separation from Atlanta and Seattle.

10. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 19.2 points, 40% FG, 40% 3FG, 2.7 assists

The sixth-leading scorer in the league, Taurasi has posted 30-plus points three times since Brittney Griner was sidelined with injuries. Those performances aren’t resulting in wins – Phoenix is 0-3 in such games – but Taurasi nearly willed the Mercury over the East-leading Sun last Friday. She leads the WNBA in total three-pointers and is shooting the second-highest percentage of her career from deep (39.7 percent).