As playoffs begin, coaches assess the WestSeptember 28, 2012
Now that the 2012 WNBA season has wrapped up, we asked three of the Western Conference coaches to assess the four teams that will be vying for the conference championship and a shot at the WNBA title.
The defending champion Minnesota Lynx (27-7) finished the season with the best record in the league and will have the top seed throughout the playoffs. Los Angeles Sparks head coach Carol Ross doesn’t see any weaknesses in this team, which, she admits, will make them hard to stop. Tulsa Shock head coach Gary Kloppenburg also doesn’t see any weaknesses except, perhaps, an off-night by Minnesota, which could allow one of their opponents to force an upset.
“They’re very well coached and play both ends of the court at a very high level. Offensively, they just run good stuff. They have good players to finish,” said Ross. “Seimone Augustus is probably the best offensive player in the league. Certainly it’s not a one-player show, they have three Olympians so clearly I’m not the only one that thinks they’re pretty special. Taj [McWilliams-Franklin] is the best offensive rebounder in the WNBA’s history, so clearly she knows what the importance of getting to the boards and getting second offensive positions is all about.”
Kloppenburg said, “In my mind, Minnesota probably has the deepest team in the West. They come off the bench and don’t drop off at all. This is such an efficient team without any really weaknesses that I’ve seen.”
Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said, “The good news for us is that we’re strong on both sides of the ball. I don’t think we address our opponents as much as we try to play our system the way we like to play. That’s generally with good matchups with people. We rebound the ball well. I think the biggest thing for us is to continue to involve our bench.”
The Los Angeles Sparks (24-10) are the second seeded team in the West and bring a talented squad of post players to the court every night.
“The strength of Los Angeles has been the ability to score the ball. With Kristi Toliver playing as well as she’s been playing and shooting the three well; Candice Parker being an MVP candidate, and Nneka Ogwumike who has been kind of a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year – their big three is awfully talented,” said Reeve. “They’re playing well. They’re playing confidently and they’re very good at home.”
Kloppenburg does see a weakness to the Los Angeles team, though he admits that it will be difficult to exploit. “We’ve had good luck against them by trying to pressure them out on the back court and try to take them out of their rhythm. I think LA’s starting lineup can match up well with Minnesota, but I just don’t see them depth-wise being able to stay with them. I think they’ll have to play really well to beat Minnesota.”
Right now, the Sparks are concerned with the San Antonio Silver Stars more than they are the Lynx. San Antonio (21-13), the third seed, faces off against Ross’s squad in the first round.
“They are a well-oiled machine on the offensive end,” said Ross. “They run good offense and have players at every position who know how to play their position. They know how to play together so it is a beautiful thing to watch them execute. Defensively they are rock solid also. They are very fundamental in how they guard.”
Kloppenburg admires the consistency of the veterans on the San Antonio team.
“San Antonio is a very good team and in a short series, they can usually play pretty tough. When you get into the playoffs in a short series, the team that gets hot at the right time may get an upset. They’re such a veteran team and their veteran leadership has been in some big-time games which will be a major advantage for them,” he said.
If there is one team that Reeve’s Lynx have had ferocious battles with this season, it was Dan Hughes’s Silver Stars, the team they faced in the first round of the playoffs last year. The Lynx won this year’s season series 3-2.
“San Antonio is a team that poses challenges in terms of their offensive system and their pick and roll game. They’ve got bigs that can space the floor and shoot. Their bench has been very productive,” said Reeve. “I think Danielle Adams has been their X-factor that’s really come on and has really helped them. They already have Becky Hammon and Sophia Young that are two players who have been great in his league for a long time. And Dan Hughes’s teams are always well-coached defensively. The combination of all of those things makes them very very good.”
The little discussed but still potent Seattle Storm (16-18) struggled early on in the season with injuries and the Olympic break. Center Lauren Jackson missed most of the season for training with the Australian National Team and then the Olympics, but finished strong with a three-game winning streak with Jackson back in the lineup and ended up as the fourth seed in the conference.
“That’s the team with the biggest question mark,” said Reeve. “They are always tough defensively. They don’t let you score easily if Lauren Jackson is back in her typical form. They’ve got a home court that gives them an edge each and every night.”
Kloppenburg said, “They’ve got that veteran leadership that has been through the wars. I think they’re very good. They can be a dangerous team in the playoffs. They’re the type of team in a short playoff that could upset somebody.”
Ross and Kloppenburg know that the defending champion Lynx are going to be difficult to stop in the playoffs, but Reeve is not taking anything for granted.
“They’re all good and nobody is going to be an easy out,” said Reeve. “I just think it’s amazing that last year, we had 27 wins and ran away with it. Now with 27 wins, it wasn’t a guarantee of anything. There are some teams that have had great seasons. It’s going to be a challenge but we are looking forward to just being in the playoffs and we’ll tackle one challenge at a time.”
The First Round of the Western Conference playoffs began last night with Los Angeles defeating the San Antonio Silver Stars by a score of 93-86 to take a 1-0 lead in this best of three series. Game two is at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday in San Antonio.
The Minnesota Lynx will host the Seattle Storm in Game 1 of their series tonight at 8 p.m. ET at the Target Center in Minneapolis.