In 2012 the Los Angeles Sparks went 24-10, cruised through the first round of the playoffs (jerks) and were stopped abruptly by the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx went on to lose to the surprising Indiana Fever and the Sparks went home to figure out how to get past Minnesota.
Well, in 2013 the Los Angeles Sparks went 24-10 and begin their first round series against a tough Phoenix Mercury team on Thursday. I think Los Angeles has a good enough team to beat the Mercury, despite Phoenix finally looking a bit like the team I thought they would look like by mid-season, last night’s game not withstanding. We’ll get to the Phoenix series in a moment; the fact is that the Sparks won’t be happy with another conference finals exit.
For L.A., it’s title or bust.
That means they (probably) have to beat the Lynx. In Minnesota.
Barring a miraculous series by the Seattle Storm, and honestly nothing about that team surprises me anymore, the road to the finals will go through Target Center, a building the Sparks have not won in since August of 2010. The Lynx were a lottery team that year. So since the rise of the Lynx, the Sparks have not been able to win in their arena — that’s a problem.
Sparks fans like to point to last year’s series sweep against the SIlver Stars as a reason to be optimistic about the series against the Lynx. If you recall, the Silver Stars beat the Sparks three out of four times in the 2012 regular season, including handing the Sparks their only home defeat. A quick reminder that correlation =/= causation. Just because the Sparks “turned it on” in last year’s playoffs does not mean they will do the same in 2013.
What about this first round matchup? The Sparks once against host the third seed, a team they did not quite dominate in the regular season. By the quick “who has more star players” count, the Sparks seem to have the advantage. Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi more or less cancel each other out and Nneka Ogwumike has been incredible in her sophomore season (and under rated) while Brittney Griner has struggled with the physicality of the league in her rookie campaign.
Lindsey Harding is heralded as the final piece to the Sparks puzzle and she played well in 2013 with an 11.7 efficiency rating and a true shooting percentage of 50 percent. Her assist/turnover ratio is not great (5.2 assists to 2.48 turnovers per game) but her turnover rate (5.5 percent) is about average — and she’s certainly an upgrade from last year when Delisha Milton-Jones was in the starting five for Los Angeles.
Parker and Taurasi facing off in a series will be great entertainment but I think the Sparks have more talent and are a more cohesive unit than Mercury right now. If Phoenix had home court advantage and if Griner was in her second year, not her first, that could swing it the other way for me. I have Los Angeles in two games. I put in bold so you can make fun of me for it later.
A series win over the Mercury is expected for the Sparks — success will be determined by their play against the Lynx.
Also: Can we get both Griner and Parker to dunk in this series? (Click on images for them to animate)