The WNBA Western Conference final series that tips off tonight at UCLA's Pauley Pavillion will feature the hottest young team in the league against the greatest front court ever to be assembled at one place and one time. "Legends of the court," is not just a bit of media hype to describe the Los Angeles Sparks' roster; it is the term Phoenix Mercury captain Diana Taurasi used to characterize the team that stands between her and a second trip to the WNBA Finals in a span of three years.
Five Olympians take the floor on behalf of Los Angeles in Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Candace Parker, and Australian silver medalist Kristi Harrower. And quite beyond Leslie's four Olympic gold medals, three WNBA MVP awards, and the other honors that come along with being the face of women's basketball for 13 years, there are countless other accolades richly distributed among her teammates -- Thompson's four WNBA Championship rings from her days in Houston, and Parker's combo MVP-Rookie of the Year awards last season, to cite just two.
The problem is, only one of member of the Sparks' starting line-up is on the north side of 24 years of age. And Phoenix, a team which is not without plenty of hardware for its own players to dust -- including Olympic gold medals belonging to Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, and an Olympic silver for Penny Taylor who was also MVP of, and a member of the Australian gold-medal team at, the most recent Women's World Basketball Championships -- is the team best positioned to exploit the downsides of that much, shall we say, experience on the part of the Sparks.
Phoenix is a team that loves to run and gun, and is at its most dangerous when doing so, as can be evidenced by their their wins in their two 100-point-plus games in their recent Round One playoff series against the San Antonio Silver Stars. And Los Angeles, to put it bluntly, cannot run with them. Instead, they must concentrate on denying Phoenix the ball and preventing them from ever establishing their running game.
Can they do it? We'll know shortly. If Phoenix plays as they did on Friday night, it is doubtful that there is a team in the league who can match-up with them. But San Antonio nearly found an answer in slowing the game down. There's a lot of on-the-court savviness and just-plain will-to-win that comes in the Sparks' package.