|Tuesday, June 19
Sparks use Comets as benchmark
By Nancy Lieberman-Cline
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's Note: ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman-Cline, a Hall of Famer and former WNBA coach/player, will preview the top WNBA games each week for ESPN.com.
Los Angeles at Houston
The Sparks always feel they have to compare themselves to the Comets and their legacy of championships. The Comets have been the role models for the WNBA, so Cooper has always had one eye toward Van Chancellor and the success the Comets' coach has had. Cooper and the Sparks want the same type of success. And there is no dispute that the Sparks have the talent and the attitude to win a championship.
Thursday's game will be tough for the Comets. They are forced to cram makeup games into an already tough schedule because of Tropical Storm Allison. The game against the Sparks is one of Houston's five games -- all at home -- during an eight-day stretch. However, the Comets have the mental toughness to endure their demanding schedule. Chancellor will prepare them well.
In the first meeting between the two teams, people were surprised at how competitive the Comets are. Don't be surprised. Even though they lost two of the world's best players, Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes, the Comets still have two players who are better than most in the WNBA in Tina Thompson and Janeth Arcain.
Much to her credit, Arcain deferred to the big three of Cooper, Swoopes and Thompson and was just a role player. But Arcain is a world-class player and the leading scorer at the Olympics while playing for Brazil. This season she has different responsibilites and is averaging more than 20 points a game.
The Comets are getting incredible productivity out of Thompson and Arcain. If Amanda Lassiter can score six to eight points and if Coquese Washington and Nekeshia Henderson can give them some combination minutes at point guard to go with 15-20 points a night from Thompson and Arcain, Houston will continue to be a competitive, contending team.
While the Sparks need to stay focused, Houston is the underdog. The Comets need to play possession by possession, not turn the ball over and rebound in order to limit the Sparks' options.
New York at Phoenix
The Mercury has a new coach in Cynthia Cooper and are trying to put the pieces together in the midst of the Brandy Reed suspension. They play great at home because the Mercury fans are phenomenal, but on the road they struggle.
Phoenix has activated two key players -- Michele Timms and Adrain Williams. Timms is such an incredible leader, one of the best in the world. She's coming off a bone graft, which is a 12-month rehab process. But at age 36, she is admirably returning in seven months. In the meantime, rookie Kristen Veal has done a nice job for someone without experience night after night in the WNBA. Williams will help the Mercury with their rebounding and running.
The Mercury normally matches up well and plays with confidence against the Liberty. But the individual matchup to watch will be Phillips against whoever defends her. Phoenix needs to stop Phillips on both ends. At 6-1, she's quick and agile and can go around people. If 6-foot-8 Maria Stepanova has to guard her, the Liberty can use the screen and roll and take Stepanova away from the basket, where she's a dominant shot blocker.
Los Angeles at Cleveland