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Adversity preps Sky for postseason

“THIS IS OUR MOMENT” is splashed across the landing page of the Chicago Sky website, the letters in bright white, glowing as if illuminated on a marquee. Below them is a link to buy tickets for the team’s opening-round playoff series against the Dream, which begins Friday in Atlanta.

The 2013 postseason might have been memorable for its historical significance — the Sky made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season — but the team’s unlikely berth in these playoffs proves it to be a true contender.

From Michelle Smith: Five questions for the postseason

The WNBA playoffs open Thursday after a regular season in which most of the teams in the league struggled merely to finish with a winning record. Two teams — Minnesota and Phoenix — stood head and shoulders above the rest through the entire summer, and the question for the postseason is whether anyone other than the Mercury or the Lynx stand a chance of hoisting the championship trophy.

While the other six teams — including five with sub.-500 records — try to turn that into a debate, we take a look at five questions facing the WNBA playoffs.

1. Can Phoenix finish what it has started?

From Mechelle: WNBA playoff X factors, predictions

We know who “won” the WNBA regular season: the Phoenix Mercury. Their 29-5 finish set a league record for most victories in a season and sends them into the playoffs as the obvious favorite.

Before the postseason begins Thursday (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET), we take a look at the conference semifinals. Who’s hot and who’s not of the eight teams still playing? Might there be an upset or two brewing? Here’s a series-by-series breakdown:

From Tim Leighton: Lynx open WNBA playoffs in shadow of Phoenix Mercury

“When you look at the team that has been dominant from beginning to end, that would be Phoenix, and I think they are everyone’s favorite,” said WNBA pioneer Rebecca Lobo, an ESPN analyst, in a national conference call this week.

“I would agree that I think Phoenix is the team to beat,” echoed another ESPN analyst, Carolyn Peck.

Not so fast, says Taurasi, who knows the Mercury are likely to meet the Lynx in the Western Conference finals next week.

“They’re the defending champs,” she said. “They’re the best team in this league.”

We’ll see soon enough.

Tim adds: Lynx: 11-year veteran Rebekkah Brunson still going strong. Oh, did you know Brunson is happy to be a Lynx for life

Seimone Augustus knows what she would do if teammate Rebekkah Brunson ever were to leave the Minnesota Lynx.

“I’d go out and buy a Powerball ticket and hope we’d hit the lottery or something,’’ Augustus said after Tuesday’s two-hour practice. “It would be one of those deals where you just hope for the best. That’s about all you can do when it comes to her. She leaves one of those huge holes in your lineup, you know what I’m saying?”

Augustus needn’t worry.

From Pat Borzi at the NY Times: Lynx’s Maya Moore Has Become a Leaner Scoring Machine

The Monster — the nickname the Los Angeles Sparks’ interim coach, Penny Toler, pinned on Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx last week — fits Moore’s play better than it does her personality.

Could a monster make her own ice cream, as Moore does? Could a monster charm a 10-year-old girl seeking an autograph or the president of the United States? Would any team dare to let a monster dance on the court and address the home crowd after victories? Then again, Toler’s description fits the kind of season Moore, a fourth-year professional player, is having.

Mike Peden offers: Minnesota Lynx headed to the playoffs: what’s working, what’s not

The Minnesota Lynx ended their 2014 campaign with a 25-9 record, becoming the first WNBA team to post 25 wins or better for four consecutive years. Reaching that threshold this year was a remarkable achievement, with Minnesota enduring several injuries that could have compromised their overall chemistry.

“For us to do it this season, with the amount of adversity that we’ve faced, I told them I’m very impressed and blessed to share it with them,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

Sneak in another few words from Mechelle: Maya Moore wins WNBA MVP award

Add another big honor to Maya Moore’s very full trophy case. The Minnesota Lynx forward has won her first WNBA season MVP award. The league has not officially announced it, but it was reported by the Associated Press, which also said Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi finished second in the voting, and Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry third.

Moore, who turned 25 in June, is the first Lynx player to win the season MVP award and the third UConn graduate, following Taurasi in 2009 and Tina Charles in 2012.

Moore was the WNBA’s leading scorer this season at 23.9 points per game. She had 12 games scoring 30 or more points, including a career-high 48 on July 12 vs. Atlanta.

Phil Ervin at Fox Sports North: Experienced, healthy Lynx ready for another postseason run

The dial is back at 11.

The stakes are at their highest. The pressures of defending — successfully, this time — the WNBA crown have moved to the forefront of the league-wide consciousness.

You’d have never known it if you sat in on the Lynx’s pre-playoff team gathering Monday night, Cheryl Reeve said. The feisty, accomplished coach isn’t feeling much heat, even with Minnesota’s postseason opener two days away and a late-season slide in the not-so-distant past.

Instead, her sensation is one of relief.

Tyler Killian at AzCentral: Mercury haven’t accomplished anything yet

With the regular season now over, the Mercury maintain that they haven’t accomplished anything yet.

That’s the right approach for a team still seven wins away from capturing its third WNBA championship.

But for fans and media, the happenings in Phoenix over the past three months have been nothing short of remarkable. The records set and feats achieved are almost too numerous to list and at times have even surprised the members of the organization responsible for them.

Cory McCartney at Fox Sports South: Dream have ‘Unfinished Business’ heading into WNBA playoffs

Sitting at a bar top table in a downtown restaurant, Michael Cooper motioned to a television on the back wall, where highlights of Little League World Series star Mo’ne Davis played.

“Have you seen her this girl yet,” Cooper asked. “She’s incredible.”

Cooper knows a thing or two about phenoms. He was on hand for the start of Magic Johnson’s career when the two were Los Angeles Lakers, and as Atlanta Dream coach he sees a number of similarities between the NBA legend and his rookie guard Shoni Schimmel.

Terrence Thomas from My San Antonio: Stars ‘having fun’ as playoffs loom

Becky Hammon didn’t have to come back, and she didn’t have to toil through months of rehabbing her injured left knee. Hammon’s legacy as one of the WNBA’s greatest players already was secured, so she had little else to prove.

But Hammon wanted to author her own ending — and it wasn’t going to be the image of her being carried off a basketball court last May in Los Angeles by a teammate and a trainer.

“It was worth it,” Hammon said. “Competing makes everything worth it. Being able to put your shoes on and have a chance to play a few more games is very special.”

David Woods at the Indy Star asks: Can the Indiana Fever win the WNBA title after a losing season?

There is no precedent for a team enduring a losing regular season to reach the WNBA Finals.

Take it from Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn: So what?

The No. 2-seeded Fever, coming off a 16-18 season, open the best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2) against the No. 3 Washington Mystics (also 16-18) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Dunn said she is thinking only about the first 4 minutes of Game 1, but she isn’t limiting the Fever.

From Gene at WaPo: Balanced Washington Mystics set for WNBA playoff opener vs. Indiana Fever

During the first 10 years of his WNBA coaching career in Connecticut, Mike Thibault almost always had a player he could lean on down the stretch. Nykesha Sales was one of the first. Asjha Jones followed, and in his final season with the Sun, Tina Charles was named league MVP.

The second-year coach and general manager of the Washington Mysticshasn’t had that luxury since arriving in the District to reboot a dysfunctional franchise. But the youthful roster he assembled this season overcame a dearth of star power to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

From Sue at Full Court: Unpredictability is the theme entering WNBA Playoffs

From Indian Country: Tweets, Please! Shoni Schimmel Takes Over the Atlanta Dream’s Twitter Account

From the Swish Appeal crew: Disappointing L.A. Sparks get second chance in postseason

Los Angeles Sparks fans got up close and personal with a tumultuous season, shortly after having to question whether they’d even continue to have a team in LA.

Veteran additions were supposed to push this disappointing Sparks team over the top. A coaching change, lineup shuffling and missed time all played a role but the Sparks still have to feel like they have second life in an otherwise disappointing season.

Atlanta Dream in an unfamiliar position at the top

As strange as it is given the number of times they’ve made it to the WNBA Finals, 2014 marks the first time the Atlanta Dream will enter the playoffs as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference after winning the regular season title.

Yet in keeping with tradition, the Dream haven’t made it easy on themselves.

Chicago Sky are the wild card

The 2014 version of the Chicago Sky is the epitome of a wildcard in the playoffs. You can’t take much from the team’s numbers, record or even it’s performances this season as the Sky only had it’s full roster available for 4 games this season, three of those being the last three games of the season.

The Indiana Fever look to finish the Lin Dunn Era in style

After the Seattle Storm missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the Fever now has the longest running playoff streak. Unlike the Storm, which only advanced twice in the two years where the team won the championship (2004, 2010), the Fever has advanced to the Conference Finals in six of those ten years, two Finals Appearances in 2009 and 2012, and the 2012 WNBA championship over a heavily favored Lynx team.

The Fever also made this playoff appearance, largely without the help of their franchise star Tamika Catchings who sat out the first half of the season due to injury. With her back, as well as some big contributions from players like Erlana Larkins and Briann January, could this team be in position to make a fourth straight Eastern Conference Finals, and even the WNBA Finals? Let’s see what they need in order to beat the Washington Mystics in their first round series.

The young Washington Mystics look to make some noise

General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault has led the Washington Mystics to the postseason in each of his first two years at the helm. Considering that the Mystics have only made consecutive playoff berths once in franchise history (2009 and 2010 under then-GM Angela Taylor and Coach Julie Plank), this is a sign of progress. A sign that the Mystics are now playing consistently and figure to be a team that is in the picture year in and year out.

In their first round playoff series, the Mystics will play the Indiana Fever, which has made three straight conference finals appearances in a row, and won the WNBA Finals in 2012. Game 1 will be on Thursday, August 21 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and Game 2 will be at Verizon Center. Game 3’s back in Indy on Monday, August 25, if need be.

Given that they are playing a playoff-tested team, the Mystics will be underdogs. This is not unlike how they have been for all of the last two seasons.

San Antonio Stars live by the three to take the third seed

The obvious feel-good story of the 2014 WNBA Playoffs is that Becky Hammon will be making her final post-season appearance before retiring and joining the coaching staff of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

But in a strictly basketball sense, the fact of the San Antonio Stars being in the postseason is a great story on its own.

In case you’re wonderin’: Conference semifinals matchups, seedings, TV times

The also have their 2014 WNBA award picks (Brittney Griner, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi are unanimous All-WNBA selections) and their Newcomer and Comeback Player of the Year awards

On the “have nots…”

Bill Laimbeer, Cappie Pondexter reflect on a disappointing season for New York

From Jayda: Sue Bird talks about her return to the court this season

BTW: WNBA expects at least six teams to post profit and Record-Setting Game Action Drives WNBA to Viewership, Attendance and Digital Gains

WATN? Former WNBA president continues to promote female empowerment

FYI: 5 Memorable Moments From The WNBA Season

OOPS!  Griner, Taurasi lead strong Shock team into WNBA 1st round

What did they say? 2014 WNBA Playoffs National Media Conference Call Transcript

Interesting reminder from Minneapolis: Despite new law, parents’ complaints remain an issue for high school coaches

In 2013-14, during the first school year with the new measure in place, calls from coaches seeking help dropped significantly, according to a statewide coaches association.

But heading into a new fall season, coaching advocates say parent complaints remain a significant issue, often contributing to coaches leaving jobs voluntarily before ever having to face the sting of not having their year-to-year contracts renewed.

Tim Sension experienced both.

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M-V-P! M-V-P!

Contrary to the chants in the Garden last night, it’s LJ.

Mechelle on the tall one from Australia: LJ says she has more to prove

Truth pours easily out of Lauren Jackson. If there are exaggerations on her part, they are always made in a self-deprecating fashion.

So she tells you, “I was really bad at school,” and that she was “a party kid” as a youngster away from home at the Australian Institute of Sport. And that she thinks perhaps, like so many athletes, she lives too much in a bubble that shields her from certain aspects of so-called real life. And that she has been known to act in contrarian fashion … well, just because.

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Who’s COY?

Says petrel at Swish Appeal:

Part of the problem with coaching is that it is very difficult to separate a coach’s contribution from the record of the team. The record of the coach is obscured in part by the talent of the players.  A good coach will look bad with bad players and a bad coach will look good with good players.

One way to separate a coach from his or her surrounding talent was suggested – facetiously, one suspects – by Bill Simmons.  Rather that look strictly at win-loss records, Simmons suggested that one look at the statistics where a coach might have the most impact.

Busy petrel also has the WNBA: Player Efficiency Ratings for 2010

With the end of the regular season it’s time to think about who the statistical leaders were in the WNBA, and one of the best stats to look at is John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating, or PER.  We wrote about PER in 2009 (but for those who don’t know how it works, you can click the article link and find out.  So which players this year had the best Player Efficiency Rating?

Q is also thinking about awards and talks about Where Value Is Defined By Unbelievability

When considering your choice for WNBA MVP, I want you to set aside all of your statistical arguments, close your eyes, and imagine for a moment that you’re a WNBA coach.

Try to imagine a sideline personality for yourself but please leave the Salmon colored suit out if possible. Think deeply about what kind of legacy you might want to leave with the media. You might also want to imagine how you would respond to the refs who occasionally make some calls that seem to demand dialogue.

Now, with all that out of the way, how exactly would you prepare your team for a 6’5″ player that not only does normal center things like rebounding and blocking shots but also shoots nearly 35% from the three point line and 91% from the free throw line?

freelantz is also throwing out a Swish Appeal challenge: Calling all lurkers: Come out, come out wherever you are!!

Let me add my “Hear! Hear!”

I can’t underscore the importance of women’s basketball fans speaking up. This means reading articles, leaving comments, clicking the “recommend” arrow, doing the Facebook thang, emailing both encouraging and scolding words to writers and editors, etc.

I know women’s fans can be passionate — attend a W game and you’ll see that. But, if you want to see the game continue and grow, that passion has to extend beyond the sports arena and into the media arena.

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Tamika Catchings?

So wonders David Woods of the Indy Star. Another runner-up finish for Fever’s Catchings?

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Mechelle’s narrowed it down to three and she’s really looking forward to making a choice.

Well, this is just great. Sigh. The WNBA’s MVP race in 2010 is even more of a headache than usual.

I really don’t like voting on awards. Yes, it’s understandable why “the media” typically does this, and it’s important to accept the responsibility when you’re asked. But …

As far as I’m concerned, no matter what you do as a voter, you can virtually always second-guess yourself to the point of being sure you screwed it up.

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From James Dampney at the AAP: Jackson Storming towards another MVP

Call the competition off, suspend betting, invoke the mercy rule and just give Lauren Jackson her third WNBA Most Valuable Player award right now.

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Catch as MVP

From Kevin Messenger: A Letter to the Fans and Media Voters of the WNBA – “Why Tamika Catchings Is the MVP of the WNBA – Why Not?”

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