What if someone told you that there is a better rivalry in basketball that does not involve the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors? You probably would not believe them, but if you are a basketball purist this rivalry might intrigue you. The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks might be on a pathway that leads to a part three in their heated rivalry over the last two seasons in the WNBA.
Over the last two seasons, LA and Minnesota have had the most wins as the Sparks have won 52 games while the Lynx have won 53 during that span. They have played against each other 10 times in the 2016 and 2017 Finals as both squads sit on a .500 record against one another. The scoring has been neck-and-neck too in the championship bouts as Minnesota has outscored Los Angeles 774 points to 759. The most important thing is both teams have stole a championship from the other.
Los Angeles and Minnesota are led by two coaches that eat, sleep, and breathe winning basketball in Brian Agler (the Sparks coach) and Cheryl Reeve (the Lynx coach). The two coaches have decorated resumes as they have won six WNBA championships combined along with three WNBA Coach of the Year awards.
Agler is entering his 15th season as a WNBA coach and he has only had six winning seasons. The difference for him in Los Angeles has been the loaded roster he has had. In 2015, Agler took over with new ownership and most of the roster he had is still intact. The main issue was Candace Parker as she missed a lot of time. The team went 3-15 in her absence. In 2016, she played a full season and her presence was felt as she averaged 15.3 points.
Parker might be the face of the franchise as she has been a member of the Sparks since she was drafted out of Tennessee in 2008. However, Nneka Ogwumike is arguably their best player as she won the MVP in 2016, averaging 19.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and one block and one steal. Chelsea Gray was finally given an All-Star nod last season and Odyssey Sims is a two-way threat.
Meanwhile, for Reeve, she took over the Lynx in 2010 and is entering her eighth season as a coach. She took over one of the worst teams in the league, unlike the Sparks, as they had a lot to work on. Most notably, they lacked the resistance needed to compete defensively. Things changed when Maya Moore was drafted out of Connecticut with the first overall pick. All she did was win a couple of championships and wreak havoc as a scorer. That translated to the WNBA as she has averaged 18.4 points, six boards, 3.4 assists, and 1.7 steals for her career.
Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, and Lindsay Whalen have been the winning core for Minnesota. Fowles is a walking double double and a defensive dynamo as she has been the anchor Reeve once longed for. She has been a WNBA All-Defensive First Team performer the last two years. Augustus is an All-Star caliber wing player while Whalen is an extension of Reeve on the court as the steady-minded point guard. This group has won two of the last three championships as the Sparks have been the only team to exchange blows with them.
Both teams have elite coaches and star-riddled rosters, but they also share a lot of the same statistical advantages. The last two years both teams have ranked in the top five in scoring and have generally ranked first or second in points allowed. The team that has ranked higher in points allowed has won the championship that same season.
If you need more proof that this rivalry is heated, look no further than opening night when the two heavyweights dueled on the court. The game went back and forth well into the final 30 seconds of the game. After a pair of clutch Whalen free throws to trim the Sparks lead to one point and a timeout, Sims spotted up for a jumper and missed. Minnesota’s Whalen made her way back to the line and hit some more clutch free throws. This time the Lynx had a one-point lead with 5.8 seconds left. What happened next was remarkable.
Gray called game.
That had to certainly ease the Sparks pain after losing in the Finals to the Lynx in 2017 and hearing the Lynx championship music during shootaround. This rivalry is for real and it deserves more notoriety. Brace yourselves as we can only hope the last two years and the season opener were just a warm-up for one of the best rivalries in sports.