Scouting Report: Lynx at Sparks

Kyle Ratke
Web Editorial Associate

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Minnesota Lynx (5-1) at Los Angeles Sparks (3-2), 10 p.m., Staples Center

Where to Watch: WNBA LiveAccess, No TV

Where to Listen: 106.1 BOB FM

It may be hard to believe, but Minnesota and Los Angeles are the only teams in the Western Conference with a winning record. The Sparks sit 1.5 games of the Lynx back from first place.

The Sparks are familiar with seeing the Lynx one spot above them. Last season, the Sparks finished second in the West with a 24-10 record, three back from the Lynx. The Lynx eventually swept the Sparks in the Western Conference Finals.

The Sparks are bringing much of their core back from a season ago and are more than ready to get some revenge on the defending Western Conference Champions. The Sparks are led by center Candace Parker, who is averaging 16.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game this season. She also is averaging 2.6 blocks per game, ranking second in the league. If the Lynx want to score at the rim, they will have to go at Parker.

Head coach Cheryl Reeve noted earlier in the week that the team isn't looking who it is playing, but instead just looking to collect wins. That very well might be the case, but a win against the Sparks on the road would be more impressive than most.

Last time out

The Sparks last played on June 15 and simply dominated the San Antonio Silver Stars, 84-48. The Sparks were only up seven points at halftime, but thanks to a 26-8 third quarter run, the Carlos Ross coached squad was able to break away.

Los Angeles had five players score in double figures, led by forward Nneka Ogwumike who had a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds. Center Candace Parker finished with 13 points.

Kristi Toliver, Jantel Lavender and Farhiya Abdi combined for 37 points off the bench.

The commanding win came somewhat as a surprise considering the Sparks fell to the Silver Stars 83-79 on June 1.

Minnesota is coming off an incredible comeback victory against the Phoenix Mercury on the road. The Lynx trailed 60-56 heading into the final quarter, but outscored Phoenix 24-9 to claim their fifth win of the season.

Lynx forward Maya Moore showed another sign that she's improving her game, which seems to be on a night-by-night basis. Moore led the team with 26 points and hauled in 16 rebounds. The game was the first 25+ point/15+ rebound game in franchise history.

Shooting guard Seimone Augustus pitched in 13 points. The two former University of Minnesota teammates, Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen, finished with 10 and 13 points, respectively. Power forward Rebekkah Brunson continued to be a menace on the glass, finishing with 10 rebounds. In six games this season, Brunson has eclipsed 10 rebounds four times.

The last time the two teams faced off was during the Western Conference Finals last season. The Lynx swept the series with the Game 2 victory coming on the road. The Lynx sneaked out an 80-79 win led by 21 points from Augustus. Moore scored 20, while Whalen added 17. Parker scored 33 points and collected 15 rebounds, but it wasn't enough for Los Angeles to force a Game 3.

The two teams faced off six times last season with the Lynx having the upper hand, winning four. Both wins for Los Angeles came at home.

Key matchup: Whalen vs. Harding

This matchup might not happen because Harding is questionable with a concussion. Her last game came on June 14. Normally teams wait a week after concussions to insert the player into the lineup. Friday's game marks one week, so it'll be interesting to see the route Ross takes. If Harding is able to go, she will no doubt help the Sparks.

In four games this season, Harding is averaging 15.5 points and 5.8 assists per game. Both would be career highs. Harding ranks second in the league in assists, one spot ahead of Whalen.

Whalen has shown fans this season that she can do a little bit of everything. Well to be fair, most fans who have watched her throughout her career already know that. Whalen is averaging 13.3 points, 5.5 assists and five rebounds per game this season.

If Harding is unable to go, Toliver will likely take over at the point guard position. Toliver is more of a scorer than a facilitator, averaging 14.4 points per game this season.

Whalen more often than not does a superior job of playing to her advantages, which is her size and strength. She's stronger than both Toliver and Harding, so don't be surprised if she plays like she did against San Antonio's Danielle Robinson. Robinson, a small point guard, allowed Whalen to score a season-high 23 points back on June 11.

Injury report

Harding is questionable with a concussion, otherwise both teams appear to be healthy.

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