Can the New York Liberty make the WNBA Finals?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07: Sugar Rodgers
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07: Sugar Rodgers /

Could the New York Liberty shock everyone and get to the WNBA Finals?

The 2016 WNBA season was largely defined by the dominance of the L.A Sparks and Minnesota Lynx.  The Sparks, lead by the one-two punch of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, finished the season with the second best record and net rating in the league.  

On average the Sparks pummeled the competition by nine points per game.  The Lynx were the toast of the league, finishing with the top win total (28) and net rating (10.9).  Maya Moore put together her own amazing season leading her team in scoring (19.3 PPG), assists (4.2 APG), and steals (1.6 SPG).  In addition to Moore’s all around talent, Minnesota is blessed to have star players Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles, and Seimone Augustus.

 The dominance of these two clubs, and the elimination of conferences, made a WNBA finals matchup appear inevitable.  However there is still one team that might be able to surprise everyone.

The Potential Finals Spoiler 

The New York Liberty have quietly put together a very nice season.  Lead by their own MVP candidate, Tina Charles, New York was one of three teams in the league to finish with 20+ wins.  Although they started slow out of the gates, the Liberty went on a torrid run, winning 7 of  9 games in the month of June.  Tina Charles and company even beat the nearly unbeatable Lynx on their home floor in a 95-92 thriller.  

However that was the only win the Liberty was able to pull off against either the Lynx or the Sparks.  Due to the team’s poor offense, the Liberty struggled against the tougher Minnesota and LA defenses.  Thus it would seem unlikely that New York would be able to win a five game series against either of these opponents.  

But in spite of the odds the Liberty may be able to sniff the finals should they draw the matchup with LA in the semi finals.  This is due to a quirk in this year’s schedule as well a the new playoff schedule.  

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Taking Advantage Of Rust And The Schedule

Due to the Olympic break, none of the Sparks played from July 22 to August 26.  Although the team was able to rest, when play resumed LA stumbled out the gate.  The Sparks ended the season 5-5 in their last 10 games.

The Sparks’ finish wasn’t far off from New York’s at 4-6.  This might indicate the gap between the two teams isn’t so wide.  Furthermore Parker has struggled since the Olympic break, averaging a sub par 11 points on 38% shooting from the field.  The team as a whole struggled to find their offense, failing to break 80 in 6 games.  This paints the picture of a team that has been in a funk and might need time to get back in rhythm.  

That’s where the new playoff schedule comes into play.  Due to the new playoff format the top two seeds get a bye for the first two rounds of the playoffs.  After a bumpy ten games, the Sparks are going to take another break until September 28.  That’s another 12 day layoff for a team that needs more court time than rest.  

The semi finals only last five games so the Sparks won’t have much time to piece things together during the playoffs.  LA needs to be ready to go from game one and can’t afford to be rusty.  If the Liberty can get by the Mercury and take game one from a slow LA team, the finals might be in reach.  

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So Can The Liberty Make The Finals?

Of course this is assuming a lot and it remains to be seen if the Liberty themselves may be susceptible to rust when they take on Phoenix this Saturday.  Then there is the issue of re-seeding.  After Saturday’s matchup, the remaining teams in the playoffs are going to be re-seeded. This could mean the Liberty faces the Lynx instead of the Sparks, with a win on Saturday.  

A matchup with Minnesota would be absolutely disastrous.  The Lynx have maintained their deadly winning pace, closing out the season 8-2.  Although the Liberty are one of two teams to win in the Target Center this season, taking a series from the Lynx is nearly impossible.  So if there is a chance for the Liberty to sneak into the finals it would be through LA.  LA is the team that is coming into the playoffs looking a lot shakier and weaker.  

And yet it might not matter.  At their best the LA Sparks are still the more talented team.  Heck, LA might not even have to play its best and they’d still be the more talented team.  But it does seem that the Liberty might have shot in a year when it seemed the WNBA season would be a two team race.  And isn’t that chance all you can ask for?