Posted Sep 30 2011 11:52AM
Which of these all-or-nothing contests will take longer to resolve: the NBA owners vs. NBA players or the Lynx vs. the Dream?
A big basketball weekend is upon us here in the thick of autumn, where the women from Minnesota and Atlanta will compete for the trophy while men in suits will compete for the money. The labor scuffle in the NBA has arrived at a crucial juncture with these 11th hour meetings, where David Stern has floated the idea of a missed season if progress isn't made in the coming days. Whether that's just a negotiating ploy or not, it's fair to say this is the most important weekend (so far) of a stalemate that's starting to ring some alarms.
As for the women? Well, their best-of-five series might be as intense, because of the stakes. Not only are they trying to arm-wrestle for the WNBA championship trophy, there's another prize: The coveted White House visit, one of the perks of being a champ.
After beating Indiana in the East finals, Angel McCoughtry, the fiery forward of the Dream, was interviewed at courtside and didn't even mention the dream of kissing the trophy.
"I always wanted to meet President Obama," she said.
Well, she has company. Maya Moore, the Rookie of the Year and one of the reasons Minnesota is in the Finals, has been there and done that. Moore went to the White House along with her Connecticut teammates, their reward for being NCAA champs in 2010, and gushed about the experience. She's always said she'd like to return, and like McCoughtry, winning the WNBA championship represents her best chance of pulling that off.
From a political standpoint, Minnesota vs. Atlanta looks like the 2008 election, which Obama topped Sen. John McCain comfortably. Yes, it's somewhat of a mismatch on paper, with Minnesota bringing four All-Stars and the best record in the league, while the Dream are merely a hot team at the moment. That's not to suggest the Finals will be a sweep -- but unless something freaky happens, an Atlanta win will be considered nothing less than an upset.
It's a return trip to the Finals for the Dream, swept aside by Seattle a year ago, and Atlanta is bringing a bit more to the series this time around. McCoughtry was a dangerous scorer then and now; she's skillful at getting to the free-throw line and breaking down a defense. However, she'd hardly alone. Izzy Castro Marquez was arguably Atlanta's most reliable player in the postseason, a smooth player with a high-arching jumper that kisses the sun before reaching the net. Castro Marquez scored 30 and 23 points against Indiana in the East finals after notching only eight points in Game 1.
And Atlanta has a backcourt upgrade in Lindsey Harding, a guard who's fearless off the dribble and capable of being either a distributor or scorer.
Finally, at some point Atlanta is expected to see the return of center Erika de Souza. She's not coming back from injury, but from Brazil, where she fled in the middle of the playoffs to fulfill an obligation to play for her country in the FIBA tournament in order to qualify for the London Olympics.
But will that be enough against a Minnesota team that, player-for-player, might be one of the deepest in league history?
Yes, such a designation could be premature for a club that hasn't won the championship yet. But talent is everywhere on the Lynx. There's Moore, who's not yet a superstar but definitely on pace. And Seimone Augustus, finally healthy after years of bad luck, who can score in so many ways. And Lindsay Whalen, the league's point guard of the moment, who finished top-5 for the league MVP. And Rebekkah Brunson, a female Dennis Rodman minus the trouble, who is averaging 12.2 rpg in the playoffs and is smothering on defense.
Both teams are dangerous in the up-tempo game while also capable of delivering in the half court. And neither arrived here by accident, although Atlanta did take advantage of MVP Tamika Catchings' foot injury in the decisive game in the East finals.
Still, this is Minnesota's trophy to lose. The Lynx had the better win-loss record, put more players in the All-Star Game, scored more points on-average than Atlanta and are steamrolling foes. The airline reservationists are on standby to book a Minneapolis-to-Washington roundtrip for the White House visit.
Of course, Minnesota, in one respect, wouldn't mind one upset this weekend: Should the owners and players resolve their conflict first, that would be the most welcome basketball news.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.