Sparks, Shock should reflect on what could have been

Updated: September 4, 2005, 8:35 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

First, a bit about the seasons that never were for the Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock, as both teams were swept in the WNBA playoffs' first round Friday by Sacramento and Connecticut.

Nikki Teasley, Kara Lawson
AP PhotoL.A. and Nikki Teasley got the best of Kara Lawson on this play, but the Monarchs ousted the Sparks for the second straight year.

Some might say the Sparks should have won a ton of games this season even if they just had Chamique Holdsclaw and Lisa Leslie playing with any three random people off the street. That's crazy. The WNBA is way too good for that now.

Even two future Hall of Famers can't do it all by themselves, especially when neither is a guard. Take away the injuries that drastically changed this season for Nikki Teasley, Mwadi Mabika and Tamecka Dixon, and the Sparks obviously would have been a much different team. But even that might not have been enough to overcome the chemistry problems L.A. had under ex-coach Henry Bibby.

So it's pretty easy to understand why L.A.'s season is done. Heck, there is something to be said for the Sparks just making the playoffs when they looked to be finished in early August. L.A. has a lot to get "healed" and a lot to figure out coaching-wise in this offseason.

Now Detroit ... the baffling team in the league this year. Sure, it took longer than projected for Swin Cash to return from her ACL injury -- but she's still just a year out from it now. It's more realistic to expect Cash to really be Cash next season.

MORE ON THE WNBA PLAYOFFS
Three of four conference finals spots are spoken for. Seattle hosts Houston at 10 ET Saturday to determine Sacramento's West finals foe. Indiana and Connecticut will clash in the East. Both series start Thursday.

In the meantime, keep up on the playoffs with the following links:

• Playoff Dish: Our nightly notebook wraps up all of Friday's action and says the Sun's team effort overcame the Shock's star power.

• Sun sweep Detroit: Lindsay Whalen scored 27 points and Nykesha Sales grabbed a career-high 12 boards as Connecticut advanced to it third straight East finals appearance.

• Monarchs dominate paint, L.A. to move on: Ticha Penicheiro and Yolanda Griffith each scored 13 points as Sacramento beat the Sparks in the first round for the second straight season.

• Storm seek return trip to West finals: The Comets are seeking their first playoff series victory since 2000. But the defending WNBA champion Storm stand in their way.

• A night off with Nancy: ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman kept a running diary during Thursday's games, with analysis on the playoffs, her MVP pick, details of her conversations with not one but two WNBA coaches Thursday, and even some insight into Lieberman's spending habits.

• Playoff schedule
• WNBA.com's playoffs coverage

However, even with Cash at the lesser capacity she was, Detroit had enough talent to play better more consistently this season. The Shock were like the car that seems to have everything needed to run great, but then somehow doesn't necessarily do it on race day. And with that nod to NASCAR, I've officially run out of analogies for Detroit's season.

That said, losing to this Connecticut team is not cause to throw any wrenches around the garage. Likewise, L.A. taking it on the chin from Sacramento two years in row is hardly abject failure.

This is where we'll move into "give credit where credit is due." In the playoffs, the Sun and the Monarchs are living up to their regular-season records. Sure, the Monarchs had a jalopy-type finish in Game 1 at L.A., but they still won.

Then in Friday's Game 2, other than for a stretch during the second half, Sacramento pretty much had no worries against L.A. They celebrated two league awards -- John Whisenant as top coach and Nicole Powell as most improved player -- and ushered the Sparks out the door, all on the same night. Splendid evening for the Monarchs fans.

Sacramento's balanced box score actually looked like what you might expect from Connecticut: five players scoring in double figures, led by Ticha Penicheiro and Yolanda Griffith with 13 each, plus two other players with nine and eight points.

Meanwhile, Connecticut's box score looked "un-Sun," with just three players in double figures, led by Lindsay Whalen's 27. However, there have been other games like this for the Sun this season, where Whalen has one of her so-fun-to-watch "Minnesota Gopher"-type scoring performances.

This is exactly why coach Mike Thibault was sure Whalen was the player he wanted with his first pick in the rich draft of 2004. He knew that she was able to do anything offensively that his team would need. She can be the table-setter. She can be the main course. She can even be both in the same game. And she doesn't mind which it is; she'll do whatever gives her team the best chance to win.

"Savvy" is the term typically used for players such as Whalen -- although, frankly, there aren't many others quite like her. Was she really left out of the All-Star Game this summer? Did that actually happen?

Anyway, it's one thing to be able to take what a defense is giving you; that's a big skill alone. What Whalen also does is take things that aren't given.

The Sun needed a big scoring night from her this time against Detroit, and she had one. Whatever is needed against Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals, Whalen will be ready to provide that, too.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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