East playoffs wide open

Originally Published: September 23, 2004
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

OK, you can take a very scientific approach to the Eastern Conference part of the WNBA playoffs. Extensive numbers-crunching, detailed analysis, scouting reports ... oh please.

Crystal Robinson
Crystal Robinson and New York open at Detroit on Friday as the WNBA playoffs tip off.
In trying to predict who will make the East finals, just figure it like this: Who has homecourt advantage? Connecticut and New York? OK, that's who to go with. And that's absolutely no guarantee.

The East standings this season have been like the four-way stop that the cops haven't reached yet in the city where the electricity went out.

Do you go next, or me? Hey, I was here first. Look out, I'm next. No, you get out of my way. Is it my turn now? Quit honking, moron! Who are you calling a moron? I've waited long enough. Oh, what are you going to do, just run into me?

The nice folks in the WNBA media relations department kept sending out updates over the last week or so about the playoff picture. It was essentially ... incomprehensible.

It was kind of like, "If A, B, C and D win, then A and B clinch spots in the playoffs. If B and D win, B and C make it, unless A ends up in a tie with B, and D finishes ahead of C, in which case it's A and B. But if A and B lose and C, D and E win, then C and D will clinch spots, provided C doesn't lose to F."

Or something along those lines. Frankly, it was just easier to wait until the whole battle was over and then say, "Now, tell us who is in the playoffs."

So, as it turns out, Connecticut won the East, New York's roller coaster pulled in second, Detroit made it in fits and starts at third and "As the Ball Spins" Washington grabbed the fourth spot.

In the East, there have been big injuries (Detroit's Swin Cash), disappearances (Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw), firings (New York coach Richie Adubato) and emerging rookies (Connecticut's Lindsay Whalen and Washington's Alana Beard).

What there hasn't been is a take-charge team, the way Detroit was last season. So parity has blanketed the Eastern Conference the way one snow storm, some freezing rain, some more snow and yet even more snow might cover the East Coast indefinitely in the winter. Nothing to do but scrape off your car and keep driving.

Charlotte and Indiana kind of got lost in a drift. But for the four who made it through, the good thing is that each of them is just as confident as the others that it can win.

Coach Mike Thibault had a vision for months about how his Connecticut team would work once he got Lindsay Whalen in the draft. And that has pretty much been fulfilled. Nykesha Sales, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Katie Douglas, Wendy Palmer and Whalen have done a nice job of sharing the offense.

The Connecticut fans can give one of their favorites, Duke graduate Beard, a real warm welcome to the Nutmeg State (cough). But she deserves credit for becoming the Mystics' go-to player despite getting off to a rough start this season.

As for New York-Detroit, this could be one of those series where the Liberty end up grinding out two wins in the way that only that team seems to do. Or Detroit could overcome the loss of Cash just because there is enough talent on the rest of the team.

But overall, whereas the West's first-round playoff series offer two clear favorites in Los Angeles and Seattle, the East offers the same thing it did during the regular season.

A whole bunch of "your guess is as good as mine."

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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