The WNBA season ends, and the NBA season begins
Will offseason moves make a difference as teams challenge Golden State as the NBA’s best team?
On Wednesday, the WNBA’s Wonder Women and Warrior princesses concluded the league’s five-game championship series in a game won by the Minnesota Lynx over the Los Angeles Sparks, 85-76.
“We champions, baby,” said Sylvia Fowles, the league MVP in the regular season and in the Finals. On Wednesday, she scored 17 points and ripped down a Finals’ record 20 rebounds for the victorious Lynx.
It was the second consecutive season the two teams played in the Finals that went the five-game limit. Last year, the Los Angeles Sparks clinched the championship on the Lynx’s home floor, a feat the West Coast team could not duplicate despite 19 points and 15 rebounds from Candace Parker, the MVP in last season’s WNBA Finals.
The Lynx, the WNBA’s oldest team, boast perennial all-stars, past Olympians and future Hall of Famers: Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. It took a noble ensemble effort from the starters (Rebekkah Brunson was the fifth starter) to beat a determined Sparks team and Mother Time for their fourth championship in seven years.
Each starter scored in double figures; the starters combined to score 79 of their team’s 85 points. As Brunson said in postgame interviews, she and her teammates had left all they had on the court.
Meanwhile, the NBA season begins Oct. 17 with two games and some tantalizing questions. In the opening-night games, the Boston Celtics will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets will play the Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, who channels Cab Calloway’s zoot-suited necromancy and Prince’s jumpsuited razzle-dazzle on the court.
This season’s NBA questions include:
Can anyone stop the Golden State Warriors from winning their third NBA title in four years? More than 90 percent of NBA general managers who were polled picked the Warriors to win again this year.
How will the players, teams and league present their social activism? Will they be content with making needed statements and symbolic gestures? Or can the league marshal its wealth, celebrity and prestige to help foster real change in our society?
How will Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s answer to the Marvel comic book’s The Punisher, do playing with high-scoring forwards Paul George and Carmelo Anthony added to his team?
Last year, as league MVP and the ultimate solo act, Westbrook, a devastating guard, played as if he sought revenge against all his opponents, players who had committed an unforgivable transgression: breathing.
Can Lonzo Ball, a flashy rookie guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, come close to making good on the metaphorical promissory note his bombastic father has written against his potential?
And which young and emerging franchises (such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves) will make the most dynamic statements with their play as they gun for the Warriors’ unofficial title: the league’s most compelling and exciting team?
The NBA has sought to address elite franchises holding healthy star players out of some games (to rest) or mediocre teams being indifferent to winning (tanking) to improve their NBA draft positions. New rules say teams should seek to refrain from resting heathy players on the road or when they would have played in nationally televised games. Further, teams are cautioned to refrain from resting multiple healthy players for the same game. Teams that flout the rules will be subject to league discipline.
And by the 2019 draft, the team with the league’s worse record will have just a 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, down from the current 25 percent. Consequently, the process of tanking could be less attractive.
Nevertheless, this season fans will continue to buy tickets for games where one or both teams mock the declaration once made by ESPN’s Herman Edwards when he was head coach for the New York Jets: “You play to win the game.”
During the NBA season, the bards of the hardwood will tell their stories, new and yet familiar, one clutch play at a time. For those who believe winning it all is everything, there can be just one happy ending. And as the season begins, the NBA game will be defined by one final question:
Who will drink the wine?