With a 103-94 win over LA in their series opener, Phoenix can finish the Sparks off tonight at home to advance to the WNBA Finals against the winner of the Detroit, Indiana series.

The Phoenix Mercury took Game 1 of the WNBA Western Conference finals on Monday night with a 103-94 victory over the LA Sparks on the road.  That makes tonight’s Game 2 in Phoenix a must-win for LA to force a deciding Game 3 tomorrow night, as well as extending Lisa Leslie’s career by at least one more game.  This handicapper sees the Mercury closing out the Sparks and moving onto the WNBA finals on their home floor with an easy cover.

WNBAIn the NBA playoffs, quite a few bettors and handicappers follow the “zig zag” type of theory where a team who lost Game 1 of a series is right away a good bet to bounce back in Game 2.  Although the oddsmakers tend to factor this into the pointspread, using this in a betting arsenal can have some good success if someone has a gun to their head not knowing what else to go with.  However, it is important to see why this does not work as well in the WNBA – especially in the conference semifinals and finals which are only a three game series.

Game 1 of a best of three series is almost like playing Games 1, 2, and 3 of a best of seven series in the NBA all within one night.  The winner takes control and is then one win away from closing out their opponent with a solid spot in the driver’s seat – making it their series to lose at that point.  This is especially the case when the higher-seeded road team can steal Game 1 on their opponent’s home floor since it then sets up only needing one more win at home for them.  We saw this in the conference semifinal series between the Indiana Fever and Washington Mystics with the Fever winning Game 1 in Washington and closing out the series at home a couple of nights later.

With the Sparks trying to stay alive tonight, Game 2 is more than about a “zig zag” bounceback but about whether their season continues or not – and the “must win” factor can sometimes adjust a pointspread a little too much.  In Game 1 on Wednesday night, the Sparks were 3 point favorites and although the matchup was not in the confines of their usual home court at the Staples Center, it was clearly their best opportunity to defeat the Mercury knowing they would still need one more win on the road.

Tonight the Sparks have now become 3 ½ point underdogs in Game 2 and this is the lowest amount of points in Phoenix that they have gotten this season.  Even when facing the Mercury at the US Airways Center on the last day of the regular season with Phoenix expecting to possibly rest starters, the Sparks still closed as being 4 ½ point underdogs.  Although LA went on to win that day, WNBA leading scorer Diana Taurasi did not play at all in that game for the Mercury and her teammates only lost by a few points even with looking ahead to the playoffs.

Despite the Sparks having one of the top defenses in the league only giving up an average of 73 points per game this season, they have always been a little softer on the road averaging 76 points allowed per game there.  Even with it being a must-win game for LA, I feel dropping Game 1 had to take the wind out of their sails and knowing how much the Mercury have dominated them this season they may feel like it’s time to pack it in already.

WNBAPutting 94 points on the board in Game 1 was a season-high for the Sparks, but it was 14 three pointers from the Mercury that made the difference in who was victorious.  Six different players for Phoenix drained a shot from beyond the arch including Taurasi and Penny Taylor with four each.  I felt that Taylor would be a real x-factor for the Mercury come playoff time and she came up big off the bench shooting 6 for 12 from the field and putting in a total of 18 points – second to only Taurasi’s contribution that night.  Look for another impacting performance tonight at home from her.

The Mercury were even outrebounded by the Sparks in Game 1 by a margin of 40-26, but were still able to outscore them thanks to better execution.  LA turned the ball over 13 times that night, including 5 from Noelle Quinn of the Sparks who use to play at UCLA and whose jersey number 45 sparked the sale of $4.50 tickets at the Pauley Pavilion with the change in venue being needed.  With Britney Spears playing at the Staples Center that night, it was an “Oops – I turned it over again” night for Quinn - a real laugher from her that might have made some think it was Colin Quinn playing basketball instead of her.

Having Quinn coming off the bench is a lot different than what the Mercury have with Taylor and DeWanna Bonner.  Although Bonner did not have a big Game 1 against the Sparks, I would look for her to show more tonight down the stretch if needed as the WNBA’s 6th Woman of the Year.  The Mercury’s depth as a team is often overlooked with such star power in the starting five, but it gives them a clear edge over the Sparks and really any other team in the league.

The line for tonight’s game opened at BetCRIS yesterday favoring Phoenix by 3 points and the early steam bumped this up to 3 ½ at most sportsbooks.  Although the move from 3 to 3 ½ can be a big one in terms of value, I agree enough with the early steam to still lay the points here.  The line was made too low due to oddsmakers expecting some “must-win” and “bounceback” action on LA, but the home court of Phoenix and the fire power in the Mercury lineup is worth a lot more than 3 1/2 here.  I feel Phoenix wants to win Game 2 as much as the Sparks since no team wants to be part of a deciding Game 3 if they do not have to – especially when it has to be held back to back on the next night.

Although Lisa Leslie did not want to end her career in Seattle last weekend, the Sparks better save an extra timeout in the 4th quarter tonight for a grand exit for Leslie from the court in Phoenix tonight.  If LA was serious about winning a championship this season, then they should not have scheduled Britney Spears to play at the Staples Center on Wednesday.  But that’s Hollywood for you - in Phoenix, they care about their WNBA basketball a lot more.  Lay the points with the Mercury in what should be another high scoring shootout.