By Mel Greenberg
On a day in which Los Angeles annnounced a mega farewell celebration for the retiring superstar Lisa Leslie at the Sparks' final regular season home game Friday night against Minnesota, her teammates took steps several hours later to ensure the Olympic multi-gold medalist will quickly return the following week to the Staples Center for an undetermined number of encore performances.
Leslie helped her own cause Tuesday night, scoring 18 points as the Sparks rallied at home to beat the San Antonio, Silver Stars, 76-68, to become the third Western Conference team to secure a playoff berth.
Whether Los Angeles will be third or fourth behind front-running Phoenix and No. 2 Seattle in the West remains to be seen. The Silverstars own the tie-breaker with the Minnesota Lynx, who will host a probably must-win game Wednesday night against the defending champion Detroit Shock, who will be out to get close to a postseason spot in the Eastern Division.
There was some consequence attached to the Indiana Fever's 69-63 win against the New York Liberty in Madison Square Garden, the only other game on Tuesday's slate.
Indiana caught Phoenix for best overall-record and top seed all the day through the playoffs. But the Fever need to do a little more because if the teams finish with identical records, the Mercury by a landslide own the tiebreaker with a superior record against the East than the Fever has against the West.
Indiana's remaining games will be at Chicago Thursday, and at Connecticut Sunday with both of those teams right now needing wins for playoff life.
Phoenix travels to Seattle Thursday and hosts Los Angeles Sunday in games that Mercury now need more than Los Angeles unless the Sparks are trying to avoid a four slot on the final day of the regular season.
Down in the basement, the Liberty loss dropped New York to just a game ahead of the West's Sacramento for worst record, which gets paid attention to at this time of year because of the small advantage gained with a few more ping pong balls when it comes to determining who gets rights to the No. 1 draft pick.
But unlike two years ago with the Candace Parker prize on the horizon, the Monarchs and Liberty could fill their desires in whatever they land as long as it is among the top two spots. The wild card here is if the Connecticut Sun fall into the lottery because area UConn favorite Tina Charles will be available for selection after her senior season.
Meanwhile as for Leslie's celebration, the night will begin with a presentation including Morningside High, her West Coast alma mater; Southern California, her collegiate alma mater, USA Basketball, the WNBA and Nike, Leslie's long-time sponsor from before she became one of three charter signees to the WNBA prior to the 1997 inaugural season.
A special emcee, not named, will be on hand as will WNBA president Donna Orender and Sparks head coach Michael Cooper, who is also leaving to coach the Southern Cal women.
Orender, chatting with the Guru in Washington last week , was a little chagrined at not checking the season schedule before signing off because the night is putting her in confict, causing her to miss Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer's induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
The Guru, who right now is marking this Sept. 9 as the 40th anniversary of his hire at The Inquirer, recalls a moment when he was able to top Leslie in one of the friendly encounters they've had over the decades.
It was 2003 at the media availability in Detroit prior to the second game of the playoffs.
As the Guru approached Leslie, she smiled and said, "You've been around me for most of my entire career."
The Guru quickly responded, "Actually I was busy covering (Leslie's longtime friend) Dawn Staley and you just happened to be in the same room."
Since there isn't much more to be said off a limited schedule, the Guru's earlier WNBA outlooks this week are in previous posts.
But here's the nightly tracker:
The Nightly Team-Level Forecaster
Atlanta: Road (1): at Washington - Sept. 12.
Home (1) Connecticut- Sept. 11.
Washington: Road (1) at New York - Sept. 13.
Home (1) Atlanta - Sept. 12.
Chicago: Road (0)
Home (2) Indiana - Sept. 10; Detroit - Sept. 12.
Connecticut: Road (1) at Atlanta, Sept. 11.
Home (1) Indiana - Sept. 13.
Detroit: Road (2) at Minnesota - Sept. 9; at Chicago - Sept. 12
Home (1) New York - Sept. 10.
Since all the discussion has occurred, the Guru goes straight to the forecast.
Atlanta: (Anything goes): 2-0, 1-1, 0-2
Washington: 1-1 or 2-0 with the Atlanta game the tossup.
Chicago: 0-2 Gotta win both but heavy underdog.
Connecticut: 1-1 but not impossible to be 2-0, which may not be good enough depending on tie-breakers. The Sun could also drop to 0-2 and definitelly be out of the postseason for the first time since moving from Orlando.
Detroit: 3-0, but maybe 2-1.
Western Group (and remember we're talking about qualifying, not placement):
Minnesota: Road (2) at Los Angeles - Sept. 11; at Sacramento - Sept. 13.
Home: (1) Detroit - Sept. 9.
San Antonio: Road (1) at Sacramento - Sept. 10.
Home (1) Seattle - Sept. 12.
Los Angeles: Road (1) at Phoenix, Sept. 13.
Home (1) Minnesota, Sept. 11
Again, straight to the forecast.
Minnesota: 1-2. Not impossible to go 2-1 but 3-0 would might be what;'s needed now.
San Antonio: 2-0 but not impossible to slip to 1-1. If it's 0-2 some help may be needed.
Los Angeles: Clinched a spot Tuesday night.