Predictions

Stats as of press time, Wed., Aug 20


Picks

Yeah yeah yeah. Leslie, Swoopes, Lobo. They got next. Who else's got mad game? Here's our brief list of should-be and future stars of the WNBA:

1. Cynthia Cooper, Houston Comets -- 34-yr. old leading the race for MVP. Scored 44 points in a game. Fifth in the league in assists and first in scoring. She's like MJ without the Ballpark weiner endorsement.

2. Tina Thompson, Houston Comets -- Young player who looks like she might be averaging a double-double in years to come. Wears lipstick during games as a good luck charm. You go, girl!

3. Penny Toler, L.A. Sparks -- One of the most exciting players to watch. The coaches want her to tone down her scoring and be a playmaker veteran type. But even her ballhandling skills and passes are flashy. Sometimes she's too fast for her own teammates.

4. Tamecka Dixon, L.A. Sparks -- Willed her team to an overtime win over the Phoenix Mercury. Tough defender and invaluable blue-collar player. Not afraid to take the charge.

5. Mwadi Mabika, L.A. Sparks -- Sponsored by Dikembe Mutumbo so she could leave the Congo. Youthful speed and athleticism should combine with a maturing knowledge of the game and produce one amazing player.

6. Wendy Palmer, Utah Starzz -- Minister's daughter is one of the few bright spots for the Starzz, the cellar dweller of the West. She's fifth in the league in scoring and second in rebounding.

7. Andrea Stinson, Charlotte Sting -- Fourth in league scoring with 16 points per game and fifth in assists. Five rebounds away from a triple-double in games on June 29 and July 16. Will she be the first to record one?

8. Bridget Pettis, Phoenix Mercury -- Goes for the loose balls. Will shoot the three at clutch time. Master of the `raise the roof/push the sky' move.

9. Jennifer Gillom, Phoenix Mercury -- Sixth in the league in scoring. During a recent game scored most of her team's first half points. In a word, dependable.

10. Teresa Weatherspoon, NY Liberty -- If she doesn't win MVP, she'll take home Defensive Player of the Year award. Leads league in assists and steals (3) per game. Strong-willed and tenacious competitor.

11. Michelle Edwards, Cleveland Rockers -- The Rockers enjoyed a league-high eight-game winning streak and she's a major reason why. Floor leader who fills the stat sheet.

12. Ruthie Bolton-Holifield, Sacramento Monarchs -- Star of that cool Nike commercial starring her singing family. Ruthie sang in an Italian rock band. She also can create her own shots from anywhere on the floor.

13. Dawn Staley, Philadelphia Rage -- One of the best to ever play the game. Totally bad-ass. Oops, she plays in the ABL. Damn.


Playoffs

Just like a Bulls-Knicks series, a WNBA finals between the top powers in the East (Houston Comets and New York Liberty) tantalizes more than any conceivable match-up featuring the Eastern and Western conference winners. The WNBA playoffs format involves the two conference winners (at press time, Houston Comets and Phoenix Mercury) hosting the two teams with the next best records, regardless of conference. (New York and either Charlotte Sting or Cleveland Rockers). After those two semi-final games (August 28), the survivor with the best record will host the other winner in a championship game, August 30.

This single-game strategy leaves some room for an upset: Phoenix is 2-2 against New York, L.A. Sparks (if they win the Western Conference) won 2 out of 3 overtime games, Cleveland and Charlotte have strong teams -- very darkhorse. But the safe money is on a Houston-New York finals. It should be this way: the two best teams in the league duking it out.

Final Predictions: Houston over New York. Why?

Of course, I also predicted the Dallas Mavericks would be in the playoffs last year....

-- Teresa Rendon


Teresa Rendon is the Chronicle's resident basketball fanatic.

Houston Comets ticket info: 713/627-9470 or 629-3700.