The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks have created quite a rivalry over the last few seasons.
As two of the top teams in the WNBA over the last handful of years, Minnesota and Los Angeles have met in back-to-back WNBA Finals, battling in what has become two of the most entertaining Finals series in league history.
After the Sparks beat the Lynx in a series-deciding five games in 2016 on a last-second shot, the Lynx got their revenge in 2017, winning in five games on a go-ahead bucket in the final seconds.
It’s only fitting that these two teams will face each other to start off the 2018 season.
Minnesota and Los Angeles will rekindle the rivalry at 4 p.m. Sunday in Minneapolis to open the 2018 WNBA campaign. The game will be on national television, for good reason, airing on ESPN2.
“Every game that we play, it feels like a playoff or championship game. That’s when you know, when you play teams and you have that championship game type of feeling. You can sense that this is exactly what a rivalry feels like,” Maya Moore said in a media conference call ahead of Sunday’s game. “Going to back-to-back Game 5’s and being almost identical each series. We knew going into Game 5 last year that this was it against a worthy opponent on the other side.
“You just know going into those Finals that this is a historic time and just an exciting time to play.”
Not only will Sunday be the first game of the season for each team, it will also be the first non-preseason game the Lynx and Sparks will play back at Target Center since Nneka Ogwumike hit a last-second layup to help Los Angeles win the 2016 title.
Minnesota spent the summer of 2017 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul while Target Center underwent renovations.
“I suspect it will feel kind of like a Game 6 with a five-month break or whatever it’s been. I think whenever these two teams come together, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season, last game of the season or in the middle of the season, it doesn’t matter,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve told Zone Coverage. “For the league to have this on display, I think what they are saying is this rivalry between LA and Minnesota is an important one. It’s not just about LA and Minnesota, it’s relevant and it’s good for TV.”
Along with it being a nationally televised game with a rival in town, Minnesota will also be raising its 2017 banner while receiving its championship rings before the game.
All the while, the team they beat will have to wait in the locker room.
“It’s going to be everything we think it would be with a lot of emotions,” Lindsay Whalen told Zone Coverage in an interview before the season. “The team that won last year is getting the trophy, while the team who we beat to get it has to sit there and watch. I’m sure they won’t be out there for (the ceremony), but they will still hear about it. It’s one game — a big game — but just the first game of the season.”
For the Sparks, the idea of hearing the Lynx raise the banner a tough thing to imagine.
“I think it adds salt to the wound a little bit. Last time we were on the court we did lose to them, but now we get to hear them get their rings,” Candace Parker said. “I think it does add to the rivalry a bit. … I think those moments push you and motivate you to try and not make that happen again.”
With a combined four MVP’s, four Rookies of the Year and six Finals MVP’s taking the floor at Target Center in the season opener, the rivalry is alive and well between Minnesota and Los Angeles, gradually becoming one of the top rivalries in league history.
And both teams will get a chance to rekindle that rivalry on Sunday in Minneapolis and throughout the entire 2018 season.
“The thing that I always talk to people about is just how hard this is. The margin of error for each team shows just how close we are,” Moore said. “The margin of error is so small and you just appreciate the talent that is out there on the court and the hard work that goes into it.
“It’s really phenomenal and there are some special players out on the court right now. We are looking forward to going at it again this year.”