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Kathy Goodman: The playoff race

September 6, 2009 |  2:59 am

Thirty assists on 33 field goals. Six turnovers and 10 steals. Shooting 54% from the field and an even better 61.9% from behind the three-point arc. The high scorer, an inaugural player in the WNBA retiring this year after 13 seasons, sets her career record in points in the game. How do you beat that? Sadly, tonight those stats all belonged to the San Antonio Silver Stars, not the Los Angeles Sparks. And the inaugural player who had the best scoring night of her career was Vicki Johnson, who has announced that this season will be her last, although, like Lisa Leslie, seems like she has a lot more left to give the game. Tonight, she shot an astonishing 5 of 6 from 3-point range and 11 of 14 overall, to score 27 points in San Antonio’s victory over the Sparks.

If I was reading from our box score, it wouldn’t seem too bad: field goal percentage over 55%, a 4:3 assist to turnover ratio, outrebounded the opponent on both the offensive and defensive ends and only missed one free throw all night. But San Antonio was fighting for their playoff existence and the Sparks came up on the short end tonight.

We need one more win to clinch our playoff spot. We could also get there sooner with some help. But Minnesota and San Antonio don’t seem that interested in helping. This is the time of year when you start paying even closer attention to the scores in the other games in the conference. The Eastern Conference has all their own mess going in, with four teams locked in contention for the last two playoff spots, but I don’t have time for that. I can only focus on the West and what we need to do and what it is possible for us to do.

At halftime, when the Sparks were down by one point and I still had hope, I sent my mother the following e-mail: “If we win, we clinch a playoff spot. If Seattle wins too, we are locked into third and can’t pass Seattle or drop below SA or Minn. If Seattle loses and we win, we could theoretically pass them and finish second (if they lose out and we win out.) If we lose, we are still alive, but we have to either win Tuesday or Friday, unless Minnesota loses tonight too, which will also allow us to clinch a playoff spot. Got all that?” When she told me Minnesota was beating Seattle at the half, I responded that I couldn’t quite figure out who to root for in that game -- maybe they both could lose. Her response? “I don’t know a whole lot about this game, but I don’t think that can happen.”

Playoff hopes make people do strange things. You start spending time calculating scenarios and understanding the order of tiebreakers instead of grading papers. If we had won tonight, with Seattle’s loss, we would theoretically still have been able to capture second place from them on the third tiebreaker -- after overall record (tied), head-to-head games (tied) and overall conference record (tied), it would have gone to most points in head-to-head games (Sparks). And all the time I spent figuring that out was wasted since we lost. Now I have to start calculating scenarios and tiebreakers based on the outcomes of this weekend’s games.

You start rooting for teams you really don’t like. Was it less than 10 days ago that I was avidly rooting for a Detroit victory? Well, when they were playing San Antonio, I was the biggest Detroit fan there ever was. (Didn’t help, by the way.) And tonight, I finally decided that I would rather lock in our playoff spot than hold out hope for climbing to second, so I started to root for Seattle. (Also, didn’t help.)

I couldn’t write much about our game tonight. The only thing that mattered is we didn’t win. I ran into Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton in the hotel tonight after the game. I said to her, “OK, for the rest of the season, just make it boring.” She looked at me unsure if she had heard me correctly. “I get it,” I said. “You’re just trying to let this play out to the end -- make every game exciting, so we’re on pins and needles until you finally make it to the playoffs and then go all the way. Enough! For the next two games at least,” I said, “just explode to a huge lead, and then cruise to the end of the game. We’re no longer interested in any suspense.” She just laughed and said, “I hear you!” Not sure that’s going to help either. But if we beat either San Antonio or Minnesota (Tuesday and Friday at Staples Center), or either of them gets another loss, we will be OK. If they both win out and we lose out, or only beat Phoenix next Sunday, then ... well, luckily I have a three-day weekend to sort out all those tiebreaker scenarios.

-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks