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Thursday, August 23, 2001
Updated: August 28, 2:26 AM ET
Sparks say they're four from the floor

By Michelle Smith
Special to ESPN.com

Perhaps Lisa Leslie ought to just be quiet. Or perhaps she knows of what she speaks. We are about to find out.
Lisa Leslie
Lisa Leslie smothers Houston guard Coquese Washington during the Sparks' 70-58 victory.
The Los Angeles Sparks star was approached by a microphone and a camera in the afterglow moments of her team's series-ending victory against Houston and she made a statement, saying that Los Angeles needed to win just four games to claim its first championship.

Four games, as in two wins in a row against those pesky Sacramento Monarchs and another two against whatever scraps the Eastern Conference can throw in a westerly direction.

OK, maybe she didn't say that exactly, but that's what the Monarchs think she meant and that might be all the motivation they need to knock off the team that now has to be considered the prohibitive title favorite.

The truth is, the Monarchs are going to need more than motivation. They are 0-3 against the Sparks this season, although they hold the distinction of being the only team in the league to get within two points of Los Angeles at Staples Center.

Smith's pick
Oh no, not this again. The Sparks win in three games because they are indeed headed for a title.

Yolanda Griffith is playing with a clarity of purpose, averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds in the Monarchs' two-game sweep of Utah.

Los Angeles will need to contain her and hope that a DeLisha Milton-Leslie combination will be able to do the job. Sparks guard Tamecka Dixon has been playing the last couple of weeks with an injured right heel and took a cortisone shot Tuesday in order to deal with the pain while she plays. She did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday and was scheduled for a light workout with the Sparks on Thursday.


New York vs. Charlotte
Is Charlotte going to continue the most remarkable turnaround in the short history of this league and earn a trip to the Finals after a 1-10 start? Are the Liberty going to get another shot at a title? Are they going to be able to win it this time? Are both teams just battling to be fed to the proverbial lions against powerhouses Los Angeles and Sacramento?

Smith's pick
New York's combo platter of Weatherspoon, Johnson, Robinson and Phillips are too good not to go again.

So many questions.

The Liberty pulled out their playoff series against Miami on pure guts. Vickie Johnson said she stayed in bed for seven hours the day following New York's home loss Sunday, a combination of depression and a stomach ache that wouldn't go away. She came out inspired Tuesday night and scored a game-high 22 points in the deciding victory against Miami.

Charlotte is not without its own rock. Andrea Stinson may just be the most overlooked player in the league. Charlotte also has a veteran bench with players such as Shalonda Enis and Tonya Edwards ready at a moment's notice to join the battle. Edwards came off the bench to score a game-high 15 points in the deciding game against Cleveland.

Jackson rant
With the last of the WNBA awards scheduled to come out in the next couple of days and Lisa Leslie a virtual shoo-in for the MVP award, most of the rest of the postseason honors aren't worth a quibble. Except one.

Seattle's Lauren Jackson should have won the rookie of the year award, not Portland's Jackie Stiles. Here's the big preface: Stiles had a fabulous year for the most part and showed anyone who doubted that she can thrive as a player at the professional level.

But Jackson had the better year. She was the leading scorer among rookies and tied for the lead in rebounds. She had four double-doubles on the season and played for a team that had only one less win that Stiles' Portland team.

It's not difficult to see why Stiles won the award. The name recognition she built up in the NCAA Tournament had unquestioned carry-over. And there were those who had a hard time seeing Jackson -- given all her international experience -- as a true rookie, while conveniently forgetting that she is just barely 20 years old.

Around the league
  • The Sparks were clearly disappointed by the crowd of 8,730 that turned out for Monday night's playoff game against Houston. "We've given the city everything it could ask for, except a title," DeLisha Milton told the Los Angeles Times. "We've given Los Angeles a winning atmosphere and we still can't get support."?

  • It's hard to say whether league officials breathed a sigh of relief that Phoenix Mercury forward turned down an offer from Playboy Magazine on Monday to pose after being named the "WNBA's sexiest player." All publicity, as they say, is good publicity.

    Harrison repeated contention that she was considering the offer in order to supplement a meager WNBA income has to have union officials smiling from ear to ear. After all, when the WNBA Players Association goes back to the bargaining table in the offseason, their representatives will be able to say "Geez, your players wouldn't have to consider posing nude if only you'd pay them more."

    Michelle Smith of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.