As always, it's a wild, wild West race

I'm not sure which is more baffling: trying to figure out how they came up with that plot for the new "X-Files" movie … or determining who really is the best team in the WNBA's Western Conference.

At least one of these things I expected to be baffled by: the wild, wild West. It seems it's always like this. Only it's even more like that than usual this season.

It's hard to say how the Olympic break will affect the top-to-bottom logjam that is the West standings. All seven teams have at least one player headed to Beijing. So there might be no advantage or disadvantage in regard to that for any team.

San Antonio enters the break at 18-9, the best record in the league. Becky Hammon now heads off to be a Russian for a few weeks. The Silver Stars' team chemistry is very positive and one of the best aspects of this team.

It's a group of players who really seem to like playing alongside each other. And there are just some truly dedicated "team-first" people on this squad.

Sacramento fell to Seattle on Sunday, but before that the Monarchs had a seven-game winning streak. Sacramento is, once again, a balanced team that doesn't have to rely on a go-to "star." That has kind of been the Monarchs' way for some time.

The Storm, of course, have been interesting to follow just from the standpoint of how two veterans in the twilight of their careers -- Sheryl Swoopes and Yolanda Griffith -- can do in a new environment.

So far, so good. Seattle couldn't realistically have expected them to come in and be the players they were in their prime. But the Storm could expect leadership, professionalism and a winning mentality. Swoopes and Griffith have provided that … plus, it's just kind of neat to see them on the same WNBA team.

A player who is in her prime, Sue Bird, is having a pretty terrific season. Her numbers have been very consistent throughout her seven seasons in the WNBA, but this year there seems to be something just a little sharper overall about her game. And kudos to Lauren Jackson for playing this whole season in the WNBA despite the huge weight of her Olympic responsibility to Australia. It's impossible to say enough good things about what Jackson has meant to the WNBA.

Bird and Jackson have been through this drill before: being teammates, then Olympic opponents, then teammates again. It worked very well in 2004, as they won the WNBA title.

Now what about Houston? Here's a team that I thought had every chance to be a big mess. But it hasn't been that way. Tina Thompson is still the main Comet who makes things happen, but like Sacramento, this is a group that gets contributions from a lot of people. The Comets have surprised me.

As for Minnesota, the rookie factor has been tremendous, as Candice Wiggins, Nicky Anosike and Charde Houston all have made important impacts. It would be cool to see this group, with Beijing-bound Seimone Augustus, stay together for a while and really get things going for the Lynx. I just don't know if Minnesota can grab a playoff spot this year.

Phoenix, the defending champion, is missing Penny Taylor badly. That was to be expected. Mercury fans might just have to bask in the glow of last year until next season.

Which brings us to the team many of us thought would take the West: Los Angeles. It has the dynamic duo in Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie, but the Sparks' guard play has not always measured up as well as they've needed. It's still hard to pick against L.A. making the playoffs -- and it certainly even remains possible for the Sparks to win it all.

Parker hasn't shown any signs of the fatigue that can sometimes hit rookie players going right from the Final Four to the pro game. She'll have to make it through the Beijing Games, the stretch run of the WNBA regular season in September and then, if the Sparks make it, the playoffs.

But her will to win is quite substantial, and she has a history of producing even more when the stakes are the highest.

So … what about the East? Well, Detroit finds itself in a bit of a pickle now, doesn't it? The Shock have lost Cheryl Ford for the season. Detroit is still leading the East, but goes into the break on the very sour note of a four-game losing streak with questions about how its interior game will hold together.

Two teams that enter the break on a definite upswing are Connecticut and New York. A few weeks ago, I mentioned Asjha Jones as an MVP candidate for all she has done for the Sun, but Lindsay Whalen gets a firm nod in that direction, too.

There is some concern, though, about whether Connecticut's guard play beyond Whalen could be good enough to get the Sun far in the playoffs.

New York is kind of like the Minnesota of the East, in terms of being a young team that could be really fun to watch progress and develop over the next few years. Unlike the Lynx, though, the Liberty aren't scrambling in the Western Conference. So New York looks very solid for the playoffs.

Which likely means the last spot will go to whichever team manages to be less disappointing: Indiana or Washington.

Indiana does take some fuel into the break after a Sunday win over Phoenix in which Tamika Catchings was just awesome. Her 5-of-5 performance from the 3-point line in that game not only made the Fever smile, but you can bet Team USA coach Anne Donovan loved seeing it, too.

Catchings is the best defensive player on the American squad, and if her offense is working well in Beijing, it's a huge lift.

As for the Mystics, their coaching carousel took another spin when Tree Rollins was dismissed recently and Jessie Kenlaw took over the position on an interim basis. The Mystics' seemingly never-ending troubles remind me of the advice that when you're lost, it might be best just to stand still for a while. Instead of getting even more lost.

And in spite of everything, Washington could still make the postseason.

There's probably no way to give the East three teams in the playoffs and the West five, is there?

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.