Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, August 07, 2006

WNBA: Will Sun Win Set Up A "T" Party

By Mel Greenberg

The code letter "X" next to the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA standings remains unchanged from what it has designated for over a week -- that the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions have clinched a slot in the playoffs.

Still to be officially claimed are the regular season title and the overall best record that would guarantee home-court advantage all the way through the playoffs if the Sun again reach the finals.

Connecticut moved ever so closer Sunday night to adding the designation for those events by beating Houston, 65-53, in the Comets' Toyota Center.

The Sun maintained a three-game lead over the Detroit Shock, which avenged last week's loss to New York by beating the Liberty, 65-53, at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Connecticut, in extending its franchise-record win streak to 10 games, all played without injured All-Star Nykesha Sales, is now three games ahead of the Los Angeles Sparks for overall record and the Hollywood bunch has but two games left to play _ home affairs against the Sacramento Monarchs and Minnesota Lynx.

The Sun's week will include back-to-back visits to the expansion Chicago Sky and Indiana Fever, a home game against Indiana, and then a visit to Detroit, which won't have much meaning against the Shock if Connecticut has already taken care of business.

However, the win over the Comets probably clinched one postseason perk - Coach of the year for Mike Thibault, who has made the Sun a quality operation since assuming the helm in 2003 when the franchise moved from Orlando.

Until several weeks ago, the case could be made for Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant with the Sparks, who has brought Los Angeles back to elite status. Some will still argue in that direction.

But the recent Sparks' slip and Connecticut's current thrust has made Thibault the winner on our ballot when we vote this weekend.

As for any other contenders, there will be some votes for Richie Adubato in getting the Washington Mystics to the playoffs, except the woeful bottom of the Eastern Conference has been helpful.

Dan Hughes was a great candidate at San Antonio until the Silver Stars faded out of playoff contention. The Phoenix Mercury, which technically still has a playoff pulse, have improved on the court, if not by record, under new coach Paul Westhead, but the team still needed to zip into the postseason to help his cause.

In fact, Connecticut has a chance to finish even better than last year's 26-8 mark. So we'll continue to wear our "We Like Mike" button.

The Race to the Finish: A Glance at Playoff Scenarios

Although the Eastern playoff participants are set, the seeds have yet to be determined.

Detroit needs Connecticut to lose two of the Sun's next three games and must beat the Seattle Storm, Chicago, and Washington to be in position to challenge Connecticut for the No. 1 seed on Sunday. The Shock hold the tie-breaker with Connecticut by winning two close road games against the Sun earlier.

If Detroit slips once, the Shock need Connecticut to lose all four games to take the No. 1 slot in the East. The Shock visit to Washington on Friday will be the end game of a back-to-back after hosting Chicago on Thursday. Thus, the Tuesday night game at the Palace against Seattle is huge and we'll look at the other side of that matchup when we get to the West.

Indiana, which trails Detroit by two games for second and a potential home-court advantage if the two meet in the East first round, must figure to win all four games _ two against Connecticut, Chicago at home and at New York on the road to pass the Shock. The Fever also need Detroit to plunge. The two split the season, so conference record is next. If that ends in a tie _ the Shock is a game ahead of the Fever _ Indiana would lose out on games against teams at .500 or better.

Washington cannot catch Indiana for third place in terms of seed. If the Fever lost all four games and the Mystics won all three, the tie-breaker goes to Indiana on a 2-1 record in the season series between the two.

In the West, Sacramento, the defending WNBA champions, cannot pass Los Angeles for first because the two can only tie at the top and the Sparks already hold the tie-breaker. However, the Monarchs can damage Los Angeles' overall cause by beating the Sparks Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Houston, which travels to Charlotte Tuesday night to meet the Sting and then finishes at home against Phoenix on Thursday and Seattle on Saturday, is looking in both directions.

A win in any of the three games clinches a playoff berth. If Sacramento loses all three of its games and Houston sweeps its trio of contests, the Comets would gain second place and home court in the first round by owning the season's series against the Monarchs, which would be the tie-breaker.

The Houston loss to Connecticut, Sunday night, however, dropped the Comets into a tie for third with Seattle. Conceivably, the season wrap-up on Saturday between the two in Houston could have playoff implications. The game will also feature ceremonies honoring retiring Comets All-Star Dawn Staley. Houston owns the tie-break with Seattle on season series.

Seattle has a tough week ahead. The Storm must win in Detroit, Tuesday, when the Shock will be trying to stay in the hunt for first place in the East. There's also a stop at San Antonio on Thursday before the visit to Houston.

That leaves us with Phoenix, which missed the playoffs by a game last season and would have owned the tie-breaker with Los Angeles.

The Mercury must win all four games this week _ a difficult trek with a home game Tuesday night against Minnesota, a visit Thursday to Houston, a visit to San Antonio Saturday and then a home game Sunday against Sacramento. In the help department, Houston must lose all three games because the Comets have the tie-breaker with Phoenix on season series.

The next hope is that Seattle loses all its games because the Storm also have the tie-breaker over the Mercury.

Dawn Into the Sunset

The tight playoff race has Dawn Staley's focus on the postseason rather than any emotions involving the close of her storied career.

The native of Philadelphia, who led Virginia to three straight Final Fours in the early 1990s, and then went on to win three gold medals, will make her final regular season road stop, ironically, in Charlotte on Tuesday night.

Until late last season, Staley spent her entire WNBA career with the Sting before the trade to Houston and after a two-year stint in the former American Basketball League.

After Sunday's game, Staley said of her final trip that she was looking forward to "re-visiting with the fans. They're my connection. Other than that connection, I'm happy where I am and I wouldn't want to trade places with anybody."

The Sting, of course, have long since been eliminated from the playoffs and are in a fifth-place tie with New York at 9-22.

As for the week ahead, Staley said of her emotions "are hung up on making the playoffs and making sure my end is not early.

"I still have a lot of basketball left in me and this team has a lot of basketball left in us. It's really not about me. I can't even put my emotions into it because I'm so tied up in competing for the playoffs. Maybe if we weren't locked into the playoff race, I could probably think elsewhere. But right now, we're trying to stay in the hunt."

Sunday's loss to Connecticut caused Staley to say, "We just fell apart. Personally, this is probably the worst I've played as a Comet. Not just shooting, but just bad decisions. I couldn't connect with (Michelle) Snow as much as I would have liked to when she was open: there was just no fight. We were all fighting within ourselves; but you have to let that fight out.

"This is the last go-round for me."

As for Connecticut's perimeter effort, Staley praised the Sun, saying, "If Connecticut is hitting that many outside shots, they're going to run through the playoffs and onto the championship."

(Kris Gardner reported from Houston.)

-- Mel


Blogger phat-chance said...

The USA Senior bball team roster has been set. Doesn't it seem like another sleight that no one from the Sun, who beat the Western All Stars, is on the team?

1:39 PM  

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