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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

WNBA: Photo Finish Looms To Reach Playoffs

By Mel Greenberg

Soon after the New York Liberty's win over the San Antonio Silver Stars became official Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden several New York players could be seen in a corner of the dressing room grabbing their cell phones and checking on results from elsewhere in the WNBA.

All across the league players are trying to take care of their respective teams' own business on the court but all realize in one of the tightest competitions ever for postseason activity that elsewhere other games are all impacting their own work.

In the East in arguably the best-ever top-to-bottom conference chase in WNBA history every team is in play and the conference title itself is still very much up for grabs.

In the West, while the Seattle Storm (21-2) wrapped up the regular season title Tuesday night in the earliest clinching ever, a four-for-three-spots race is going on for the other West berths led by second-place Phoenix, the defending champion.

Though every West team except Seattle has a losing record, the hunt is still a gridlock. The exception team not likely to be in the mix when the final regular season standings are to be determined is the Tulsa Shock (4-20), the former Detroit franchise which moved to the state of Oklahoma in the offseason.

The Shock are mathematically alive for now, trailing the fourth playoff spot by four games and the first-place Storm by 17.5 games.

Incidentally, for the moment in time if the Shock had another nickname similar to one by a collegiate program in New York City, they would be known as the 4-and-20 Blackbirds.

New York (12-11), which has been trying to jump on a moving playoff-bound train in the East for the last several weeks, will have two chances this weekend to gain momemtary passenger status and then try to hold it the rest of the way.

Mathematically the Liberty can jump over the Connecticut Sun (13-10) and/or Washington Mystics (13-9) perhaps with some help. On the other hand both of those teams could move higher with some wins.

Here is what's ahead for each team this weekend, including Thursday the day most of you are reading this, and then the Guru will list the day-by-day schedule at the bottom.

However, the Guru calls a quick timeout to again salute the Boneyard bunch who apparently have more interest in former UConn star Kalana Greene then the Guru's good friend Mike DiMauro, the assistant sports editor/columnist of the New London Day.

By the way, not many of you know that the Day's overall editor Timothy Dwyer was the Guru's sports editor at The Inquirer in 2000 when the Huskies won the NCAA Women's Final Four in Philadelphia, beating Tennessee.

Anyhow, in a recent column decrying the work ethic of former UConn stars Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery with the WNBA Connecticut Sun, DiMauro alluded to Greene saying that now she was in New York there was less interest in her actions.

The Guru was unaware of that column when he led the Wednesday WNBA roundup of Tuesday night's six-game slate on this blog with Greene's contributions in the win by New York.

Whether there was cause-and-effect or not, the Guru's 595-traffic total in the 24-hour period before midnight Wednesday was dominated in the 98 percent range off a link from the Boneyard.

One could say that throwing the bone a dog, er ex-Huskie, is worth something because the highest daily numbers to date since the Guru became a free agent at the end of April have all been attributed to readers from the Boneyard.

That said, here is a team-by-team look at the weekend's action followed by the day-by-day listing.

East

Indiana (16-7) -- The first-place and defending conference champion Fever, which has been on a roll in recent weeks, hold a one-game lead over the Atlanta Dream (16-9), a 2.5-game advantage over Washington (13-9), a three-game lead over Connecticut (13-10), a four-game lead over New York and a five-game differential over the Chicago Sky (12-13.

The Fever can enhance their hold or take a dangerous slip off of hosting Washington Friday night -- the Mystics hold a 2-1 series edge losing the last time the teams met in Washington -- and visiting Atlanta on Sunday.

Atlanta Dream -- With a visit to Connecticut Friday night and a hosting situation Sunday against Indiana, the Dream can keep pace and even return to the top of the East with a sweep. On the other hand, a pair of losses suddenly would put the Dream on the ropes in the race to the playoffs.

Washington Mystics -- Well, although things haven't always happened off prognostication this season, one could say the Mystics are in pretty good shape to stay in playoff-race mode. But they could also slip to dangerous territory, especially off of losses where one could consider Washington the favorite in two games.

That despite New York Liberty coach Anne Donovan's warning the other night -- "There are no easy games in the WNBA right now."

Washington has two cross-conference games at home. The Mystics will meet the San Antonio Silver Stars (8-15) in the Verizon Center Thursday night and the last-place Tulsa Shock Sunday afternoon. In between off a back-to-back on the front end Washington, as mentioned, will visit Indiana Friday night.

Connecticut Sun -- Well, yet another team that could get in better conditions with wins for playoffs access or could slide deeper into trouble with losses.
Atlanta visits Friday night and then there's a key showdown Sunday in New York.

New York Liberty -- The Liberty hosts the Los Angeles Sparks (8-16) Friday night then stay in the neighborhood -- food available across eighth avenue at the Stage Door Deli or Irish Pub among other places -- for Sunday's visit from Connecticut.
With help from Atlanta and a win over the Sparks followed by the head-to-head Connecticut game, the Liberty can reach Monday's day of rest in a good spot or could suddenly drift away depending on Friday's result from the Sun.

Chicago Sky -- Back in an earlier time in the nation's history the phrase "Go West" meant opportunity. However, the same direction is putting the Sky in a heap of difficulty this weekend. Chicago visits Seattle Friday night and Phoenix on Sunday. Already two games off the playoff pace, the Sky might be closer to the draft lottery derby to land UConn's Maya Moore after Sunday's results become official.

West

Seattle Storm --
What can be said about the Storm is Seattle's been phenomenal. However, the praise is also tempered from neutral observers nothing the bulk of the Storm games are against a bunch of mediocrity in the West -- both losses occurred in the East to Chicago and Indiana. With first-place in the West assured and an 11-game lead over Phoenix, the Storm must still keep plugging away to catch the 25-2 all-time start by the 1998 former Houston Comets.

There's also the matter of best overall record that still needs to be secured if Seattle makes it to the championship series against some potential East squads for home-court advantage.

And there's the chance for avenging the other loss in the East -- a previous paybay was dealt at home to Indiana -- when Chicago visits Friday night in the first of two Storm games on the weekend.

Sunday's visit to Minnesota can imperil the Lynx's playoff hopes with a win or enhance them with a loss.

Right now Seattle holds a five-game lead over Indiana in the overall record race with 11 to play. Sweeps, which could still or have happened against Atlanta, Washington, Connecticut and New York make the issue moot. Chicago technically could get a sweep. But a split off a Friday loss will eliminate the Sky in the overall performance derby even if Chicago finds a way to get to the championship series.

Phoenix Mercury (10-13) -- The Mercury, which had scored a WNBA-record seven straight games posting 90 or more points until just missing in the loss to Seattle Tuesday, is holding second-place two games in front of San Antonio (8-15) and 2.5 games over Los Angeles (8-16) and Minnesota (7-15,) and seven over Tulsa (4-20).

The Mercury can get closer to playoff qualifying with a Thursday win off of Minnesota's visit and Chicago's visit Sunday. Otherwise Minnesota, which is just outside the loop at the moment off of Tuesday's loss at home to Los Angeles, can give Phoenix one big headache with a win. A Mercury weekend sweep can put them in very good shape in the race for second place.

San Antonio Silver Stars (8-15) -- The key is trying to move closer to Phoenix but definitely above the Minnesota-Los Angeles fray, which is 0.5 behind the Silver Stars at the moment. Ahead is a tough visit to Washington Thursday night, and a visit from Tulsa Friday to complete the back-to-back. A sweep is mandatory though the world won't end yet with a split.

Los Angeles Sparks (8-16) -- Incredible that playoffs can be discussed with these kinds of records that will probably produce some of the worst-ever won-loss marks when Western Conference play begins. The Sparks visit New York in what is a must-win for both teams Friday night.

Minnesota Lynx (7-15) -- Tough season-ending injuries and tough losses have led to the Lynx predicament. Underdogs, definitely, for both games that include a road stop at Phoenix Thursday night and a visit from Seattle Sunday.

Tulsa Shock (4-20) -- No word whether coach Nolan Richardson plans to author a new book: 34 games of mostly futility. Well, being spoilers and owning the best chance to land Maya Moore may be worth something. But two games with wins would help egos, if nothing else. To get them, however, it means winning at home Friday aganst San Antonio and on the road Sunday in Washington.

The Day-By-Day For The Weekend

Thursday

San Antonio Silver Stars at Washington Mystics (7 p.m. -- All EDT)
Minnesota Lynx at Phoenix Mercury ((10 p.m.)

Friday

Washington Mystics at Indiana Fever (7 p.m.)
Atlanta Dream at Connecticut Sun (7:30 p.m.)
Los Angeles Sparks at New York Liberty (7:30 p.m.)
San Antonio Silver Stars at Tulsa Shock, (8 p.m.)
Chicago Sky at Seattle Storm, (10 p.m.)

Saturday

No Games

Sunday

Indiana Fever at Atlanta Dream (3 p.m.)
Connecticut Sun at New York Liberty (4 p.m.)
Tulsa Shock at Washington Mystics (4 p.m.)
Chicago Sky at Phoenix Mercury (6 p.m.)
Seattle Storm at Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m.)

-- Mel

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