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.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

WNBA: Washington Monumental Hitting The Fourth

By Mel Greenberg

Two WNBA teams have identities appropriate to the Fourth of July celebration of America's independence.

The Washington Mystics lived up to their residency in the nation's capital on Saturday night, completing a fantastic week with a 69-54 victory over the Tulsa Shock in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, the New York Liberty suddenly reversed direction from a three-game win streak, losing in the desert to the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury, 97-82, which returned the home team to the win column.

Elsewhere, the Seattle Storm continued to be the rage of the West, once again dominating the host Los Angeles Sparks 75-62, while the Chicago Sky by percentage points moved out of last place in the East with a second win in Atlanta, beating the conference leaders 88-82.

The Federal government may not have unanimous support but Mystics fans have to be thrilled with the red hot play of their team at the moment.

Washington won its eighth game in nine outings and can now enjoy a long rest until meeting New York on July 15.

Crystal Langhorne, the Willingboro, N.J., native and former Maryland star, had 15 points and nine rebounds, while former Duke star Monique Currie scored 17 points and her Blue Devils teammate Lindsey Harding scored 14 as Washington moved to within a half-game of first-place Atlanta.

Hard to believe but if the Connecticut Sun beats the Dream on Wednesday night, the Mystics will hit the All-Star break in a first-place tie.

Washington is now 12-5 and is just six games away from clinching a rare-winning record in the franchise's 13-year history.

Scholanda Robinson scored 16 points for Tulsa, the former once-proud Detroit franchise with three WNBA titles that remained mired in last place in the mediocre West at 3-13, 11.5 games behind front-running Seattle.

New York (7-8), which had been moving closer to the Eastern playoff frontrunners, had everything go bad, highlighted by former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter's first return to Phoenix since the offseason deal brought her to the Liberty.

Pondexter, who helped the Mercury to two WNBA titles in the last three years, scored 21 points but was ejected in the third quarter after she punched ex-teammate Penny Taylor in the face.

New York will stay on the road to head to, gulp, Seattle on Tuesday before resting as All-Star activities take place in Uncasville, Conn., Friday and Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Phoenix (6-11), in third place a whopping 9 games behind Seattle in the West, got 24 points and nine rebounds from former Temple star Candice Dupree, the All-Star formerly with the Chicago Sky who landed with the Mercury in the three-way deal that brought Pondexter to the Liberty.

Diana Taurasi added 20 points to the Mercury total while Tangela Smith had 21 points and 16 rebounds.

Phoenix, with two one-point wins over Los Angeles and a one-point loss, will head to the Sparks (4-12) on Tuesday night to try to stay in the Western playoff mix and keep Los Angeles from gaining ground.

In Tinseltown on Saturday night, Seattle (15-2) got 20 points from Luaren Jackson in a 75-62 win over Los Angeles, which got 18 points from former Maryland star Kristi Toliver. The Storm hold an 8.5 lead over the second-place San Antonio Stars (5-9), who were idle. Down below in a bit, the Guru will update his earlier post in the week showing just how awful the Western standings are.

In an Eastern battle in the only other Saturday night game, Sylvia Fowles had 22 points and 12 rebounds as Chicago (8-9) moved into fifth-place by beating the Dream in Atlanta for the second time this season and now trail the defending East champion Indiana Fever (9-6), by two games and Atlanta by 4.5 games.
Chicago can move closer to the Fever Tuesday when the Sky hosts Indiana.
The Dream (13-5) got 20 points from Angel McCoughtry, last season's rookie of the year out of Louisville, but are now in danger before the All-Star break of falling into a tie with the red-hot Mystics, who will be scoreboard watchers Tuesday just 0.5 games back.

If the league had any decency, though it really can't be done, in a one-time salute to quality, if the fifth and sixth place teams in the final standings in the East have better records than the third and fourth place teams in the West, there should be a swap to avoid at what could be an embarassing postseason group in the conference West of the Mississippi River.

On the other hand, the two East also-rans get into the Maya Moore draft lottery race, depending on New York's status. (The Guru is writing off the top of his head and can't remember whether the Liberty again won't have a first-round pick.).

Updating: West Is West And It's Bad Though Northwest Is Pretty Dandy

(Guru's note: This item updates a previous post to reflect the week's action since no games will be played again until Tuesday.)

The gap between first and second place in the WNBA's Western Conference could get even wider or slightly better Tuesday (July 6) when San Antonio hosts the Eastern playoff-contending Connecticut Sun.

San Antonio at 5-9 is now 8.5 games behind Seattle, which will host New York on Tuesday. The Silver Stars could either move a game closer, stand still, or fall a gain further behind the Storm.

Third-place Phoenix will visit Los Angeles trailing Seattle by nine games. The Mercury could move into second but still be nine back depending on the Storm outcome.

There used to be an Avis rental car company commercial theme, "We Try Harder," noting the dominance in the industry by Hertz between the two.

In the East, that theme is true of the second-place Washington Mystics (12-5) just a half-game behind the Atlanta Dream, and Connecticut Sun (10-6) 2.0 games bac, and Indiana Fever (9-6), which is 2.5 games off the pace. For that matter, Chicago and New York are only 4.5 games behind the Eastern leaders.

Both the Sky and Liberty right now have better records than the Silver Stars.

So how bad is bad in the West? Well it's really bad.

Youngsters not around in the early years of the WNBA might think that Seattle's success is causing the disparity. That would only be slightly right.

There have been similar hot starts in the past but never a runaway like the act the Storm is performing.

Earlier last week the league led its weekly newsletter with a comparison of Seattle with other quality starts at the same point of the season.

Given as few as there were, the Guru asked his friends in the home office if they could supply the records of those teams that were in second place at the time of the previous hot starts.

The results are in and for now with almost a half season left, the Silver Stars by virtual of their position, are the all-time worst-ever second place in the history of the league. For that matter, Phoenix at nine back may be the worst third place team, but the Guru didn't want to take it that far.

Speaking of Phoenix, congratulations to long-time Guru friend Anne Meyers Drysdale, the former UCLA star and national broadcaster, on her promotion to president to go aslong with her title of general manager of the Mercury.

Meanwhile, for those colleague who are looking for notes and the rest of you Guru followerrs who come here to be informed, here is the tale of the tape in the history of the WNBA of teams with a dominating start and the performance of the teams trailing them in second place.

We'll go in chronological order by year. The second place squads are what they were as of approximately now since, where possible, the ultimate success of the dominate group will be listed for those wanting to make Seattle comparisions with history.

Also note that the regular season contained less games in the past, growing from 30 to 34 and also note that since some games have been played since the original post, the numbers are not in exact comparison but the illustration is still valid on how close second-place teams to dominate frontrunners were in the past.

-- 1998 Houston Comets (14-1) went on to 25-2 and ultimately 27-3 -- still the all-time WNBA season-ending record.
2nd place Phoenix Mercury (10-3) 3.0 games behind.

-- 1999 Houston Comets (13-2)
2nd place Sacramento Monarchs (10-5), 3.0 games behind.

-- 2000 Houston Comets (13-2) went to 19-2
2nd place Los Angeles Sparks (11-2), 1.0 games behind.
Went on to have Houston at 15-2 and L.A. at 13-2 and on to 16-2 that year if the Guru read his email right.

-- 2001 Los Angeles Sparks finished at 28-4 for second best finish.
2nd place -- did not request but whoever had spot was probably better than San Antonio in 2010.

-- 2002 Los Angeles Sparks (13-2) went to 14-2.
2nd place Houston Comets (13-3), 0.5 games behind.

-- 2010 Seattle Storm (15-2)
2nd place San Antonio Silver Stars (5-9), 8.5 games behind.

Some other reasons behind Seattle's success have been offered for the disparity. One is the demise of the Sacramento Monarchs in the offseason. Another has been Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson making deals that sent quality players elsewhere around the East, enabling those teams to be West teams in cross-conference matchups.

Tuesday's Preview

Everything actually as already been mentioned along the way but a quick recap:

New York at Seattle: The Liberty challenged the Storm a few weeks ago back in Manhattan and really could use an upset.

Indiana at Chicago: The visting Fever try to stay with the leaders while the Sky tries to move closer.

Connecticut at San Antonio: The Sun trying to avoid further slippage following another loss to Chicago while all has been said about the Silver Stars.

Phoenix at Los Angeles: As said, both teams really need the win with the visiting Sun trying to keep the Sparks out of the playoff loop. Minnesota's fragile state, holding fourth in the West, will keep the final spot up for grabs, though Phoenix and San Antonio could end up in either direction give the state of things.

-- Mel

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