WNBA: East Upsets Tighten Race Further
By Mel Greenberg
The ride down the stretch in both WNBA conference races has become worthy of the E-tickets needed in the early days of the Disney entertainment complexes before one overall price for those attractions that had the best thrills.
Every night, every game, the unexpected keeps occuring as was the case in a sense at all five sites Tuesday night.
New York and Washington made things even tighter with upset road wins as the Liberty topped the defending East conference champion Indiana Fever, 82-72, while the Washington Mystics stunned the first-place Atlanta Dream 86-78.
In a confrontation highlighting one of the big trades in the off-season, the Connecticut Sun rallied from a 30-point deficit at Minnesota only to lose to the Lynx in overtime 111-103.
The result keeps the Lynx very much alive for a playoff berth in the West while the loss mires the Sun into deeper trouble to secure a berth in the East. In fact, a glance at the remaining Connecticut schedule reveals only one game which can be penciled as a probable win.
But that game against Tulsa, the team with the worst record, isn't even a major guarantee in light of the Shock's 84-75 upset Tuesday over Seattle, which has the league's best record, the West top seed, but no longer can match the best-ever performance of just three regular season losses set by the former Houston Comets in 1998.
With the Storm suddenly hitting a two-game losing streak on the road following a 13-game win streak, anything will be possible once the playoffs begin.
That includes, what seemed improbable several weeks, Phoenix successfully defending its WNBA title. The Mercury, who are not only hitting 90 points a night but even hitting triple digits many times, got to .500 at 13-13 after winning in San Antonio 103-92 against the Silver Stars.
In one instance, it coud be said no big upset the way both teams have been playing. But the game was in the Alamo city, which has usually been a tough stop on the WNBA tour.
That said let's go to the written tape to review Tuesday's action.
Powell Pushes New York Over Indiana
Another major offseason acquisition by the New York Liberty (15-11) finally had a breakout night and just at the right time as former Stanford star Nicole Powell scored 20 points, hitting 6-of-7 three-point attempts, to give coach Anne Donovan's group its 82-72 win over the Indiana Fever (16-10).
Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter had 19 points, while Indiana's Tamika Catchings matched that total.
Powell was picked off the disperal draft of the former Sacramento Monarchs roster, which was a mild surprise at the time with some expecting New York to take former Georgetown star Rebekkah Brunson.
Pondexter, seeking to establish herself with outside business opportunities in Manhattan, was acquired by New York in a three-way deal that brought the Chicago native from the defending WNBA champion Mercury, where she won two titles, including last season, since being picked second overall by Phoenix in the 2006 draft.
Incidentally, Pondexter and her former Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi, are WNBA players of the week for the second straight time and third overall this season in gaining the accolade during the same period.
The Fever remained in second place, one game behind Atlanta (18-10), which lost to Washington (16-10), enabling the Mystics to tie Indiana for the moment.
New York is on the move in more ways than one in light of the soon-to-be official announcement involving playing at the Rock in Newark, N.J., the next three summers during renovations of Madison Square Garden. The New York Daily News reported the plans in Monday's editions.
Though the Liberty stayed in fourth place, good enough at the end of the regular season for the final playoff spot, New York is now one game behind second and third-place Washington and Indiana and just two behind Atlanta.
It was New York's first win in Conseco Fieldhouse since July 19, 2002 as the Fever have been in a mild slump in recent weeks since having returned to form that carried them to the fifth and deciding game of last season's WNBA championship series won by Phoenix in the Arizona desert.
In two key Eastern clashes this Friday night, Indiana will meet Atlanta the second time in less than a week while New York will be hosting Washington.
What New York did gain, trying to give Donovan the best going-away present in terms of a league title before she takes over Seton Hall, is some more space in fourth from Connecticut(13-13). The Sun are now two games away from the Liberty plus a third since New York owns the tie-breaker courtesy of clinching the season series at 3-1 with one meeting left on the final day of the season.
Washington Gives Dream Nightmares
The Washington Mystics moved into a tie for second with Indiana and just one-game behind first-place Atlanta after storming the South with an 86-78 win over the Dream.
If the Mystics win at New York Friday night and Indiana beats Atlanta there will be a virtual three-way tie for first in the East.
Katie Smith, the Olympic gold medalist and free-agent signee in the offseason, had 18 points for the Mystics, while former Duke star Lindsey Harding scored 16 points before leaving the game midway through the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
Crystal Langhorne, the former Maryland star out of Willingboro, N.J., in suburban Philadelphia, added 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Mystics.
Angel McCoutrey, last season's rookie of the year out of Louisville, had 30 points for Atlanta.
Minnesota Overcomes Meltdown To Sun
For the second time this season, one of the major offseason trades was on display, this time in the Twin Cities in the cross-conference series as the Minnesota Lynx recovered from blowing a 30-point lead to beat the Connecticut Sun 111-103 in overtime at the Target Arena.
Last winter, All-Star point guard Lindsay Whalen was dealt to the Lynx -- she is from Minnesota -- along with the second overall pick for former UConn star Renee Montgomery and the overall No. 1 pick, which became UConn's national player of the year in Tina Charles.
Montgomery had a major night in the Sun's win back in Connecticut earlier this season. She repeated Tuesday night, scoring 33, while Charles had 19 points and 21 rebounds to tie former Tennessee star Candace Parker's WNBA rookie double double record at 17 set with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. The overall record is 19.
Whalen, however, playing while suffering grief because of a family tragedy, had 27 points and former LSU star Seimone Augustus had 21 points.
On Sunday night, Whalen's brother-in-law Nicholas Greve, 28, was found dead in a Minnesota lake after he had left a nearby bar by the lake. Whalen is married to Ben Greve, a former golf star at the University of Minnesota where she helped the Gophers advance to the NCAA Final Four her senior season in 2004. She was then made a first-round pick by the Sun following former UConn star Diana Taurasi's overall No. 1 selection by Phoenix.
To enhance the overview at the top of this post, Minnesota, which upset Seattle on Sunday in Minneapolis to end the Storm's 13-ganme streak,improved to 9-16.
That kept the Lynx (9-16) in fourth place, but a game ahead of idle Los Angeles Angeles (8-17), for the final West playoff spot. The Sparks will host the Chicago Sky (12-15), the sixth-place East team which was idle, on Wednesday night in the sole game on the WNBA schedule.
Chicago is 5.5 games behind first and 3.5 games behind fourth-place New York, which has already won the season series with the Sky on a 4-0 sweep.
Minnesota is 12.5 games behind Seattle but just a half-game behind third-place San Antonio (10-16) following the Silver Stars' home loss to Phoenix Tuesday night.
The Sun as mentioned above, fell two games plus the tiebreaker off the pace to New York and must travel to Seattle, which will be smarting from a two-game losing streak entering Thursday night's sole game on the league schedule.
Washington will then visit Uncasville Sunday night.
Minnesota may have helped itself in a second way with the win because the Lynx own the Connecticut first-round draft pick for 2011 following a draft-day trade in April that saw former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin dealt to Connecticut.
If the Sun fall out of the playoffs for the second straight year, the Lynx, even if they make the West postseason, will be one of four teams trying to win the lottery for the No. 1 pick likely to be UConn senior sensation Maya Moore.
Tulsa (5-22), with the worst overall record, will have the best shot, but Minnesota could have two shots with their own pick and Connecticut's if neither make the playoffs.
Tulsa Shocks Seattle
It is one thing to lose to Minnesota, which was home and had been involved in close games with the Storm. But what can be made of Tulsa's 84-75 win in Oklahoma Tuesday night fueled by Scholanda Robinson's 21 points.
The Shock (5-22) gained a full game in the standings to trail the Storm (22-4) by 17.5 games, which is still five games behind the fourth place playoff spot held by Minnesota at the moment.
That's five out with seven left for the franchise that was until last winter the Detroit group that won three WNBA titles but has since been reduced to an expansion-profile roster. The former Motown crowd departed through free agency, decisions not to play, or trades.
Seattle got 19 points from Sue Bird and goes home Thursday night to host a Connecticut Sun team that absolutely needs to win. The Storm must still go to Connecticut.
Maybe it's just a break in the momentum. But if not, Phoenix is coming up fast and though the conference playoff rounds have been changed to 1-1-1 in the best of three formats that allow those with the best records to start at home, all it takes is one bad night in Game 1 action to really makes things interesting across the board.
Phoenix Shoots Down San Antonio
Other than the stats, everything else involving the outcome of the game in Texas has already been discussed.
Former Temple star Candice Dupree, part of the three-way deal involving Pondexter, that saw her move from Chicago to the Mercury, scored 24 points and grab 12 rebounds as more and more she will have to be given serious consideration for the USA team that will play next month in the FIBA World Championships.
Diana Taurasi scored 21 points and dealt 10 assists as the Mercury moved to a three-game lead in runnerup over the Silver Stars. If the Mercury win again in Friday's rematch in the desert that will be four up with seven left.
Becky Hammon scored 13 points for San Antonio and dealt a career-high 11 assists.
So keep those ride belts fastened because the this week's ride will continue to be wild through Sunday night.