WNBA: Washington Win Completes East Playoff Field
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Mystics beat the best in the WNBA regular season, topping the Seattle Storm 80-71, in the Verizon Center Sunday night. Less than two hours late Washington became the fourth and final Eastern Conference playoff team when the Connecticut Sun in a home game faded down the stretch and lost to the Indiana Fever 79-66.
Now all that remains among the four Eastern squads crowded together is to determine the playoff order among Indiana, New York, Washington and Atlanta as the WNBA enters the final week of play.
The top two teams in each conference will gain home court advantage in the revanped 1-1-1 best-of-three format in the first round. The format will be the same in the conference finals with the higher seed opening at home.
In past seasons the higher teams opened on the road and then had the home court for games 2 and three.
The best-of-five finals will remain a 2-2-1 format..
The defending Eastern Conference champion Fever (21-10) maintained first place with the win in Uncasville, moving slightly ahead by 1.5 games over the idle and hot New York Liberty (19-11), whom they will meet Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden.
Washington (19-12), which Sunday set a franchise record for wins in its 13-year history, is in third place 2.0 games out of first. The idle Atlanta Dream (19-13) is fourth 2.5 games out.
Connecticut (15-16) fell to six games out of first with the loss and made the Minnesota Lynx (12-19) the third entry in the so-called Maya Moore derby also known as the draft lottery.
The Lynx gained the Sun pick in April on a draft day trade that saw Minnesota pick Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin in the first round and send her to Connecticut.
The Chicago Sky (13-18), last in the East and eight games out of first, and the Tulsa Shock (5-26), last in the West and 20 games behind Seattle, have previously qualified for the drawing that will yield the No. 1 pick next April which will, barring a deal or other unforeseen event, likely result in the selection of Moore, the talented senior at the University of Connecticut.
Minnesota, which beat the San Antonio Silver Stars (12-19) later Sunday night in Minneapolis, could gain a second pick and shot at Moore if the Lynx become the odd team out in the tight race for the three Western playoff spots behind the Storm.
The Lynx win created a three-way deadlock for third place among Minnesota, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Sparks (12-19), all 13 games behind Seattle (25-6) and two behind the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury (14-17), which is 11 games out in second place.
Seattle, which clinched the top of its conference late last month, had been going a little easy, but Sunday night here, coach Brian Agler ramped it up a little more to get in postseason mode.
"I'm sure Connecticut is not happy with us," Seattle All-Star guard Sue Bird said of the loss that put the Sun on the brink of elimination courtesy of the Mystics' win.
But it was a moot point when Connecticut was unable to prevail for itself in a must-win situation and was doomed to a second straight season out of the playoffs..
Washington, on the other hand, had plenty reasons to be happy heading into Tuesday night's visit to the Silver Stars in San Antonio.
The Mystics played well and it became the first time that Washington has made the postseason in consecutive years.
"That's a big step for this franchise and organization," said former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J., who had 15 points and seven rebounds against the Storm. "The next step will be to start winning championships,"
Former Duke star Monique Currie scored 25 points and connected on 5-of-7 three pointers, to lead the Washington scoring parade. Lindsey Harding, another former Duke star, had 13 points.
Swin Cash, like Bird a former UConn star, had 15 points for Seattle, which is now 11 games in front of the defending WNBA Phoenix Mercury. Lauren Jackson, who was rested in Connecticut Friday night because of back spasms, had 14 points in 24.57 minutes of action. Bird finished with 12 points.
Mystics coach Julie Plank, hired a year ago by Washington as was general manager Angela Taylor, was pleased with the all-around.
"Only 10 turnovers, that has to be a record (low) for us," she said of the Mystics' struggles handling the ball this season. "We have shooters but we have to get them more shots.
"I thought we played very poised down the stretch."
Meanwhile, It's been a tough week in the Nutmeg State with the Sun's ouster added to news of a few days earlier that flashy shooter Caroline Doty had suffered a third knee injury late last month . The Germantown Academy graduate out of Doylestown, Pa., near Philadelphia, will be sidelined this winter when the two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies attempt to carry their two-season 78-game unbeaten streak past the run of 88 set by the UCLA men's team under the late Hall of Famer John Wooden.
In the win Sunday in Uncasville by Indiana, former Tennessee star Tamika Catchings scored 26 points to pace the Fever in their attempt to repeat as regular season conference champions.
The UConn alumni club on the Sun roster scored in double digits as Connecticut was eliminated from the postseason.
Rookie Tina Charles, the overall No. 1 pick of last April's draft, had 18 points and 13 rebounds to set an WNBA season record with her 20th double double, eclipsing the mark of Natalie Williams, a former UCLA star, with the Utah Starzz in 2000 before that franchise later moved to San Antonio.
Renee Montgomery, a second year pro, scored 12 points, and Asjha Jones scored 11.
In Minnesota, the Lynx shook off two straight narrow losses to beat San Antonio 84-78 as Lindsay Whalen scored 21 points and rookie Monica Wright out of Virginia scored 20.
While the final week of the regular season will see the four Eastern playoff qualifiers battle for seed position, the West will be battleing to determine who qualifies behind Seattle and in what seed position.
From a mathematical perspective at this writing, Phoenix, back in a slide, could lose out and be eliminated though the other schedules of West teams probably precludes that potential elimination for Diana Taurasi and her Mercury teammates.
In the East, Indiana will travel to New York and San Antonio before hosting Minnesota Sunday. New York, with a four-game slate, will host the Fever, host Tulsa, travel to Washington and then finish up at home Sunday against Connecticut.
Atlanta, which led the pack early in the season, will host Chicago and Washington.
In the equally wild West, though with all teams behind Seattle holding losing records, Phoenix, which can finish at .500 with a three-game sweep, will visit Los Angeles, host Seattle, and visit San Antonio.
Los Angeles, which has had to go most of the season without superstar Candace Parker (shoulder injury), will host Phoenix and Minnesota before traveling to Seattle.
San Antonio hosts Washington, Indiana and Phoenix.
Minnesota travels to Seattle, Los Angeles and Indiana.
Quite likely though the end has come for Connecticut, Chicago and Tulsa, the rest of the regular season story won't be over until it's actually over.
Then as Washington's Katie Smith said Sunday, "You get to the playoffs, it's a clean slate at 0-0 and you try to go from there."