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, June 30, 2011

Guru's WNBA Musings: Injury Outbreak Impacting East and West Races

By Mel Greenberg

On a day in which professional women’s basketball in the United States was celebrated at the White House with President Obama and the WNBA defending champion Seattle Storm, the special guests added a bit of not so good news that was later followed Wednesday from the Midwest by more not so good news that is beyond any of the marketing skills new WNBA president Laurel Ritchie can bring to the table to enhance attendance.

On the other hand, maybe there will be plenty to market in terms of the race to this season’s title because with three major injuries within a week to teams expected to contend, the hunt for now is wide open.

Soon after the White House formal festivities were concluded Storm coach Brian Agler revealed that reigning league MVP Lauren Jackson, who suffered a torn labrum in her left hip a week ago Tuesday in the win at Tulsa, is going to have surgery Thursday in Vail, Colo., and is expected to be out of action for eight to 12 weeks.

On Friday Seattle had announced that the Australian sensation would undergo three weeks of rest and physical therapy and then perhaps resorting to surgery if no progress was being made.

But after a visit to the Steadman Clinic and having discussions with doctors and Jackson’s family the decision was made that the best course would be to have surgery now.

A year ago Seattle lived up to its nickname with one of the best regular season records in storming their way through the league and then blitzing the playoffs with a 7-0 run that included three narrow wins over the Atlanta Dream in the championship best-of-five series.

Soon after Jackson’s situation was reported the Indiana Fever announced that starting point guard Briann January’s injury,
suffered in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s home win over the Phoenix Mercury, was indeed a torn ACL in her right knee and the third-year pro out of Arizona State was done for the season.

Fever coach Lin Dunn, while expressing regret and sympathy for January, said for now Indiana would be run in the backcourt by a committee effort at January’s position.

The mishap occurred as the Fever were about to win their fourth straight in moving to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The run began at Washington and then included a home win Friday over the Connecticut Sun followed by Sunday’s win at the Minnesota Lynx and then the home win in Indianapolis over Phoenix.

January leaves active status with an 8.6 scoring average along with an average of five assists a game.

Indiana’s schedule does not get any easier in the next several weeks, but then other than road games vs. home games, it doesn’t do likewise for anyone else in the 12-team WNBA.

On Sunday, what had originally looked like a revitalized Los Angeles Sparks return to powerhouse status became much less so when fourth-year pro Candace Parker, the former Tennessee all-American, suffered a torn meniscus in her right knee in Sunday’s loss at the New York Liberty and would be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Parker had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the game before she got hurt.

The Sparks have yet to win on the road this season. Following a win over Minnesota in Los Angeles to launch the 15th anniversary WNBA season they fell to the same Lynx two days later in Minneapolis.

They began a seven-game road trip Friday night losing to the Western leading San Antonio Silver Stars, dropped the game at New York, and then without Parker fell way behind Connecticut Tuesday night before rallying to lose by three points at the finish.

Added to the injury mix have been the Washington Mystics' ills that began in the offseason with a leg injury to former Duke star Monique Currie that has her sidelined for the entire summer.

Then another former Blue Devils great, Alana Beard, who missed all last season following foot surgery, sprained her ankle on the same foot days before the opener at Connecticut and has yet to play.

Despite Beard’s absence Washington was able to mount its best record in 2010 and tie New York for the regular season title and earn the top East seed in the playoffs before losing to Atlanta, which has also had injury problems at the outset.

In the West, the best hope for Los Angeles and Seattle is for not many teams to stay hot so either will still be in close pursuit of a playoff berth and then go from there if Jackson and Parker are back for the postseason, though Parker is expected back sooner.

In the East, Indiana likewise will have to find a way to tread water though if Washington and Atlanta continue to struggle the Fever just need to worry about getting to the playoffs even if they don’t win the conference race for home court advantage in the first two rounds.

Besides, in a tight race last season that went to the wire, Atlanta tripped down the stretch and fell to the fourth seed in the East and then swept both Washington and New York 2-0 in best-of-three series.

Back in the West, provided they stay healthy, some pressure is now on San Antonio, Minnesota and Phoenix to take advantage before the threats from Seattle and Los Angeles return.

Indiana has enough depth and experience to stay afloat so the opportunity among the others seem best with Connecticut to take advantage in the conference while New York and Chicago, which has yet to make the playoffs in the Sky’s previous five seasons, need to start winning now.

That is not to preclude the Mystics and Dream, whose woeful starts already have them in urgency mode, though it would be helpful to Indiana if Atlanta and Washington could pick off a few Eastern rivals.

Seattle gets a test Friday night at Connecticut, always a main event because of the annual homecoming return of former UConn star Sue Bird.

The Storm will also be in Washington on Sunday afternoon.

So out of all this if nothing else a tight race may do much of WNBA president Ritchie’s marketing for her in terms of drawing interest from the populace.

-- Mel

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