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.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Entire League In Action On Six-Pack Schedule

By Mel Greenberg

Depending on connections and availabilities iPads, laptops and smart phones using the WNBA apps are about to get a heavy workout Tuesday night by fans following the league on the internet.

It’s a six-pack special night on the WNBA schedule with every team in action and each of the half-dozen games in the 12-team women's pro league having some meaning attached to the outcome.

The Minnesota Lynx (16-4), holding a four-game lead over the San Antonio Silver Stars (12-8) in the Western Conference along with the best overall WNBA record, will be looking to wrap up another ownership of a season-series against conference rivals when they travel to the Phoenix Mercury (11-9) against whom they have a 2-1 lead with two remaining in a five-game set.

The Lynx have already wrapped up the season set with the WNBA defending champion Seattle Storm 3-1 in a concluded series and clinched the season affair against the Los Angeles Sparks 3-1, though one more game remains to be played.

Minnesota is also 2-0 against San Antonio and 2-0 against the Tulsa Shock (1-19) with two games remaining against each team.

The magic number for Minnesota to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2004 is six but since the Los Angeles Sparks (7-13) will be hosting Tulsa, the Lynx will have to do things on their on in Arizona to lower the number by at least one.

In terms of keeping the pressure on against the rest of the West, a Minnesota victory Tuesday night coupled with a San Antonio loss at the Indiana Fever (15-7), the Eastern leader, which Is a 50-50 shot, opens the conference lead at the top to five games though Seattle (12-9) could make it only 4.5 by winning at the New York Liberty (12-9).

It could be that if the West alone can’t slow the Lynx pace, perhaps help might come from the East where Minnesota must still play the two-game cross-conference sets against New York, the Connecticut Sun (13-7), Chicago Sky (10-12) and Washington Mystics (4-14).

Looking long-range depending if they get to the WNBA championship series, the Lynx have a three-game lead over Indiana and Connecticut in the loss column for overall record, which could become a tiebreak situation, though a sweep either way between Connecticut and Minnesota would give the double winner the home court in the finals if both made it all the way through.

The Lynx have already swept the defending East playoff champion Atlanta Dream (9-11) and split with Indiana, though Minnesota nearly got a sweep in that one, losing at home 78-75 early in the season before avenging the setback at Indianapolis.

Research by the Minneapolis StarTribune shows Minnesota can make statistical history win or lose if All-Star Lindsay Whalen scores at least seven points and sister All-Star Seimone Augustus scores at least 21 because it would be the first time in the WNBA’s 15-year history that two teammates would reach their respective 3,000th career points the same night.

The game again features two former UConn all-timers from different eras on opposing sides with Diana Taurasi playing for Phoenix and rookie Maya Moore, the overall No. 1 pick in April’s draft, playing for Minnesota.

From Phoenix’s perspective, a win keeps the fourth-place Mercury at least four games in front of Los Angeles, which many soon get superstar Candace Parker back in the lineup from the knee injury she suffered on a road trip stop against New York in late June.

Of course the Mercury, who trails Minnesota by five games, are close enough to the two teams directly in front of them to do some leapfrogging with a win since they trail San Antonio by a game and Seattle by a half-game.

Seattle at New York

A Seattle visit against the Liberty has been one of the marquee WNBA attractions in the past on the New York schedule, in part because of Storm stars Sue Bird and Swin Cash, who are former UConn greats, and Australian superstar Lauren Jackson.

But there are some nuances this time as Bird, who starred at Christ the King, makes an almost geographical homecoming since the Liberty are playing this summer and two more seasons across the Hudson River at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. while Madison Square Garden undergoes a series of renovations.

Also, Jackson has been sidelined with a hip injury since June 21, though Seattle has managed to hold its own though nowhere close to the 28-6 regular season domination in 2010 on the way to a second WNBA title.

Furthermore, the game has an 8 p.m. start and as it is crowds have declined from the Garden numbers in the wake of the move.

A bit of memory lane will again be trotted out at halftime with former UConn and New York star Rebecca Lobo, now an ESPN sideline reporter, becoming the fourth past Liberty star to be inducted into the newly-created Ring of Honor that is beginning with five players this season.

Lobo was chosen in an online fan vote while former Rutgers star Sue Wicks, former Louisiana Tech stars Vicky Johnson (now a San Antonio assistant coach) and Teresa Weatherspoon (now coaching her alma mater) have already been honored off a vote by a special committee that also cited Kym Hampton, who will be honored at the end of the month.

As for the actual Tuesday night game, which will be the first of two matchups between the two, both teams are coming off wipeout losses with Seattle falling at Atlanta in a rematch of last season’s championship series won 3-0 in the best-of-five affair by the Storm while the Mystics walloped New York at Washington.

Seattle is in third place in the West 4.5 games behind Minnesota and 0.5 games behind San Antonio. The Storm, though, are just 0.5 games in front of Phoenix but are 4.5 ahead of fifth place Los Angeles that needs to overtake someone to reach the postseason.

New York in third place is 2.5 games behind Indiana and 1.5 behind Connecticut so a win against Seattle could make things tighter in the East if Indiana and Connecticut lose Tuesday night.

The Liberty also hold a 2.5 lead over Atlanta and Chicago, who are fighting for the fourth playoff spot and both teams could move a game closer to New York if they win Tuesday night and Seattle prevails.

San Antonio at Indiana

It’s the first of two meetings between the first-place Fever trying to stay at least a game in front of Connecticut while San Antonio, which in the West, is looking to close the gap in second place to Minnesota and also stay at least 0.5 games in front of Seattle depending on the outcome of the other games since virtually every game Tuesday night is impacting others.

The Fever got surprised at Chicago 88-69 on Sunday for the Sky’s first win over Indy while the Silver Stars got a challenge Saturday holding off a Tulsa team they romped over earlier in the season.

Chicago at Connecticut

Both teams are carrying momentum in their final meeting of their five-game set, which is knotted 2-2.

A highlight has been the matchup at center between USABasketball Senior National teammates Sylvia Fowles, the former LSU star with Chicago, and the Sun’s Tina Charles, the former UConn star who was the overall No. 1 draft pick in 2010 and rookie of the year.

Chicago, as mentioned, is fighting to make its first playoffs in the franchise’s six-year history and is locked in a tight race with Atlanta for fourth place and the final berth and four games in front of sixth-place Washington.

The Sky got a major win against the first-place Fever at home Sunday but need much more while still trailing the Fever by five games and third-place New York by 2.5 games.

The Sun return home from a three-game swing through the West that would have been a spectacular sweep had not Seattle’s Sue Bird nailed a trey with 0.4 seconds left Friday night to make the Sun prevail after Charles’ shot three seconds earlier made it appear that Connecticut had completed a rally from an 18-point deficit to get the win.

Charles did get to play heroine on Sunday with a game-winner in the final seconds of overtime at Phoenix.

The Sun, who have missed the playoffs two straight seasons, could tie the Fever Tuesday night in first place again with a win against the Sky and an Indiana loss to San Antonio.

Connecticut is also looking to stay ahead of New York by its 2.5 game advantage that could improve by a game if Seattle wins and the Sun prevails.

Atlanta at Washington

The Mystics snapped a four-game losing streak and had their best overall effort of the season Saturday night in beating New York and will be looking to beat the Dream, coming off their Seattle win, and getting help from Connecticut against Chicago to move within three games of the fourth and five-place teams.

Washington, which got a career-matching high from former Rutgers star Matee Ajavon with 32 points against New York, is 1-1 against the Dream with three games remaining, including Tuesday night’s tilt in the Verizon Center.

Atlanta, after appearing to get some consistency on a recent five-game run, has sputtered some again but is looking to follow up its win over Seattle.

Depending on Chicago’s result at Connecticut, which has lost just one game in the Mohegan Sun Arena this season, the Dream with a win could take sole possession of fourth by a game and open a five-game lead on the Mystics.

Tulsa at Los Angeles

The Shock can pick up a little respect, do some damage to the home team, and give interim coach Teresa Edwards a nice present with a win heading into her induction Friday night in Springfield, Mass., at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for her former playing career at Georgia as an All-American, and as an Olympian who has topped all male and female basketball players with four gold medals and a bronze on.

Trailing first-place Minnesota by 15 games in the West with just 14 remaining the Shock have been officially eliminated from taking the conference crown.

Tulsa is also 10 games behind fourth-place Phoenix meaning the magic number is five from playoff non-qualification for the second straight season since making the transition from the former NBA Pistons ownership in Detroit that saw the Motown Shock win three WNBA titles.

A win Tuesday night would move Tulsa to within five games of Los Angeles, which could salvage some pride for the season-long struggles.

A year ago near the last games of the regular season, veteran Tina Thompson nailed a shot in the finals seconds to ultimately assure the Sparks a spot in the playoffs just ahead of Minnesota.

But the Lynx made good on the omission by acing out Tulsa for the overall No. 1 pick in the lottery, which was used to select Maya Moore. Minnesota also had the fourth overall pick, resulting from the 2010 draft day trade that saw former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin get chosen and shipped to Connecticut.

The pick became a second lottery choice for the Lynx when the Sun just missed the playoffs for the second straight season and Xavier All-American Amber Harris was selected.

Los Angeles, four games behind the fourth playoff spot, needs to go on a run and hope that Phoenix or Seattle can lose enough games to catch one of the two to be playing deep into September.

On the season the Sparks, who have struggled on the road, are 1-1 with Seattle with two games remaining; 1-2 with San Antonio with a game remaining; and 1-1 with Phoenix, with three remaining, so Los Angeles is still very much alive in the playoff hunt.

-- Mel


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