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, August 18, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Playoff Berths Loom Just Ahead

By Mel Greenberg

By early next week, teams in the WNBA Eastern Conference standings will have begun acquiring little footnotes next to their names signifying their clinching playoff participation status, though it will take a little longer to determine what the exact seed positions will be.

Over in the Western Conference the Minnesota Lynx can actually clinch their first playoff berth since 2004 Thursday night if the frontrunners have recovered from Tuesday’s pounding by the Connecticut Sun and win at Washington against the Mystics and if the Eastern leading Indiana Fever win in Los Angeles against the Sparks.

That combination would give the Lynx a 9.5 lead over fifth-place Los Angeles with 9 remaining for Minnesota. Furthermore the Lynx have the tie-break over the Sparks 3-1 in season series matchups with one game to be played between the two.

Beyond that, the Western race will take longer to determine most qualifiers because the Sparks, currently in the 5th-place playoff elimination spot, are only 4.5 games behind second place Phoenix, 3.5 behind third place San Antonio, and three behind the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm.

The Scene In The East

Indiana can be on the verge of completing a playoff spot again in the East Thursday night because a Fever win in Los Angeles gives them a 7.5 lead over the fifth-place and idle Chicago Sky with what would become only eight games remaining on the Indiana schedule.

A Connecticut Sun win in Newark, N.J. Thursday night against the New York Liberty would put coach Mike Thibault’s group, currently holding second, 6.5 in front of Chicago with nine games left on the Sun schedule heading into a big home-and-home weekend with the defending East playoff champion Atlanta Dream.

A Sun win would also mean keeping pace with Indiana – they trail the Fever for first by 1.5 games – and putting more distance onto the 2.5 game lead Connecticut holds over third-place New York.

The Sun are heading into Northern New Jersey with a 2-0 season series lead over the Liberty with two remaining and on the heels of Tuesday night’s pulsating 108-79 win over Minnesota before a sellout crowd at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena.

Afterwards, veteran Kara Lawson, the wintertime ESPN collegiate women’s basketball commentator and former Tennessee standout, sounded a cautionary note with an eye to the Liberty rivalry.

“We had a great performance tonight, no question,” she said. “But we cannot go to New York and give it back. Right now our focus is trying to get a playoff berth and also be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. We are still trying to track down Indiana. If we win this game and give that one back in New York, then this win doesn’t mean anything. We’re trying to stay grounded. We feel good tonight, absolutely it was a great performance, but it is a long season.”

New York, which has been tough defensively but struggled offensively even with former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter pouring points, also won on Tuesday at home, but the Liberty squandered a 16-point lead against Washington and didn’t get the go-ahead basket until Pondexter drove and scored on her former Rutgers teammate Matee Ajavon with 13 seconds left in the game.
A year ago at this time, the Liberty under former coach Anne Donovan, who left to return to the collegiate game coaching Seton Hall, were on a terrific run to the finish of the regular season in which they tied Washington with a franchise-best 22 wins, took the second seed and knocked off the 2010 defending East champion Indiana Fever in the first round.

Donovan, incidentally, has season seats and has been seen courtside at the Prudential Center several times.

A year ago Atlanta struggled down the stretch after a quick start in the franchise’s third season of existence, slumped to the fourth seed but then took down Washington 2-0 and New York 2-0 in the two best-of-three conference playoff rounds before losing 3-0 in the best-of-five finals to the Seattle Storm in three narrowly-contested results.

The Dream, holding a 1.5 game lead over Chicago for the fourth playoff spot but only 1.5 games behind third-place New York, struggled at the outset with injuries but have been one of the hotter conference teams in recent weeks.

Atlanta has 10 games left and three will be with Connecticut, which took the first of the four-game series, and three will be with Indiana, which fell to the Dream in the one game the two have played.

They also have a 2-1 lead with one remaining in the Chicago series. The Sky has yet to make the playoffs in five previous seasons and during the festivities at the recent induction ceremony celebration last weekend at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., some concern was heard over whether Chicago might fold if they don’t make it to the postseason.

Atlanta, in its remaining games besides those mentioned, has two with Washington, holding a 2-1 series lead over the Mystics, and one conference crossover with Western cellar dweller Tulsa. The Dream lost the New York series 3-2.

Chicago in its nine games left has a tough trail. There’s two with Washington, including Saturday night’s game in the nation’s capital, and the Sky are 2-0 in that series, but then there’s two with New York, trailing the Liberty 2-1; the one with Atlanta, trailing 2-1; one with Indiana, trailing 2-1; and then a season-ending road swing through the West with stops at Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Seattle to finish up.

The Sky lost the Connecticut series 3-2.

In the current 1-2 battle at the top of the East, Indiana has nine games left: the three with Atlanta, trailing 1-0; two with Washington, leading 3-0; one with Connecticut and the series in hand at 3-1; one with Chicago, leading 2-1; one with New York, leading 2-1; and Thursday night’s game at Los Angeles.

Connecticut in its final 10 games has the three with Atlanta, leading 1-0; two with New York, leading 2-0; one with Washington, leading 3-0; one with Indiana, having already lost the series 3-1; and a set of three against Western members Tulsa, San Antonio on the road, and Phoenix at home.

The Sun, as mentioned, won the Chicago series 3-2.

New York, probably more concerned with sliding backwards while trying to stay at least where the Liberty now stands, has nine remaining games, two with Connecticut, trailing 2-0; two with Chicago, leading 2-1 and circle those two series as a key sets for all three teams; one with Indiana, trailing 2-1; and a set of West crossovers including a two-game home-and-home with Minnesota; one at Phoenix and one at Seattle.

The Liberty won the Atlanta series 3-2, as mentioned and split with Washington 2-2 after Tuesday’s narrow outcome.

Washington, whose playoff hopes are on life support after a ton of narrow setbacks and two roster subtractions out of uniform for the season with injuries in former Duke stars Monique Currie and Alana Beard, will at least get a chance to play the role of spoiler with 12 games left looking to end on a high note. The East list includes two with Chicago, trailing 2-0; two with Indiana, trailing 3-0; one with Connecticut, trailing 3-0; two with Atlanta, trailing 2-1; and in terms of impacting the West race, two with Minnesota, including Thursday night’s game; and one each with Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Antonio.

Rookies Statistically Speaking

Games weren’t played Wednesday and the report in-hand was tabulated prior to Tuesday’s five-game set in the league.

In terms of rookies compared to themselves, Minnesota’ Maya Moore, the overall number one pick out of UConn, is first slightly over overall No. 2 pick Australian Liz Cambage of Tulsa in scoring, 13.3 ppg.-13.0 ppg.; third in rebounding at 2.8 rpg; third in assists at 2.8; fourth in field goal percentage at 4.24 percent; fourth in foul shooting percentage, 50-65 for 76.9 percent; first in steals at 1.52 per game; third in blocked shots with 10 in 23 games for a 0.43 percentage; fifth in 3-point shooting at 35.2 percent; and second in total minutes at 28.8 per game behind Tulsa’s Kayla Pedersen out of Stanford, one of the few bright spots for the Shock at 29.5.

Cambage, the overall No. 2 pick as mentioned, surprisingly is way down on the rebounding list among rookies at 0.5 per game, but is second in field goal percentage at 46.3 percent; third in foul shooting, 96 (tops) for 122 (tops) for 78.7 percent; third in steals at 1.23 behind Moore and teammate Pedersen (1.39 pct.) and first in blocking shots with 24 for a 1.09 average.

Pedersen is also third in scoring (8.9 ppg.), fourth in rebounds (2.1 rpg.); fourth in assists at 2.1; fifth in field goal percentage (41.6); sixth in 3-point shooting percentage at 32.8 pct. – the leader is another former Stanford star in Indiana’s Jeanette Pohlen at 49.0 percentage; second in foul shooting, 40-of-50 for 80 pct.; and second in steals at 1.39 and tied with Moore for third in steals.

Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot, the number three overall pick out of Gonzaga, is first in rebounding at 4.1 rpg., and first in assists at 4.1 apg.

-- Mel

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