Guru's WNBA Report: Return Of Parker And Jackson Scrambles West Playoff Races
By Mel Greenberg
Back in late June when All-Stars Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and Lauren Jackson of the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm were knocked out of action within a few days of each other for most of the summer with respective knee and hip injuries the challenge in the Western Conference for the Minnesota Lynx, San Antonio Silver Stars and Phoenix Mercury was to compile as many wins as they could before the two of the elite players in the league return.
That may have not been an individual mindset on any of the squads but to outsiders the situation spoke for itself. The more separation you can build the least likely you will be threatened with playoff elimination near the end of August when the two would be back in uniform.
“I’d rather play them when they are all healthy, that’s the way I am,” the highly competitive Diana Taurasi of Phoenix said on a recent swing to the East.
True, its tough to get separation when the remaining Western teams not named the Tulsa Shock are beating up on each other, but ground could be gained by handling the East in the crossover games.
Last week both Parker and Jackson returned. Now Los Angeles (12-15) is moving fast toward the fourth and final playoff spot while Seattle (16-12) held its own and Thursday night’s 74-57 win over the forlorn Tulsa (1-25) squad in the only game on the league schedule moved the Storm into a second-place tie in the games behind column with idle Phoenix (15-11).
Minnesota (21-6), with its own agenda of dispensing with seasons of disappointment and composed with a talent-loaded roster, has taken care of its business by building the WNBA’s top record and a 5.5 lead over second place with seven games remaining in the regular season.
The Lynx have already clinched their first playoff appearance since 2004 and the magic number to win the West is down to three.
Seattle (16-12) is 3.5 games in front of Los Angeles with six games remaining and stays home Sunday to host the Sparks with the Series tied 1-1 and two remaining. Los Angeles first will host Tulsa on Friday night and the last two games against the Shock were a struggle.
The magic number to make the playoffs without slipping out for Seattle is four unless the Storm win the Los Angeles series, which means they would win out in a fourth-place tie.
Meanwhile Phoenix, with two more games to play then Seattle, has a magic number of five to return to the post season and trails 2-1 in the Sparks series with one left thanks to the rally and overtime win by Los Angeles in their last meeting.
San Antonio (13-13) has been on a dive since rookie Danielle Adams from NCAA champion Texas A&M was sidelined with a foot injury and now is just 1.5 games in front of the Sparks with eight left but a 2-1 lead in the series with one game remaining against Los Angeles.
Jackson Stars Again
Seattle made it 3-0 Thursday night since the Australian’s return last Saturday this time scoring nine of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. Jackson played in just 15 minutes with the game well in hand. All-time UConn great Sue Bird also sat out the fourth quarter.
Storm coach Brian Agler tied former New York Liberty and Washington Mystics coach Richie Adubato for seventh with 134 wins on the WNBA’s all-time listings.
Former Penn State star Tanisha Wright scored 12 points, while former North Carolina star Camille Little scored 10 and former UConn star Swin Cash had nine points for Seattle.
Tulsa’s Sheryl Swoopes and Tiffany Jackson each scored 12 points and Amber Holt had 10 as the Shock extended the WNBA’s longest losing streak in the league’s 15-year history to 20 straight.
“We executed the ball well and it’s getting to be that time of year,” Agler said. “I think that’s what Tulsa is doing right now … playing with a purpose.
“Offensively, they’re executing and as you’ve seen in scores against other people they’re knocking on the door. They’re playing better.”
For the second straight game the opposition was none too happy with officiating at KeyArena in Seattle.
On Saturday in New York’s narrow loss in the last second Liberty coach John Whisenant accused officials of choking on a non-call by not assessing Bird with a foul when former Rutgers star Essence Carson was driving for the potentially winning shot.
On Thursday night Tulsa interim coach Teresa Edwards, the all-time Olympic and Georgia great inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this month in Springfield, Mass., was miffed at the foul shooting disparity in trips to the line.
The Storm were 22-for-26 while the Shock were a perfect 8-for-8.
“This disparity in free throws pisses me off,” Edwards said. “(Seattle) is a playoff, championship-contending team, and we have to give them respect for who they are, but we went, played hard and fought.
“… I’m not even made at my team,” Edwards continued. “I’m just mad about the dynamics of the game and the discrepancies with some of the fouls.”
Four games are on the Friday night card and two have exceptional marquee value.
Phoenix’s Taurasi makes her annual homecoming to the state of Connecticut against the Sun in Uncasville near the UConn campus where her collegiate career excelled from 2001-04.
The visiting Mercury, for the all the reasons listed above, needs a win to keep pace with Seattle and stay out of danger from slipping out of the playoff loop.
The Sun (17-10) are still chasing the idle Indiana Fever (19-8) in the East sitting in second place two games behind. They are only 1.5 games in front of third-place New York (16-12), which has the night off.
Connecticut edged Phoenix earlier this month on the road and a sweep would give the Sun home court advantage if both reached the best-of-five finals no matter what their conference seeds are in going into the postseason.
Minnesota hosts San Antonio in the first of a weekend home-and-home that concludes in Texas on Sunday.
The Lynx hold a 2-0 lead in the four-game series but both games were decided in the final seconds. If Minnesota wins, the Lynx can finish no worse then second since they have already won the Seattle series.
San Antonio cannot afford a loss, let alone a weekend setback, because with Los Angeles likely to beat Tulsa at home Friday night the Sparks would only be 0.5 games behind the Silver Stars.
In the other game, Washington (5-21) with the second worst record in the league and a slew of losses in the last minute visit the Chicago Sky (12-15), which needs a win to stay close to the Atlanta Dream (14-13) for the final playoff spot in the East.
Of course a New York meltdown could make things interesting and the next two games for both teams are against each other. Chicago, which has never been to the playoffs in the Sky’s previous five seasons, could get close to the Liberty with a sweep.
Washington suffered a home loss last Saturday night when former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince hit two foul shots with 00.7 seconds left on the game clock in regulation.
On Saturday there is just one game but it’s a big one with Atlanta, the defending Eastern Conference playoff champs, visiting Indiana.
The Fever are trying to stay ahead of Connecticut and their magic number is one to make the playoffs, which would come Saturday night with a win, though they may already be in the fold if Chicago loses Friday night.
Five games make up Sunday’s card with Phoenix at Washington the only Eastern seaboard game where fans might be dealing with the effects of looming Hurricane Irene.
Phoenix needs the win and Washington is playing for pride before hosting a live auction for charity after the game at the Verizon Center.
Two games have already been addressed. Minnesota returns the San Antonio visit and not much further preview analysis can be done until Friday’s result between the two is official. New York is on the road for the first of two games with Chicago.
Connecticut, needing the win, is at Tulsa; while in a key Western intra-game Los Angeles visits Seattle with Parker and Jackson set to battle each other.