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.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Guru's WNBA Report: Silver Stars Douse Sparks To Reach Playoffs

(Guru’s note: There is a blog below this with some college notes, primarily of local D-I types. If you are in melgreenberg.com, click the mel’s blog on the left to get to blogspot and the full archive. Material for this post with quotes drawn from team and wire reports besides the Guru’s own sources. The seed possibilities are all discussed for both conferences in this post assuming the Guru left nothing out of the wild East.)

By Mel Greenberg

It’s all over but the non-Minnesota seeds for the WNBA playoffs.

In the two games played Tuesday night on the league schedule the San Antonio Silver Stars (16-16), which had been in a downward drift in recent weeks, rode All-Star Becky Hammon’s 37 points to an 82-65 victory over Los Angeles on the road to effectively knock out the Sparks (13-19) and claim the fourth and final playoff qualifier in the Western Conference.

In the other game, the Eastern Conference standings, whose four teams were previously decided, got even tighter in the race for seeds after the defending conference playoff champion Atlanta Dream (19-14) moved into third place a half-game ahead of idle New York (18-14) by handling the Connecticut Sun 85-74 at home at Phillips Arena

The Dream are just a game behind Connecticut (20-13), which fell a game behind the front running and idle Indiana Fever (20-11).

The Sun could have locked up at least second place with a win. They finish at home Sunday against New York, which will host Indiana Friday night at the Liberty’s temporary home in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Indiana can claim the top seed Wednesday night with a home win over the Eastern cellar-dwelling Washington Mystics (6-26).

They also finish up Sunday playing Atlanta at home against a Dream group that leads the season series 3-0.

But first the West, because there’s lots to be said off of Tuesday’s result.

“To get into the playoffs, it’s quite an accomplishment,” Hammon said after scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter and 26 of her total at the half. “The West is brutal.”

The win gave San Antonio a three-game lead in fourth place over the Sparks with two left for each team.

Los Angeles fans at the Staples Center will be treated to watching three of the four participants in draft lottery for the 2012 selections Friday and Saturday night in their own team and the Western cellar-dwelling Tulsa Shock (3-28) on Friday night and the Eastern fifth-place Chicago Sky (14-17) on Saturday.

The other non-qualifier, Washington, dealt away what has become its own lottery pick to Western regular season champion Minnesota (25-7) in exchange for former Tennessee star Nicky Annosike before the season got under way.

San Antonio, incidentally, finishes out at home Saturday against Washington and Sunday at Tulsa. At this hour, the Silver Stars can move up a spot to avoid in the conference semifinals meeting a Minnesota bunch that was 4-0 against them but more of that in a bit.

In Tuesday’s action, Los Angeles had gotten within three points at 61-58 when San Antonio launched a 12-0 run to send the Sparks home for the first time in four seasons and return to the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

The last time Los Angeles sat home they were able to land Tennessee superstar Candace Parker, the centerpiece of this season’s demise.

A year ago, the Sparks barely beat out Minnesota for the playoffs but the Lynx got the last laugh in topping Tulsa in the lottery for the overall No. 1 pick and they grabbed UConn star Maya Moore.

In case anyone’s confused at Los Angeles, next year would have been better to sit home because that’s when Baylor sensation Brittney Griner becomes eligible.

Tina Thompson had 18 points for the Sparks and DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 16.

San Antonio had recently lost seven of nine. Meanwhile, Parker, who was sidelined from late June until late August with a knee injury, was thought to be just what the doctor allowed to enable the Sparks to get back into the race and eclipse the Silver Stars or even Phoenix or Seattle, the defending WNBA champion, which did not have much of a lead on Los Angeles when she returned.

Certainly, Seattle, which had lost superstar Laura Jackson, who was gone almost the same amount of time as Parker, but with a hip injury, was able to do that when the Australian sensation returned.

“It was extremely important,” Hammon said of the ramifications going into Tuesday’s game, though San Antonio off its final two games would still have had a decent shot to extend the season. “This is a very dangerous team. We wanted to come in and take care of business tonight.”

The Sparks would still be alive if they hadn’t become the first team to lose to Tulsa, which had happened two weeks ago at home after the Shock had set a WNBA record with 20 straight losses.

And then there was the WNBA record from the other side, blowing a 24-point lead in the second half at home to Washington, which prevailed in overtime.

“Here in the Sparks organization, they want championships. The city wants championships,” Milton-Jones said. “In that sense, it’s been a down year for us.”

The Sparks also must decide if they want a new coach or on the other side of the discussion the decision may be made by interim coach Joe Bryant, the father of NBA Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who was promoted from an assistant in early July for a second tour of duty after Jennifer Gillom was fired.

Hired a year ago after she had been an interim coach at Minnesota, Gillom was let go after Los Angeles was routed on the road at Seattle.

Teresa Edwards, presiding over the woeful Tulsa Shock after Nolan Richardson resigned the same weekend Gillom was ousted, must decide her plans.

If a vacancy exists either way, former Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor, who was ousted at LSU after the collegiate season, is known to be itching to get back into the WNBA he dominated with the league’s first four titles in Houston, which no longer exists.

Even before Parker got hurt, Los Angeles was struggling on the road with a lopsided loss at Minnesota, a narrow one at San Antonio, and were being handled by New York when she went down in the third quarter.

When she returned, the Sparks had the easiest schedule in terms of being able to make inroads and were unable to get the job done going 4-6 while they were 5-10 during her absence not counting the loss to New York when she left the game in the third quarter.

West Seed Race To The Finish

As for the seed race in the West, here’s the deal.

Minnesota, which hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2004 when former Penn State star and current Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio was at the helm, wrapped up the overall No. 1 seed if the Lynx get to the finals.

McConnell-Serio, incidentally, beat out Connecticut's Mike Thibault that season by one vote for WNBA coach of the year after the Lynx finished third at 18-16, the third best record in the league.

The Lynx finish up hosting Chicago Thursday night and visiting Phoenix Sunday in the final of the season and series in which they are tied 2-2 with the Mercury (18-13).

Seattle is (19-3) is six games behind in second with two left, while Phoenix is 6.5 behind with a visit from Tulsa Thursday, a trip to Seattle Friday and the home game Sunday with Minnesota.

San Antonio is 9 games back with two left.

The Silver Stars, three games behind Seattle, cannot catch the Storm, who will thus finish second or third with second offering a home-court advantage in the best-of-three first round. The WNBA championship series expands to a best-of-five finals format.

If Seattle beats Phoenix Friday night, assuming Phoenix wins Thursday, the Storm win the series 3-1 and gain the tie-breaker for second place if they return to a deadlock on Sunday night.

In the next scenario, if Phoenix wins Thursday and then beats Seattle Friday only to lose to Minnesota while the Storm beat Chicago, then Seattle wins the tie-breaker because the series between the two would be 2-2 and thus the next tie-break is conference record.

Seattle is 14-7 in the West and thus would have a one-game advantage on Phoenix, which doesn’t have enough conference games left to catch the Storm.

If Phoenix loses to Tulsa, the Mercury must beat Seattle and Minnesota and then hope for a miracle win from Chicago Sunday to knock the Storm into third place.

If the Mercury beat Tulsa and Seattle, they must beat Minnesota or hope for a Chicago win over Seattle.

Now, from San Antonio’s perspective, if the Silver Stars win their last two and Phoenix loses its last three, they tie for third and
San Antonio wins the tiebreaker with a 3-2 record in the season series with the Mercury.

The Eastern Finish

First, as for the game details between Atlanta and Connecticut, in a battle between two MVP candidates, the host Dream’s Angel McCoughtry, the overall No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft out of Louisville, poured in 35 points to stop the Sun from clinching at least second and potentially having a better chance to finish first in the East.

Connecticut’s Tina Charles, a second-year pro and rookie of the year who was the overall 2010 No. 1 pick out of UConn, tied her WNBA record with her 22nd double double while her former Huskies teammate Renee Montgomery scored 16.

“(McCoughtry) was superb,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said. “When the stakes are high, she’s at her best. She’s played well against Connecticut. She’s shot the ball very well every time we’ve played them. She’s just really a great player.”

Charles was complimentary to her court rival and potential Olympic teammate next summer in London under UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

“Angel McCoughtry just broke our whole team down,” Charles said. “She’s a great player and she made some tough shots. But some of her shots, like layups, we should have been able to hold her off.”

McCoughtry, who was averaging 28 points against the Sun, used to go against Charles when Louisville and UConn battled in the Big East, as well as the 2009 NCAA title in the championship game in St. Louis.

“I felt good,” she said. “I felt more relaxed than I have in a long time. You always want to be your best against the best teams and Connecticut is a challenge. We’ll likely meet them again in the playoffs and I’m looking forward it.”

Connecticut would like to have second to have least one round of home-court advantage considering their 6-11 mark on the road, though if Atlanta were to play and beat Indiana and the Sun topped New York, then the Sun might have home-court advantage in the finals.

But that was the least of Sun coach Mike Thibault’s worries Tuesday.

“We just weren’t very good,” he said. “Our defense was bad in the first half and our offense was bad in the second half.”

The East Battle For Seeds

OK, class let’s begin and it appears we have nine potential scenarios.

If Indiana wins over Washington Wednesday night, the Fever clinch the top seed and home court in both rounds of the conference competition if they advance.

They will have their 21st win and all Connecticut can do is tie, take a piece of bragging rights over the others and then head for second place because the Fever won the series 3-2, though the Sun dominated last Friday’s meeting in Connecticut.

Atlanta, which has a half-game lead over New York, cannot catch Indiana, nor can the Liberty if the Fever beat Washington.

To repeat Tuesday’s earlier blog since the potential is still alive, there could be a four-way tie for first.

Indiana loses to Washington, at New York, at home to Atlanta equals 20-14.
Connecticut loses at home to New York equals 20-14.
New York wins over Indiana and Connecticut equals 20-14.
And Atlanta wins at Indiana equals 20-14.

The tie-break within the group off of records among then produces the following:

1. Atlanta 8-5
2. New York 7-6
3. Connecticut 6-7
4. Indiana 5-8

Feeding the upheaval is a projected 4-0 Atlanta over Indianapolis.

OK, on to Scenario No. 2.

For Connecticut to finish first, the Sun has to win its last game while Indiana loses all three. That would then mean that New York would be 19-15 and Atlanta would be 20-14 for third place.

On to Scenario No. 3

Indiana loses to Washington beats New York loses to Atlanta equals 21-13.
Connecticut beats New York equals 21-13 and second place.
New York loses to Indiana and Connecticut equals 18-16 for fourth place.
Atlanta beats Indiana equals 20-14 for third place.

Having fun? Next Scenario, which is No. 4.

Indiana beats Washington, New York and Atlanta equals 23-11
Connecticut beats New York equals 21-13.
New York loses to Indiana and Connecticut equals 18-16.
Atlanta loses to Indiana but gets third seed at 19-15.

Scenario No. 5:

Indiana loses to Washington, loses to New York beats Atlanta equals 21-13.
Connecticut beats New York equals 21-13.
New York beats Indiana loses to Connecticut equals 19-15 and wins tie break 3-2 in series with Atlanta.
Atlanta loses to Indiana equals 19-15

Scenario No. 6:

Indiana beats Washington loses to New York and Atlanta equals 21-13
Connecticut loses to New York equals 20-14.
New York beats Indiana and Connecticut equals 20-14.
Atlanta beats Indiana equals 20-14.

Three-way tie break
2. New York 5-4 (3-2 over Atlanta)
3. Connecticut 4-4
4. Atlanta (4-5)

Scenario No. 7:

Connecticut loses to New York equals 20-14
New York loses to Indiana and beats Connecticut equals 19-15 Wins tie-break 3-2 with Atlanta for third place.
Atlanta loses to Indiana equals 19-15.

Scenario No. 8:

Connecticut loses to New York equals 20-14
Atlanta beats Indiana equals 20-14. Atlanta wins second seed on conference series 14-8 vs. 13-9 for Connecticut. They were 2-2 on series.
New York loses to Indiana beats New York equals 19-15.

Scenario No. 9:

Connecticut loses to New York equals 20-14. Ct. wins tie-break for second on conference record 13-9 vs. New York 12-10.
New York beats Indiana and Connecticut equals 20-14.
Atlanta loses to Indiana equals 19-15.

That’s it until we get the Indiana-Washington result, the only game on Wednesday’s card.

-- Mel

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