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, June 06, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: New York Goes From Woeful to Whoa! Beating Atlanta

(Guru's note: There are some college specific items below this blog so scroll below. If, by chance you arrived at melgreenberg.com, then click mel's blog on the left to get to blogspot and the full archive.

The coaching carousel of changes is at the May 1 date on the index.)


By Mel Greenberg

Welcome to a one-day delay of the Guru's weekly retrospective and look ahead to the progression of the WNBA season, which this particularly summer causes focus to both the playoff race and draft lottery developments because of the array of collegiate talent at the top of the pile next April.

The Guru paused to include Tuesday night's singleton on the WNBA schedule -- the Atlanta Dream at New York Liberty, though he bailed out of a quick return to Newark, N.J. as he gets ready to make the all-night Wednesday marathon drive to Knoxville, Tenn., for this weekend's Women's Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies.

In the last 48 hours, the Liberty showed paybacks are you-know-what, after avenging Saturday night's road wipeout by the Indiana Fever with a home win Sunday at the Prudential Center.

Cappie Pondexter and company did ditto again Tuesday night, beating Atlanta 79-74 at the same venue.

Counting Saturday night, as most of the Liberty squad pointed out, that was a series of three games in four days, but productive ones, nevertheless, for coach John Whisenant's group.

The Guru had said going into the season, New York would be the underdog in its first seven games, which was true, but the two triumphs improves the Liberty to 2-5 and leaves the fan base, wherever they are if following elsewhere from across the Hudson River, now in a confused quandry.

With a worst-ever 0-5 start, New York fans were getting ready to re-focus on thinking about getting in the draft and landing one of the top three picks might be s better option in the long run.

That brings to mind the draft lottery origins in the world of the NBA back in the mid-1980s, created to avoid a tank-fest to finish with the worst record and land the prized sensation of the time -- one Georgetown superstar by the name of Patrick Ewing.

As it turned out, the bad lottery participant, located in the largest media market, which goes by the name of the Liberty's big-brother New York Knicks, won the draw and top pick and with it so began the Ewing era in Manhattan.

To this day, though more recent NBA action has added to conspiracy suspicions, many beyond Manhattan, if not on the island, still believe commissioner David Stern and cohorts rigged the process involving the ping pong balls in the Knicks' favor.

Back in the WNBA the Liberty have gone in a few days, for now, from being described as awful to suddenly being thought of as a playoff contender.

And that sets the stage for this weekend's set of games for New York that involve a Friday night visit to the Washington Mystics (1-4) and then a home visit Sunday with the renaissance Chicago Sky (4-1), which are in a three-way tie for first in the Eastern Conference with identical records to Indiana and the Connecticut Sun.

A sweep and suddenly New York could be straddling the fence, contending for perhaps the bottom of the fourth playoff spot in the East or running just under that, which means if you are going to be bad, be very bad to increase the odds to Baylor's Brittany Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

Thus beating Washington Friday is fine for the playoff hunt, but not helpful in the lottery battle considering the Mystics are losing games close and are likely to be in a determined state of mind.

But that good be later looked as a good thing depending how everything plays out.

The Liberty's wins over Indiana and Atlanta (2-4) at least avoided New York being on the verge of losing series to two more conference rivals, as is the case with its Connecticut rivalry.

Chicago lived up to expectations in the last week of finally in year seven in franchise history looking like a team that could be playoff bound. So the Sky are a team New York needs to beat in terms of postseason aspirations, especially if things don't hold up in Washington.

"We've proven that if we play defense, we can play with any team in the league," Whisenant said Sunday after the win over Indiana.

New York's fate in terms of its ultimate results could be found in the home-and-home two game crossover sets with the West, which for a playoff hopeful in the East carries the opportunity of a level playing field against four of six teams, for now.

Weird as it is, courtesy of the schedule makers, the Liberty's destiny, if not determined either way beforehand, could be found in the final two games of the regular season -- an East-West home and home matchup Sept. 20 in the Southwest and Sept. 22 at The Rock against the still-winless Tulsa Shock (0-6).

Elsewhere, the revived Los Angeles Sparks (5-1) have already claimed two buzzer-beatting wins over Tulsa and Seattle, which clinched the season series against the Storm (1-4) at 3-0.

These two games along with several Washington narrow losses are part of a collection of close encounters the Guru will soon begin tracking to see the impact on both the playoff qualifiers and those relegated to the lottery.

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve recently noted the most famous shot taken in the franchise history of the defending WNBA champions.

No, it was not a Lynx player, but it occured by one Tina Thompson, then on Los Angeles and now with Seattle.

Few games were left in the regular season and the West won-loss records behind Seattle's domination in 2010 were similar to the current grouping.

Still, three teams in a four-team hunt behind the Storm had to go to the playoffs. So with few seconds remaining, Minnesota scored and seemed to gain the upper hand against Los Angeles. But with two seconds left, the Sparks whipped down the court and Thompson scored.

"How that played out, as late in the season as it was, that game probably put Los Angeles in the playoffs," Reeves noted of her first season in charge of Minnesota.

"But while it felt bad at the time, the loss put us in the lottery and though we didn't have the top odds, we won the pick and that resulted in us getting (former UConn sensation) Maya Moore."

And the rest was history.

Review And Preview: The Week That Was And Will Be

As the Guru will do each week, let's go over the standings team by team for what's at stake between now and Sunday.

Eastern Conference

Connecticut Sun: (4-1). Other than a loss down the stretch at home to Minnesota, the Sun have zipped to a triple deadlock at the top of the conference with Indiana and Chicago, primarily on the play of center Tina Charles, among others.

The knot gets reduced to at least two on Friday night when Connecticut visits the Fever in Indianapolis. These two are more playoff worthy than not, for now, in terms of the matchup. So it's big for both.

Then it's back home for a visit from the Atlanta team that went 2-0 in the opening playoff series against the Sun last season on the way to a second-straight Eastern playoff crown.

A Sun sweep will be outstanding, a split probably OK, though it would be nice to keep collecting those conference wins if you are a Connecticut fan. An 0-2 wipeout, not great but not the end of the world as long as the Sun can feed off New York and Washington and a weakside West.

Indiana Fever (4-1). OK, from a Friday night perspective on the other bench, this has become one of the better conference rivalries in the East, if not the whole WNBA. A home-team win over Connecticut wipes out the taste of being physically handled by New York on Sunday after blasting the Liberty the night before.

The Fever had all week to get ready for this one and will have another week before taking the court again.

Chicago (4-1). Only in the Windy City or, in the case of the Sky, the Windy City suburbs, can a woman be both a prince and princess. That's because we're talking about former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince who had two career nights back-to-back as Chicago bolted to a triple deadlock at the top of the East.

The Sky might keep it going this week. Tulsa visits Friday night, though the Shock are losing some games by narrow margins, and then it's on to New York Sunday in Newark for a showdown game that will mean much to both teams harboring playoff hopes.

As Indiana's Tamika Catchings said last week, one game early may not seem that important but in a WNBA with a short 34-game schedule, which is punctuated this summer by the one-month Olympic break, every game is important.

So a Chicago sweep will be splendid, a split OK, though New York offers a conference chip, and an 0-2 wipeout means back to getting a quick tuneup.

Atlanta Dream (2-4). Well, the Dream started slow last season and then gained momentum down the stretch. New York was one of those could-have-had, should-have-had games Tuesday night, though the Liberty would say as much had they lost.

The San Antonio Silver Stars (2-3) visit Friday and then its on to Connecticut Sunday.

A sweep would be fine, a split is more meaningful if winning at Connecticut is the positive part, while 0-2 means hanging on tighter till help arrives when Erika De Souza returns from the Olympics after playing with her national team.

New York Liberty (2-5). It is all said at the top of this post so nothing more is needed.

Washington Mystics (1-4). These close setbacks are mindful of 2011 but that was an offseason roster turnover of seven players ago before newcomers arrived over the winter to join survivors Crystal Langhorne, Jasmine Thomas, Matee Ajavon, and Monique Currie.

If they want to say things are different, bringing the Liberty back down to earth Friday night is a start in the Mystics' only action of the weekend. So, yeah, if you're a Washington fan looking to live again like 2010, it's a must win.

But if the Mystics' faithful would rather their team head to the lottery and let the Nationals basetball team remain the feel good story this summer, then, yeah, it's a must loss, something that didn't happen against Tulsa.

Western Conference

Minnesota Lynx (7-0). Here comes Seattle Wednesday night in the only WNBA game scheduled and smarting from the Storm's narrow loss at Los Angeles on Sunday.

The Lynx booted the Storm last season to become the new law ladies in the West and considering that all that's left on the week's card is a Saturday visit to Tulsa, Minnesota is looking at tying WNBA best-ever 9-0 star.

That's what 2-0 would do. A split leaves a taste more sour if Tulsa is the team causing the split while 0-2 is not the end of the world but a small cause for refocus, if not concern, considering several narrow escapes last week in Washington and against San Antonio in games that the Lynx held huge leads.

Los Angeles Sparks (5-1). The Phoenix Mercury (2-4) comes to Tinseltown Friday night battered and looking certainly more like they are lottery bound than heading for the postseason.

But sorry Sparks. No lottery for you after picking up overall No. 1 picks Candace Parker out of Tennessee in 2009 and Nneka Oguwmike out of Stanford in April's draft.

Of course, former Maryland star Kristi Toliver wasn't drafted by Los Angeles but she is winning games for the Sparks after a past acquistion in a trade made with Chicago.

A depleted roster caused by injuries may soon mean the arrival of former Georgia star Coco Miller, according to Fullcourt.com. The veteran was a final cut by Atlanta and has been spending her time watching twin sister Kelly play for New York.

Los Angeles needs the win to stay close to Minnesota, so a loss is hurtful unless the Lynx return to earth.

San Antonio Silver Stars (2-3). Perhaps the Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde of the four pursuers -- good enough to beat their sistern in the lower West, which might be enough for a playoff spot, especially if they can also steal some games from the Eastern opponents.

It's a tricky week for the Texans, whose stirring rally Sunday nearly carried to an upset at Minnesota, which would have been one better than Davy Crockett and the boys at the Alamo in San Antonio.

They visit Atlanta Friday night and then host Seattle Saturday in a tough back-to-back. A sweep or a split holds serve in the West but an 0-2 wipeout and one can also note how good would it be for the local market to land Griner in her home state and forget about those New Yorkers and Washingtonians.

Phoenix Mercury (2-4). Penny Taylor, gone for the season before it started due to an ACL. Diana Taurasi, week-to-week with a hip injury.

But imagine how this team could have the last laugh a year from now as a lottery winner?

However, bad as they might be right now, the tightness behind the two Western frontrunners could mean that even being awful could still be good enough to be a playoff contender.

And if not, well, the Mercury have a history built on the lottery and it netted two WNBA titles.

Ah yes, one can see the 2013 headlines now: Delle Donne in the Desert.

As for the week, if one wants to cause positive talk in Arizona, the chance on Friday night comes with a visit to Los Angeles.

And that is the only game left on this week's card so it's a lose or lose situation so to speak.

Seattle Storm (1-4). At this pace, the passionate Storm fan base may become like the Liberty crowd pulled in opposite directions.

So if you would rather miss the playoffs, even a Seattle mediocre record could be wiped out from the draft frontrunners unless you hope Svetlana Abrosimova can't have a deal worked out soon to return to the Storm, as reported by ace Seattle Times beat writer Jayda Evans, or that Lauren Jackson gets stuck in the special terminal after the Olympics in London, which will be quickly dismantled after the athletes leave for home.

But some of you in the Northwest want the glory days, as they have been in terms of title contention, sooner rather than 2013.

So for you, upsetting Minnesota on the road Wednesday night brings a new hope, especially if followed Saturday with a road win at San Antonio.

Most likely we're talking split. though losing at San Antonio, which will be on the second part of a back-to-back, would be painful off an upset of the Lynx.

And as for an 0-2 wipeout, the only bad lotto break would be to land with the fourth pick.

Tulsa Shock (0-6). Which brings us to deja vu, except there's been a lot of tough luck and close losses for the winless Shock, which went 3-31 last season.

On the slate, there's a visit to Chicago Friday night and a visit from Minnesota Saturday. Vegas, if it took bets in the WNBA, perhaps some book does, would more interested in odds to winning the draft lottery.

The Shock are underdogs in both games so a split or sweep would be astounding, especially if either includes an upset of the Lynx.

And that's the review and outlook for this week.

Though the Guru will be off the WNBA grid reporting for here and for his alma mater newsapaper (local Dawn Staley is the last magical name to a freelance gig in Philly) on events at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, he will be tracking events from afar in Knoxville.

And on that note, a quick correction off Helen's womenshoops blog -- the board you linked to is not the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, but the revamped and re-named former Knoxville Sports Commission, which oversees the WBHOF and several other operations.

USA Basketball's Carol Callan, the current head of the WBHOF board of directors, represents the organizaion on the oversight board, that also has former Tennessee women's athletic director Joan Cronan and new Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick among its members.

The Guru will continue to tweet @womhoops, as always, perhaps just to stay awake on the trip south.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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