Guru's WNBA Report: Washington Gains Fading To Phoenix In Tankers' Desert Battle
By Mel Greenberg
It was tankers aweigh in the Arizona desert Wednesday night as two teams more likely to land in the lucrative draft lottery, as of now, than in the postseason battled away down the stretch.
The Phoenix Mercury had everything going for its struggling squad to finish worse off than the Washington Mystics in the first of the annual two-game battle between Western and Eastern Conference opponents in what was a spararse two-game schedule on the nightly WNBA card.
Three of the four Mercury stars, who were off the boardand dressed in civilian clothes due to injuries, could be capable of making an expansion team into a title contender.
Australian Penny Taylor has been sidelined for the season with an ACL injury suffered in winter competition that is also keeping her out of the Olympics. Former UConn sensation Diana Taurasi has barely played because of a hip flixor.
Joining them on the bench for the tilt with Washington was All-Star and former Temple all-American Candice Dupree with a knee injury, similar to one suffered by Nakia Sanford that also had her out of action.
Piece of cake, you say, if you are a Mercury fan who has decided it is better to be bad and possibly land Baylor's Brittany Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins when selection time comes around again in April?
Well, unfortunately, living in the West you have not come appreciate what is an art form when it comes to the Mystics.
Despite a blizzard of 21 points from Michelle Snow, the former Tennessee all-American center, and a nearly matching 20 from former Duke star Monique Currie, another inside presence, and a 74-69 lead with 2 minutes, 26 seconds remaining, Washington did what it has been doing best again this season -- the Mystics came from ahead to yield an 11-3 run by the Mercury the rest of the way, fueled by seven of rookie Samantha Prahalis' 15 points and Phoenix prevailed 80-77.
The result, though still way early in the season, bolted Washington to the second worst record in the WNBA at 2-7 as the Mystics dropped their second straight on the three-game road trip through the West with a stop at possibly revitalized Seattle left against the Storm on Sunday night.
The Mercury (3-7) moved into a tie with Seattle which, right-side up, has them locked in what would be the fourth and final playoff spot in the West, though as the Guru keeps noting, it's early, but why not start having fun for amusement now?.
And in the other Wednesday game front-runner or bottom-runner Tulsa, depending on one's view, having snapped an 0-9 start, beating Phoenix Sunday night, succumbed easily in Los Angeles 95-79 to the Sparks to fall to 1-10.
But having that kind of lottery advantage doesn't guarantee anything as the Shock learned last winter f0llowing a WNBA worst-ever 3-31 drubbing in 2011.
When the ping pong balls were finished doing their thing, it was Wednesday's night's Los Angeles opponent who won the grand prize and used the overall No. 1 choosing rights in April to choose Stanford star Nneka Ogwumike, who appears to be on course to become rookie of the year.
Tulsa had the last lottery and fourth overall pick, which was used to pick another Tennessee star center in Glory Johnson.
Prahalis, the Ohio State all-American who was the Mercury's first-round pick, is also having a fine debut in the WNBA, while of two first-round picks by Washington, former Notre Dame star Natalie Novosel has played sparingly and LSU's LaSondra Barrett was waived just before the season opener.
Phoenix, however, gets a chance to move in reverse flow in the Mercury's next outing when Los Angeles (9-3) visits Saturday night.
Incidentally, a healthy and thriving Candace Parker scored 33 points in the win over Tulsa.
Parker was picked No. 1 out of Tennessee in the 2008 draft when Los Angeles came out of nowhere backwards to edge the one-time forlorn Minnesota Lynx with the winning ping pong ball.
With Wednesday's outcome decided by three-points, it becomes another in a special series of narrow outcomes being monitored to see whenever the lottery percentages are determined which 0nes impacted the positioning for the best shot at the ping pong balls.
It was the Los Angeles buzzer-beater approaching the close of the season over Minnesota in 2010 that made the Sparks a playoff team while the Lynx, despite not having the highest percentage, hit the jackpot for the No. 1 pick and grabbed UConn sensation Maya Moore as one of the key ingredients that led to Minnesota's first WNBA title last season and the Lynx's early-season domination this time around.
But for the teams currently not so dominating, though some will back into the playoffs, here is another look at the lottery chase, though the Guru will say, for now, he is dropping the San Antonio Silver Stars from last Saturday's original list, at least until they go on enough of a slide to make them lottery contenders.
That could come this weekend when San Antonio visits Seattle Friday and Los Angeles on Sunday.
So here is an update from Saturday's post where the columns will list overall bad records in reverse order, won-loss records in games decided by six points or less, and then, taking up on the Minnesota 2010 experience, won-loss narrow overall losses against others in the lottery standings and then a breakdown of those outcomes against East and West opponents.
Remember, though three West teams are ahead of the New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream, one would have to eventually make the playoffs out there and would not be eligible in the lottery mix.
Looking ahead to the next several days, though the New York Liberty came out of last Friday's worst-ever thrashing, which was handed by the host and Eastern playoff front-running Connecticut Sun, and won at a depleted Atlanta squad, New York has an opportunity to revert to its struggles with a visit to Minnesota Thursday and then a hosting gig with Atlanta in Newark, N.J. on Sunday.
Of course, the problem with Atlanta is that without Angel McCoughtry in the lineup, the Dream are much different, especially added to the pre-Olympic absences of Erika de Souza and Iziane Marquez Castro.
In other key games in the lotto competition, Seattle, which after giving Minnesota its first loss is capable of moving in either direction, will be hosting San Antonio Friday before Washington's Sunday visit.
Phoenix, as mentioned, hosts Los Angeles Saturday, while Tulsa will host the Indiana Fever Saturday.
Team Overall W-L Narrow W-L Vs. All Vs. East Vs. West GB
1. Tulsa 1-10 0-3 0-2 0-1 0-1 ---
2. Wash. 2-7 2-3 1-2 0-1 1-1 2.0
2. Seattle 3-7 1-2 0-0 0-0 0-0 2.5
4. Phoenix 3-7 2-0 2-0 1-0 1-0 2.5
5. New York 4-7 2-1 2-0 2-0 0-0 3.0
6. Atlanta 4-7 1-3 1-1 0-1 1-0 3.0
Notes: Tulsa has a two-point loss to Phoenix, a narrow loss to Los Angeles and three-point loss at Wash.
Seattle has two narrow losses to Los Angeles and a narrow win over Minn.
Phoenix has narrow wins over Tulsa and Washington.
Washington held off Tulsa and Indiana and lost close to New York, Minnesota (on a Lindsay Whalen shot), and at Phoenix.
New York has a close loss to Connecticut and held off Washington and Atlanta in the Liberty's narrowly-decided games.
Atlanta lost close to New York, Chicago and Connecticut and edged San Antonio.
That's it for now.
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