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.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Guru's WNBA Weekly Outlook: Connecticut Sun Becoming Wise Bankers In The East

By Mel Greenberg

After being 24 hours late with the weekly WNBA long-range musing seven days ago, why not make up for it by going a day early to get posted before the Washington Mystics (2-5) and host Los Angeles Sparks (7-3) tip off in an Eastern-Western cross-conference matchup Monday night in Southern California.

Well, for those who thought the Tulsa Shock might win a game but couldn't determine when and for those who thought the defending champion Minnesota Lynx might eventually lose a game but likewise couldn't name the time, then Sunday ended the speculation on the topic.

The Tulsa Shock snapped an 0-9 start by beating the struggling Phoenix Mercury (2-7) in a game that for now was more about long-range determination in terms of placing in the great draft lottery drawing after the season concludes.

The Shock, however, are still off the pace of last season's woeful 3-31 WNBA-record worst performance in getting the win in Game No. 10.

A year ago, Tulsa beat Washington in Game No. 6 before losing the next 20 and then going on a two-game win streak edging Los Angeles (to help send the Sparks to the lottery) on the road and beating the Connecticut Sun at home before dropping the final games on the schedule.

Meanwhile, Seattle (3-7) is threatening to leave the lottery chase and get more inside the rope leading to the Storm's normal place in the playoffs after ending Minnesota's run, though the Lynx nearly completed what would have been a successful rally to stay unbeaten.

It was the second straight win for Sue Bird and company after racking up their second straight win over Tulsa earlier on the weekend.

Had not these two events occurred, the Guru would be leading with his prime opening topic, but it must wait for another prime bit of news.

The Chicago Sky's best-ever opening run came to an end Saturday in a second loss to the Indiana Fever (5-3) in a game that former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince, the WNBA's leading scorer, suffered a fracture in her right foot and will be sidelined six-to-eight weeks, according to her own report on her twitter account.

Fortunately for the Sky, the Olympic break, as well as some wide spacing in game dates prior to the hiatus, are enough to keep Chicago in playoff contention with a few potential wins possible before Prince returns.

The Sky's opening 7-2 burst may become a lifeline in the playoff hunt.

But the team that is really is bringing a whole new dimension to banking, WNBA style, is Connecticut (8-2), which trailed all the way Sunday before edging the host Atlanta Dream (4-6) in the final seconds on Tina Charles' two foul shots.

The win gave the Sun a half-game lead atop the Eastern Conference ahead of Chicago and two in front of Indiana, whom Connecticut will host Tuesday and then travel to on Thursday.

It is another big week for the Sun, who slaughtered the New York Liberty (3-7) Friday night to go 3-0 and take the season series.

Connecticut has made the most of a front-loaded home slate, having lost competitively just twice and both were to the Western Conference current 1-2 punch of Minnesota and Los Angeles.

How well have the Sun collected early chits, let's count the ways remembering they tied Indiana for first in the regular season in 2011 but fell to the No. 2 seed slot because the Fever grabbed the season series between the two and grabbed it early.

Connecticut is currently 7-0 in Eastern Conference competition, two up in the loss column on Chicago, three on Indiana, four on Washington, which by nature of games played and percentage is still last behind New York, which trails the Sun by six games in conference games, the same total as Atlanta.

The Sun already has a 3-0 series clincher with New York, with two left that will quickly be played home-and-home after the season resumes in mid-August.

Connecticut's win over Atlanta gives the Sun a 2-0 record and at worst they can only tie in the four-game set. Teams play five games against some conference foes and four each against the rest.

The Sun's final two games of the overall season will be home against Indiana and Atlanta and something could be riding on the outcome for someone in each contest.

Connecticut already has one win against Washington and will play the Mystics three of their remaining four games before the break with a chance to pocket another series.

A sweep of Indiana this week will clinch that series, though that is a tough order. Still, a split will be helpful because the Sun play only four games against the Fever this season.

Finally, Connecticut, which makes its Far West three-game cross-conference swing near the end of the season, won't see Chicago until right before the break.

While it's been noted the Sky should not plunge out of the playoff hunt because of Prince's injury, Chicago's situation by that time is for the moment an unknown.

Technically, while no one realized how much Prince's game was going to elevate, which is why the Sky got off to its best start, Chicago is still talented enough with its new additions to stay in the hunt, even if it drops off from conference title contention.

That all said, let's go to the team-by-team, conference-by-conference, look ahead at what's in store for each between now and the conclusion of Sunday's slate.

Eastern Conference

Connecticut Sun (8-2) -- Well, all the factors have been addressed in the opening write-o-logue talk. Of course, all the happy talk about the Sun precludes incidents and injuries causing absences such as the sprain that kept Angel McCoughtry sidelined against the Sun.

The only thing that would be a downer is getting swept by the Fever.

Chicago Sky (7-2) -- Well, the team gets most of the week off playing just one game. Unfortunately that is a Saturday trip to Minnesota, which will have already attempted to take its loss to Seattle out on New York on Thursday.

But if that didn't work, well this one was in the projected loss column anyway with Prince's presence accounting for keeping the point spread a little narrower.

Indiana Fever (5-3) -- Inherently, part of the discussion here has already taken place with the road-and-home Tuesday and Thursday tilts against Connecticut covering most of the week ahead.

The Fever finish up trying to sweep the two-game East-West matchup with Tulsa when they visit the Shock on Saturday in the second game of Tulsa's Gary Kloppenburg going against his former team where he had been an assistant to Lin Dunn.

Sudden thought: For all the talk about the Harvard graduate who made a splash with the NBA New York Knicks, how come no one ever beat the pundits to the punch over the last several decades ascribing the phrase Lin-Sanity to the popular Fever coach?

Atlanta Dream (4-6) -- Well, what an interesting time ahead this week for the Dream, still fuming, perhaps, internally about the call that sent Charles to the foul line Sunday.

Although some might take issue with the Guru's fun in also describing the lottery chase alongside the playoff chase, though no one has yet, all teams in the East are very much, standings-wise, capable of making the postseason right now in terms of games behind.

But it's the way things have gone for each team that has allowed separation between early cream and, well, ----.

And so despite the New York Liberty's thrashing by Connecticut on Friday, Atlanta catches them in the Dream's only two games of the week, hosting on Tuesday and visiting the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. on Sunday.

New York is just one game behind what is the fourth and final playoff spot, though the relevance of that will mean much more way later.

But with the series tied at 1-1 between the two, Atlanta can kick-start itself to a little distance from New York with a sweep and hold serve with a split. And if the Dream are swept, what a nightmare or as legendary broadcaster Dick Engberg might say: "Oh My!"

New York Liberty (3-7) -- Well, the Liberty plate is a bit tougher because not only must they deal with the visit-home, Tuesday and Sunday set with Atlanta, in between is a visit to Minnesota, Thursday, when the Lynx will have their first chance to take out their loss on their next opponent.

For those who have already given up their playoff hopes for the Liberty and are eagerly hoping New York can replicate its big-brother Knicks' success in the past when they won the first-ever NBA lottery and grabbed Georgetown sensation Patrick Ewing, this is a great week to go lottery bound with a feasible 0-3 performance.

Obviously, that's a run that would normally cause restlessness en masse if this was not the year that the top three lottery prizes in the four-team competition are Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

But the Guru must temper these comments for you Liberty lottery fans by pointing out that the team's concluding schedule will include a very level playing field in which New York will meet 7 of 9 teams that could be more out of the playoffs then in -- a very level playing field in which the Liberty could suddenly get hot and make some of you at that point unhappy.

That group includes Delaware fans hopeful their collegiate star lands in New York or Washington where they can easily travel to watch Delle Donne in the pros.

Barring improvements off Friday night's disaster, for the playoff-minded New York fans, 1-2 holds serve. Anything better, cheers to you and regrets to the others, for now.

Washington Mystics (2-5) -- In the past this is the swing where bad Eastern Conference teams go to die -- at Los Angeles (Mon.), at Phoenix (Wed.), at Seattle (Sun).

For Mystics fans who are like the New York lottery fans, it could be a big 0-3 week. However, the two stops after Monday night are on a level playing field, unless Seattle is really back in the swing of things, so Washington, off its gritty win Friday night against Indiana, could be capable of a 2-1 week.

Considering Los Angeles is coming into Monday night's game with an 0-2 losing streak, but one that has asterisks because of injuries and the Stanford graduation of overall No. 1 draft pick Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks are a decided favorite in the Staples Center Monday night.

Perhaps Phoenix will be smarting over the loss to Tulsa when Washington visits Wednesday and perhaps not.

As for Sunday, Seattle will have had a relatively restful week dealing with just San Antonio Friday night, though the Silver Stars will not make life easy in their visit to the Northwest.


Minnesota Lynx (10-1) -- Well, unlike Baylor, UConn, Texas and Tennessee at the collegiate level in certain seasons, no one's perfect in the WNBA, though a few have come close and Lynx fans were beginning to dream the dream off the Minnesota WNBA-record 10-0 start.

So for the first time since the one-game loss in the playoffs to San Antonio, it's time to get back on the winning track. New York visits Thursday and Chicago, in its first game without Epiphanny Prince for a while, comes calling Saturday.

Just what the doctor might have ordered, had not the WNBA schedule wonk taken care of business ahead of time.

The Lynx in the first of two East-West games are going for a sweep of New York while Chicago will still be a challenge.

It's possible it might be a 1-1 week, more likely 2-0, but 0-2, hell hath no fury like coach Cheryl Reeve enduring a losing streak.

Los Angeles Sparks (7-3) -- Thanks to Seattle, the Sparks avoided falling further behind the defending champs in pursuit of the Western title.

But it is a busy week. Following Monday's visit from Washington. there's a visit from Tulsa, which may be feeling its oats, Wednesday; followed by a trip to Phoenix Saturday and then a quick return to host the San Antonio Silver Stars (4-4) Sunday.

Well, with Ogwumike back for Monday night's game, that may be enough to solve the Mystics, and the odds favor the Sparks, Wed and Thurs, while Sunday's game might be a tossup considering San Antonio won in overtime in Texas, Saturday.

But again, there were asterisks attached to L.A. last week. A 4-0 week is attainable, going 3-1 with the loss being to the Silver Stars acceptable, but a beginning cause for concern at 2-2 and more cause at either 1-3 or 0-4.

San Antonio Silver Stars (4-4) -- Well, it looks like coach Dan Hughes' group might have gotten upset with the Guru's Saturday blog setting up the lottery chase and including the Silver Stars.

But the Guru did say this team was on the fence and go in either direction.

There's two Western road stops this week at Seattle Friday and at Los Angeles on Sunday. A sweep and get out of the lotto hunt for now, more likely a split and things stay the same. But 0-2 and anything is still possible in either direction, though, as has been said of the West, two teams will haave to be in the playoffs, as in 2010, no matter how bad their records.

Actually, back then, three had to be.

Seattle Storm (3-7) -- Well, the win moved the Storm into playoff spot No. 4, again really moot at this point, just ahead of Phoenix.

Two home games are on the table to follow the upset of Minnesota. San Antonio visits Friday in a matchup that can be called a tossup to give the Silver Stars credit for their win, but maybe not.

The Washington visit Sunday in a cross-conference game that may eventually be one that will help determine the lottery order should both teams fall below the playoff line. Competitively, a big game for the visiting Mystics and, if the Storm have postseason aspirations, an opportunty to bank a win in the backpocket, especially off a win over San Antonio or, for that matter, a loss to the Silver Stars.

Phoenix Mercury (2-7) -- Well, if Brittany Griner eventually becomes a Taurasi teammate, one may look back at Sunday's loss to Tulsa as one that spurred the result.

So in that sense, another lottery game in an East-West matchup Wednesday when Washington visits, followed by a visit from Los Angeles on Saturday.

Looks like a 1-1 week at best, 2-0 would be shocking, while 0-2 brings smile to the lottery fans in the desert.

Tulsa Shock (1-9) -- The joy of the win Sunday may be short-lived, for now. There's a visit to Los Angeles on Wednesday and an East-West hosting job against Indiana Saturday.

It looks like an 0-2 week, anything above is a major achievement. But, to echo others watching the Shock in person, Tulsa does have more wins ahead. But for lottery fans in the Southwest in Oklahoma, hopefully just not enough to upset the draft cart.

However, remember, Liz Cambage comes back after the Olympics and there's that two-game set at the end of it all against New York.

That's all for now.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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