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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guru's WNBA Outlook: New York Out To Sky-Scrape in Chicago

By Mel Greenberg

Landscape wise, New York, the city, has long been identified with its many skyscrapers reaching up and towering to impressive sights.

But its WNBA team, the Liberty, which actually is midway through its three-year temporary residency across the Hudson River in Newark, N.J., will be seeking to do some Sky scraping of a different sort Tuesday night when it visits Eastern Conference rival Chicago in the suburbs of the Windy City.

Prior to the month-long break in mid-July for the Olympics, the two teams had some distance and reversal of current fortunes between them.

The Sky (8-11), through addition of veteran talent in Olympian Swin Cash, the former UConn star; Ruth Riley, the former Notre Dame star; and Ticha Penicheiro, who was a program all-timer at Old Dominion, seemed headed for their first playoff appearance in six attempts since joining the league in 2006.

New York (7-13), injury-riddled, and shorthanded in the post, seemed well on the way to be on the sidelines during the postseason, though lottery-bound has its own rewards this particular time around.

But then Epiphanny Prince, the former Rutgers star who was leading the league in scoring, suffered a broken foot and Chicago began skidding in reverse.

The slide has continued and after squandering a visit Sunday to the Washington Mystics, one of three teams not holding potential playoff spots that Chicago is meeting in a four-game stretch, the Sky are suddenly hanging on for dear life stuck with a 1-10 plunge, though Prince returned for the last two games when the WNBA season resumed.

New York, meanwhile, which now has Plenette Pierson back in the post after missing much of the first half of the season, managed to steal (in terms of predictions) a home win off Eastern front-runner Connecticut last Thursday before the the Sun took revenge at home two nights later and finished the season series between the two teams at 4-1.

But the Chicago loss on Sunday now has New York just 1.5 games behind the Sky in the contest for what would be the fourth and final playoff spot in the East with a month left in the regular season.

There was some irony in the Chicago game concering the battle of former Rutgers stars on the two teams' rosters.

A year ago there was a game in which Washington's Matee Ajavon fouled Prince at the finish in the Mystics' Verizon Center, sending Prince to the line to connect with the game-winning points.

For a moment it looked like that scenario would repeat but as the final seconds of regulation wore down, Ajavon nailed a long three-pointer to send in the game into overtime and then former Duke star Jasmine Thomas launched a trey for the game-winner which was enhanced with another former Blue Devil, Monique Currie, hitting two free throws for the final points.

So suddenly, besides projecting the concept of Baylor star Brittney Griner, considered odds on to be the pick of whoever wins the draft lottery among the four non-playoff teams, or Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins in a Liberty uniform, one begins to think things might go the other way and Griner becomes the female Michael Jordan of Chicago if the Sky are the ones holding the top pick.

Then, again, Diggins is a potential home-town sort of choice if Chicago landed one of the other two top picks.

"I can you tell you this," said a member of the Chicago organization. "Fans might talk like that but that is not what is on the mind of this coaching staff."

That's because Pokey Chatman, the former LSU coach, had always been about winning while John Whisenant, the New York coach in his second season with the Liberty, never had to deal in the lottery, dating back to his success as the former coach-general manager of the former Sacramento Monarchs.

So in the realm of being able to still be playing in October, this game is a must on both sides because, quite frankly, Chicago, unless the Sky reverses back to early season form, and New York, will still be underdogs in most of the games left on their respective schedules.

Chicago and New York both play probably lottery-bound teams later this week with the Sky visiting the Tulsa Shock (3-17) while New York will visit the woeful Phoenix Mercury (4-17).

But otherwise it's a tough slate ahead for both.

Sunday's loss for Chicago was a demonstration how quickly emotions and mindsets have to re-adjust when the Olympics intrude in a WNBA season.

Just a week earlier the Sky's Swin Cash and Sylvia Fowles were celebrating with their USA teammates the capture of another gold medal, which was achieved in London.

Now, it was back to the grind with a sour taste attached to the way Sunday's game went down the tubes.

"This one's really tough," Cash said. "Last week celebrating, I just had to take that moment and understand that it's past. I got to focus on Chicago. I mean we're in a dogfight now to make the playoffs. Games like this really hurt you but right now we have to get back to Chicago and get ready for New York, which is coming in as another hungry team.

"The games don't stop. The season keeps going."

And with that note, it's back to taking advantage of an idle Monday and resume looking seven days ahead, conference by conference, team by team.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Connecticut Sun (16-5) GB: -- Holding a three-game lead over the Indiana Fever, coach Mike Thibault's squad can add one more Tuesday night when the Tulsa Shock visit, still without Australian sensation Liz Cambage, who will be absent several more games before rejoining the team following her participation in the Olympics.

Then it's a stretch of rest before hosting Chicago, Sunday.

Connecticut did not see the Sky until just before the break so Chicago will be the Eastern team the Sun plays the most in the conference the rest of the way.

The Sun have an extra incentive as they trail Minnesota by a game for best overall record. Gaining the advantage there is critical because if both teams make the finals, the better record awards the perk of homecourt advantage in the best-of-five championship series.

As for the rest of it for determining the homecourt perk, if the records are the same and the fact that the two teams split their crossover series 1-1, it's too early yet for that discussion.

Meanwhile, the best bet for Connecticut is for a 2-0 week, though 1-1 won't be terrible if the one loss is Chicago. But losing two this week beginning with Tulsa's visit, yes, that would be a Shock.

2. Indiana Fever (12-7) GB: 3 The Fever head West this week and in keeping pace with Connecticut it will be a challenge, beginning with Tuesday night's visit to the Los Angeles Sparks, who are in a three-way fight for the conference lead.

It is a must win in trying to catch Connecticut because otherwise by the end of Tuesday night, Indiana could be another game behind. Then it's off to the Seattle Storm on Thursday, which will be Australian Lauren Jackson's second game of the season for the Storm after missing the first half for the Olympics (see the West discussion below).

The trip concludes with a visit to Phoenix Saturday.

Indiana could go 2-1 though more likely 1-2 is what might happen. A 3-0 run would be great but 0-3 is trouble, especially considering that the now healthy Atlanta Dream str just three games behind the Fever, though last week's win over Atlanta was helpful to the Midwest folks.

3. Atlanta Dream (10-11) GB: 6 Now that Erika de Souza is back after missing the first half of the season training with the Brazilian Olympic team, and Angel McCoughtry off her rookie Olympic experience is even more of a force, this is a week the Dream can make some inroads.

Atlanta needs some separation from Chicago in the standings -- the Dream are a game in front -- and also has to close in on Indiana to get homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern playoffs they'll likely participate in as the two-time defending conference playoff champions.

Yes, the Guru knows. Homecourt disadvantage wasn't a problem the last two seasons but one never knows how long that deficiency can continue.

The Chicago situation can be handled Wednesday when the Sky visit, then there's a visit to Washington Friday night followed by Minnesota, the WNBA defending champions, visiting Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back deal for Atlanta.

Most likely it looks like a 2-1 week, though 3-0 is not totally impossible. However, neither 1-2 or 0-3 would be acceptable for the three-game tally that will be completed following the Lynx visit.

4. Chicago Sky (8-11) GB: 7 Most of the Sky's situation has been addressed in the opening preamble. Chicago has a chance to flip into the third spot, though considering how Indiana handled the Sky, maybe fourth place is a better poison.

More deadly, would be not making the playoffs at all. So the push begins when New York visits Tuesday night in the front end of a back-to-back. The second game in the set Wednesday launches what is essentially the start of a three-game road trip through Sunday.

Following the Liberty game, it's off to Atlanta, for Wednesday's game, then the weekend features a trip to Tulsa Friday and on to Connecticut Sunday.

The best case would be 2-2, though 3-1 is possible if Chicago could turn it around. Obviously 4-0 would make somebody on the roster WNBA Eastern player of the week, barring a sensational statistical performance elsewhere.

But if things are not good, 1-3 barely keeps Chicago afloat and 0-4's effect would be known once the Liberty's week is concluded.

5. New York Liberty (7-13) GB: 8.5 As terrible as the Liberty looked most of the way, here they stand close enough to be in the playoff hunt, but having to navigate a horrific schedule to get there.

So, as mentioned, in the preamble, from the New York side, the Tuesday game is also a must for the Liberty's long range aspirations. Next, it's a trip West with a Thursday stop at Phoenix, which has its own deal if both finish in the lottery pool.

The weekend is a problem because the stops are at Los Angeles, Saturday, and Seattle, Sunday. Before the break New York caught the Storm asleep but now the Liberty must contend with Lauren Jackson back on the squad.

So the best hope is 2-2, though 3-1 is not totally out of the realm and 4-0 would certainly catch attention. But 1-3 and 0-4 would not be good unless Chicago is sliding in a parallel universe.

6. Washington Mystics (5-16) GB: 11 The Mystics had a highlight moment beating Chicago from behind Sunday, though if Washington lands in the lottery and misses out on the top spot or the second or third by one game and a ping-pong drop away from the Mystics, the win over the Sky will have proven costly.

But for believers in a run to the postgame, Washington is only four games behind struggling Chicago. However, the schedule maker for this week has served the following meal: a Tuesday night visit to the San Antonio Silver Stars, who have won 11 straight and are battling in the West, and then a visit from Atlanta Friday night.

If Vegas had a line on Washington's outlook it would be 0-2 so 1-1 would be acceptable. Of course, 0-2 could be a good thing for fans cheering for the lottery. If the Mystics go 2-0, Congress will not call for an investigation of the Mystics since they are the home team of the House and Senate.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Minnesota Lynx (17-4) GB: -- Well, after righting the ship, the Lynx look like world-beaters again, though truth be told, dieticians (and naysayers) would say the result is inclusive after feasting on Tulsa.

But the week is easy in terms of total work, but more difficult in terms of the opposition. Minnesota visits Seattle, which managed to beat the Lynx without Lauren Jackson and now have her set to play for the Storm against the defending champs.

Then it's off to Atlanta Saturday for a rematch of last season's championship opponents in which Minnesota executed a 3-0 sweep.

Seattle, which is still players down to injury, is an unknown entity. The odds still favor a 2-0 week, but 1-1 is acceptable. If the week goes 0-2 then start applying the up-for-grabs tag in terms of this season's WNBA playoffs.

2. San Antonio Silver Stars (15-5) GB: 1.5 The Texans have won 11 straight and have inserted themselves into the WNBA title discussion.

The wheels might still be rolling through Sunday. It all starts with a Washington visit Tuesday; a trip to Los Angeles, Thursday; and a Tulsa visit on Saturday.

Call it "lotto week" with a shark, or its that sparks, in the middle. That would be Los Angeles, which the Silver Stars have owned thus far. That can't continue, can it?

If they can keep the mastery going, it will be a 3-0 week. However, 2-1 will see the end of the win streak but not the Stars' effort since the 2-4 start at the beginning of the season. Considering the other possibilities for the week, mathematically, if its 1-2 or 0-3, someone should check Dan Hughes' home to see if General Santa Anna is alive again.

3. Los Angeles Sparks (16-6) GB: 1.5 Candace Parker had a sensational Olympics and now seeks to do likewise for the Sparks' run in the West and beyond.

It's an interesting week for Carol Ross's troops with a visit from the Eastern-hungry Indiana Fever Tuesday night, then San Antonio on Thursday and New York on Sunday.

The fortunes say 3-0 is possible if the Sparks can dispatch the San Antonio hex, but otherwise 2-1 seems likely and good enough to stay in the Western fray at the top of the conference.

The worst case seems 1-2, but depending on which is the 1 will determine the definition of that mark. As for 0-3, unthinkable, though Los Angeles has surprised before.

4. Seattle Storm (10-11) GB: 7 Lauren Jackson is back from missing the first half of the season and the first test if the Storm are more of a threat will be the game against Minnesota at home Tuesday night.

Still, it may be a little early this late to put a guage on the storm, win or lose Tuesday, considering Seattle mastered one win over Minnesota without Jackson in the lineup.

The rest of Seattle's week has Indiana visiting Thursday followed by New York on Sunday.

The most likely outlook is a 2-1 week, though 3-0 would get the fans in the Northwest all giddy. But it could go 1-2, though that wouldn't be a sign of panic. However, 0-3 would cause nervousness, though tanks, er, thanks to the records below, the playoffs are still likely for Seattle.

5. Phoenix Mercury (4-17) GB: 13 Well, it has business as first-half usual for the former two-time WNBA champions. Phoenix continues to pile up the losses and Diana Taurasi, back from a robust appearance in the Olympics, is still not in uniform.

On Sunday it was a tooth problem, causing a new group of people to ache over the Mercury's motives. It's said the former UConn great will be back this week, but the schedule gods certainly put Phoenix in position to spend a few wins and still stay in tank mode or whatever one might call it.

New York visits Thursday in a battle of non-playoff squads, as they are defined at the moment, followed by Indiana on Saturday. That's two measley games.

The Liberty are still making efforts to get in the postseason loop so depending on what goes down in Chicago Tuesday will have some impact on New York's state of mind when the Liberty visit the desert.

Speaking of Taurasi, the Guru was humored by a rant from an repuditable internet site on Monday demanding her return considering the same site in June took issue with those in the Guru world who were light-heartedly applying the tanker label to Phoenix, saying such an act was not possible in the WNBA.

Still, the Taurasi factor notwithstanding, it's still an injury-ridddled roster in Phoenix. So on that factor, it looks like 0-2 ahead but 1-1 could happen. If it's 2-0, well the critics will quiet for a few hours before they start again.

6. Tulsa Shock (3-17) GB 13.5 Apparently, it's still going to be a short while before second-year pro and Australian Olympic sensation (besides Lauren Jackson) Elizabeth Cambage gets back to the Midwest.

So the hunt for getting a nice deal in the lottery continues while at the same time Tulsa is showing more of a pulse than last season.

However, the end game is still the same and this week is unlikely to see a change considering a visit Tuesday night to the Connecticut Sun, followed by a visit from Chicago Friday, and a visit to San Antonio Saturday, are on the slate.

Chicago, depending on how it goes with New York on Tuesday, might be attainable, certainly Connecticut on the same night hosting the Shock does not seem likely. As for San Antonio, enough said.

Most likely, it might be an 0-3 week though 1-2 is not far off. But if it goes to 2-1 or 3-0 the Delle Donne family may want to see if some of the department stores in the Wilmington (Del.) Mall also exist in Tulsa.

And with that, the week ahead is over.

As for the Guru, back to Connecticut -- mode of transportation to be determined -- Tuesday night where tweeting @womhoopsguru will occur and possibly a gamer afterwards leading a roundup.

-- Mel






- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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