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.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: New York Gaining Playoff Advantage During Chicago Sky-Dive

By Mel Greenberg

It looks like the Connecticut Sun may not have seen the last of the New York Liberty following last week's conclusion of the five-game series between the two WNBA Eastern Conference rivals in which the Sun went 4-1.

As result of the Sky-dive in Chicago, highlighted by Friday night's overtime come-from-ahead loss in Tulsa to the Shock and looking at what's left on schedules, unless the Sky can find a way to play the way they were prior to Epiphanny Prince's foot injury, the Windy City group seems draft lottery-bound again, while New York is on a road headed to the playoffs.

If it comes true, this will make it 0-for-7 since Chicago joined the league in 2006 in terms of making the playoffs.

Meanwhile, New York would probably finish with the fourth and final playoff spot in the East so if Connecticut hangs on to its first-place lead, the two nearby rivals would meet in the first round in a best-of-three affair.

Even if Chicago, which has had Prince back in the lineup following the pause for the Olympics, had won its last three of its last five that included setbacks to the Liberty and overtime defeats at Washington and Tulsa, New York still had an advantage between the two.

The other two Chicago games were losses to the Atlanta Dream.

New York doesn't have a slew of likely wins left but it projects to fare much better than the Sky, which is on a 1-13 plunge, effectively putting the Liberty back in the playoff race.

The price of moving forward for New York can be costly, however, while the cost of a return to mediocrity can actually work out for the Sky.

Since the Liberty may not last long in the postseason, it means New York won't be involved in this fall's lucrative draft lottery involving the four non-playoff teams with the prize of Baylor's Brittney Griner most likely attached to the team that lands the No. 1 pick. Furthermore, there's also high-valued Elena Delle Donne out of Delaware and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins among the projected top three picks.

At best in terms of the lottery, the schedule that favors New York over Chicago on the winning side would also have probably led to no better than the fourth-best shot at the No. 1 pick in the bounce of the ping-pong balls.

The reason is the Liberty, barring a complete collapse, are not going to lose more games than the Western Conference's Tulsa Shock and Phoenix Mercury and the Eastern Conference's Washington Mystics the rest of the way.

Likewise, Chicago, if it doesn't make the playoffs, while looking like it may lose a ton of its last 12 games, it won't drop enough of them to get a better advantage over the other three likely lottery-bound teams.

But for the second time in four years, a galling situation awaits New York if Chicago is fourth in line among the odds for the No. 1 pick and then gets lucky.

In 2009 New York was involved in a three-way deal early in the season with the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx and dealt away its first-round pick, which at the time didn't seem a terrible move since many believed the Liberty would land in the playoffs.

But they did not and their pick, which was in the hands of Minnesota, was dealt in the famous trade to Connecticut, who selected New York local star Tina Charles, the former UConn sensation.

Minnesota certainly didn't suffer in terms of receiving Lindsay Whalen as part of the Connecticut trade but a year later the Lynx, off of good fortune, was back in the lottery and won the rights to pick another UConn star in Maya Moore.

That led to last season's championship and contention for another title this time around.

So imagine if Chicago wins the lottery because with the talent on its roster, the playoff drought would certainly end, barring injury, in 2013.

That moment of irony, if it came, would rival the 1984 NBA draft for Chicago, which was holding the third pick but, thanks to the Portland Trailblazers picking Sam Bowie second, the Bulls suddenly found themselves in position to pick one Michael Jordan out of North Carolina.

As for the playoff hunt between New York and Chicago, the Liberty hold a one-game lead over the Sky and are underdogs on the rest of the their trip West this weekend playing at Los Angeles Saturday night and then Sunday at the Seattle Storm, which now has Lauren Jackson back from the Olympics.

Jackson took the first half of the season off to train with Australia and was not with Seattle when New York caught the Storm sleeping back in Newark, N.J., last month.

In looking at the comparison of what's left for the two teams, New York projects to a best-case 7-5 and worst case 5-7 range, while Chicago could be looking at 2-10 or 3-9, meaning the remaining game next month in New York, while a must for the Sky, may not be much help for the visitors.

Chicago must pull a string of upsets and hope that games being called winnable for New York in the following group land in the loss column for the Liberty.

Here are the opponents left for each team.

New York (9-13, 12-Games left, 5-A, 7-H): Washington (3, 2-H, 1-A); Los Angeles (2, 1-A, 1-H); Seattle (1, 1-A); Chicago (1, 1-H); Tulsa (2, 1-A, 1-H); Phoenix (1, 1-H); Indiana (1, 1-H); San Antonio (1, 1-A).

Winnable: Washington 3, Chicago 1, Tulsa 2, Phoenix 1. It is understood though that all are capable of beating New York.

Chicago (8-14, 12 Games left, 7-A, 5-H ): Connecticut (3, 2-A, 1-H); Indiana (1, 1-A); New York (1, 1-A); Los Angeles (2, 1-A, 1-H); Minnesota (1, 1-H), Washington (1, 1-H); Phoenix (1, 1-A); Seattle (1, 1-A); Atlanta (1, 1-H).

Winnable: New York 1, Washington 1, Phoenix 1.

The Lottery Hunt

Friday night's overtime win by Tulsa over Chicago was also big for the Phoenix Mercury, which now is tied with the Shock for worst record in the WNBA at 4-18, a half-game ahead of Washington, in terms of viewing things upside down in determining who will go into the lottery ping-pong ball fiesta with the best odds.

Phoenix, with the ongoing soap opera of whether Diana Taurasi will be back in the lineup, and Washington will probably dash to the wire in the world of non-winners, as opposed to the high end of the league, which does have some intriguing races for playoff seeds, etc.

Tulsa, which welcomes back Australian youngster Elizabeth Cambage Friday night following her absence due to Olympics training, may actually be capable of winning some games, considering her presence and the season-long competitiveness of the Shock.

So here is a look at the three teams, while the fourth will be either New York or Chicago, whose remaining schedules were part of the previous discussions.

Even with Taurasi back in action, the injury-riddled situation concerning the rest of the Phoenix roster doesn't guarantee much of an improvement in wins.

Phoenix (4-18, 12 Games left, 5-A, 7-H): Indiana (2, 1-H, 1-A); Seattle (2, 1-A, 1-H); San Antonio (1, 1-H); New York (1, 1-A); Connecticut (2, 1-A, 1-H); Chicago (1, 1-H); Los Angeles (1, 1-A); Minnesota (1, 1-H); Tulsa (1, 1-H).

Winnable: New York 1, Chicago 1, Tulsa 1.

Washington (5-18, 11 Games left, 6-A, 5-H): Indiana (2, 1-H, 1-A); Atlanta (3, 2-A, 1-H); (New York 3, 2-A, 1-H); Connecticut (1, 1-H); Los Angeles (1, 1-H); Chicago (1, 1-A).

Winnable: New York 1-3, Chicago 1 but not betting house on any of them. New York is a range.

Tulsa (4-18, 12 Games left, 8-A, 4-H): Indiana (1, 1-A), San Antonio (3, 2-A, 1-H); Atlanta (1, 1-A); Los Angeles (1, 1-H); Minnesota (1, 1-A); Seattle (2, 1-A, 1-H); Phoenix (1, 1-A); New York (2, 1-H, 1-A).

Winnable: Phoenix 1, New York 1-2.

Devil of a Deal: Angel for Cambage?

Apparently the ongoing post-Olympics absence of Diana Taurasi with the lowly Phoenix Mercury isn't the only roster action causing a stir.

After receiving praise for her play with USA Basketball on the gold medalists in London, former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry, one of the WNBA's top players, has been missing from the last two games with Atlanta.

Dream coach Marynell Meadors has characterized McCoughtry's situation as day-to-day with hopes of the fourth-year pro returning soon.

Meadors, by the way, was with McCoughtry in London as an assistant to UConn's Geno Auriemma on the USA staff.

But what if the situation, if it's not for health reasons, is becoming harmful to team chemistry.

Then how's this for what is at the moment a fantasy deal between Tulsa and Atlanta.

Should the Shock land the No. 1 pick in the lottery and take Griner, there are those that say, from a basketball standpoint, the 6-8 Griner and Cambage in the same lineup at the same time might be counterproductive.

So if you're Tulsa, what do you do?

First, let's see how she plays in the remaining games with the Shock when she returns Friday night to see if she can build off her performance with the Australians in the London games.

By the way, there are also those who say it can work or at least a system can be made to get the best out of both in Oklahoma.

Well, if Tulsa wants to keep the pick, then where can the Shock get value for Cambage?

Maybe Atlanta, if the McCoughtry situation starts to become untenable.

Incidentally, the Dream play Minnesota Saturday in a rematch of last season's WNBA finals won by the visiting Lynx in a 3-0 sweep.

And, if the McCoughtry situation settles, then how about possibly a deal for Erika de Souza, who had been on the Brazilian squad before being dropped.

However, one associate of the Guru who was in London attending the games and is a longtime observer of the WNBA, said that Cambage, first, needs to play in the WNBA, considering her youth and if she wants to get tougher and improve her game.

Secondly, she needs to be with other Australians, the associate said. So if deal is to be made, if one is to be had, that transaction needs to be done with WNBA teams with other coutrywomen of Cambage: Ergo, Seattle (Lauren Jackson), Phoenix (Penny Taylor), or Indiana (Erin Phillips).

But much has to occur yet to even think of that kind of scenario on Tulsa's end, but the Guru is tossing that in for a little conversation to keep you coming back for more.

Next stop is off to Connecticut for Sunday night's game with Chicago that is a must-win for the Sky while the Sun are inching toward completing phase one of their season agenda: clinching a playoff spot.

If New York is swept Saturday and Sunday while Connecticut wins, the Sun's magic number will be one in terms of the mathematics. A tie four fourth with New York goes to the Sun on a 4-1 season-series win.

If Connecticut sweeps Chicago, including the Tuesday visit, the Sun have the tiebreaker also off of what would be a clinch of a four-game season series with the Sky with one game remaining.

The Sun, though, have already clinched conference record as a tiebreaker over Chicago if the teams finish 2-2. The conference record would not apply, obviously, in any deadlock with New York.

--Mel














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