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.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: New York Backs Into The East But Chicago May Get Last Laugh

By Mel Greenberg

Appropriately, the New York Liberty backed into the playoffs Thursday night, losing to the Tulsa Shock on the road while the Chicago Sky's last gasp at breaking a franchise lifetime goose egg getting to the postseason went out the window with a loss at home to the Atlanta Dream.

Though the two teams tied their season series at 2-2 New York holds a two-game edge in the won-loss column within the Eastern Conference over Chicago, thus holding the second tiebreaker should the teams finish out their season Saturday deadlocked for the fourth and final spot.

On final tally, depending what Chicago does at home against the Washington Mystics and what New York does with a second straight East-West crossover game with the rapidly improving Tulsa Shock, the Sky and Liberty will either be tied in the standings, or the Liberty will finish one or two games ahead.

For the moment, this development brings joy and excitment to what remains of the passionate Liberty base, who could be rewarded with an upset of the top-seeded Connecticut Sun in the Eastern semifinals.

A highly unlikely, but not totally out of the question, sweep of the best-of-three series -- the Indiana Fever will be rematching last year's conference finals with Atlanta in the other semifinals -- would appropriately make New York the new Devils, which would be useful considering the current Prudential Center landlords bearing NHL pitch forks on their uniforms have put the hockey season on ice for now.

New York coach John Whisenant, who has had experience guiding the former Sacramento Monarchs often to the Western Conference side of this postseason party, has kept saying, once you get to the playoffs anything could happen.

And in many ways advancement to the next round would be helpful because right now Chicago, which should be given a charitable tax deduction for donating New York's return trip, is in position of having the last laugh.

The Liberty crowd has never stopped seething over a three-team deal several years ago that involved New York giving up a first-round pick just before the start of the 2009 season that ultimately became the overall No. 1 pick of th 2010 draft.

Ironically, when the Eastern playoffs begin next Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena, that selection, through a series of trades before being taken, will be wearing a Sun uniform and going by the name of former UConn star Tina Charles, the New Yorker who might very well be the WNBA MVP of 2012.

Understand, though, when the deal went down, few expected New York not to return to the playoffs. But their failure to do so made the spot one of the four lottery picks and when the ping pong balls did their thing, the Minnesota Lynx struck gold before dealing the previously acquired gem away, along with former UConn All-American Renee Montgomery, to the Sun for homegirl Lindsay Whelan.

That addition plus a few more prized talents coupled with a series of fates that enabled yet another ex-UConn sensation in Maya Moore become an overall 2011 No. 1 pick of the Lynx led the way to Minnesota's first WNBA title after years of ineptness.

But if the root of all that was excruciating to the Liberty crowd, then they better hope Chicago, which will be fourth in line, the odd number out for three prized choices, doesn't get lucky and move up when the order gets revealed on ESPN.

Because, unless New York turns things around for the next feew weeks, the Liberty would have been better off being where Chicago is.

This may be the seventh straight season of futility out of all seven in the Sky history, which is depriving WNBA great Ticha Penicheiro of a last hurrah on the way to retirement, but the streak could end.

Imagine a healthy Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince being joined on the floor next season by either Baylor's Brittney Griner, who would come via the No. 1 overall pick, or Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

To be sure, New York did not fight its way into the playoffs.

Even before the series of injuries, the schedule dealt the Liberty heading into the season suggested a struggle before the Olympics for Cappie Pondexter and friends, while it also offered a greased track afterwards.

There are few things New York did on its own -- the Liberty were 5-14 against teams .500 or better while going 9-5 against the rest with Saturday's home game in Newark, N.J., still to be played.

The squad was also helped by its own pork barrel dealing with Washington, getting fat off the woeful Mystics at 4-1.

In the end the difference from the Liberty side was a surprise win at the time at home over the Seattle Storm, which was without Lauren Jackson, a 2-2 effort against the Atlanta Dream, including a game the Dream lacked Angel McCoughtry in one of the wins, and a rally over Los Angeles 73-71 that featured Sparks sharpshooter Kristi Toliver missing an open trey in the closing seconds and MVP candidate Candace Parker failing to make two key foul shots in the final minutes.

The L.A. game may be revisted next week in terms of impact moment depending how Chicago fares in the lottery.

While those were the highlights, considering how close Chicago missed out, here's the autopsy on the Sky's failure to reach the playoffs, which didn't require all that much to be reversed on the following list.

Yes, Fowles' knee problems limiting her time and Prince's foot injury depriving her of 10 or more games were bad luck and unfortunate.

But the race would have been over long before this week for the last playoff spot had not Chicago, contending for first before the Prince injury, gone on a dismal 2-15 plunge before leveling out the last several weeks.

That dive featured come-from-ahead losses all in overtime to Connecticut, 80-78; at Washington, 75-71; at Tulsa 81-78, all of which will also be re-visited if luck smiles on the Windy City next Wednesday.

There was also a home loss in that stretch in the front end of the slide to the Phoenix Mercury 84-81.

Chicago was 6-14 against teams .500 or better and 7-6 against the rest with Washington's Saturday visit remaining. Those numbers are similar to New York, though one of the big hurts was going 0-5 against Indiana.

But, if it falls the right way, all will dissolve into smiles next Wednesday night.

The Draft Lottery Chase

With few games remaining, the lineup of the four teams for next week's drawing is coming into to place in terms best odds, and all positions are set when tiebreakers are considered.

The draft lottery chase standings as of now:

*1. Washington 5-27, GB -- hosts Indiana, Fri; visits Chicago, Sat.
*2. Phoenix 7-25, GB 2 hosta Minnesota, Fri; hosts Seattle, Sun.
*3. Tulsa 9-23, GB 4 vsits New York, Sat; visits Indiana, Sun.
*4. Chicago 13-20, GB 7.5 hosts Washington, Sat.
*-clinched odds position.

Washington can be first outright with either a loss to Indiana or Chicago, but the Mystics have clinched best shot at No. 1 because Phoenix can only tie.

If that happens, the two were 1-1 against each other, so in the next set of tiebreakers, Washington, getting just two wins against the West, puts the Mystics ahead of the Mercury, because Phoenix got three against the East, including one at the Connecticut Sun on a night Diana Tauarasi did play.

However, Phoenic and Tulsa could mathematically tie for second and if that happens, both would also be tied in conference performance in the West.

So, tiebreaker No. 3 would be worse record against teams .500 or better. (Everything gets done in reverse as to the way ties get broken determining playoff seeds or qualification).

Since New York has a losing record, that game is out the window for Tulsa, but the Indiana game Sunday is in play.

Right now, Tulsa has gone 4-15 against teams .500 or better.

Phoenix, which still has Minnesota in play -- Sunday's game with Seattle goes out -- has gone 2-16 with one game remaining.

So Phoenix has virtually clinched the second best shot because Tulsa, which began winning near the end of the season, can't have a worse record than the Mercury in the category.

Connecticut Still Has Something To Play For

Though everything is wrapped up in setting up the East playoffs, top-seeded Connecticut still has something to gained in Sunday's otherwise non-meaningful home game when Atlanta visits.

Los Angeles' win over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx Thursday night, the final game of the season for the Sparks, indicates that it may not be a given that coach Cheryl Reeve's group reaches the best-of-five finals for the second straight season.

Should that occur and if Los Angeles gets to the finals out of the West while Connecticut gets there out of the East, if the Sun beat Atlanta, they would get homecourt advantage against the Sparks because of a better overall record.

But if they tie, Los Angeles appears to have the advantage either way, through a sweep of the Sun 2-0 in their East-West series or the fact that Los Angeles, overall, was 9-3 against East, while Connecticut was 8-4.

Here's how the eight playoff teams would fare for getting a 3-2 homecourt advantage depending who they play.

1. Minnesota owns it over anyone from the East.
2, Connecticut would own it over anyone from the West except Minnesota, if the Sun wins Sunday.
3. Los Angeles over anyone from the East if the Sun loses to Atlanta or the Sparks would be over anyone else.
4. San Antonio vs. Indiana undetermined at the moment since they have the same record and two games, each, left.
5. Atlanta and San Antonio are also undetermined if they met since they both right now could have similar records.
6. Seattle or New York are at a disadvantage to anyone from the opposite conferences except, and the Guru will revisit as in the other undetermined situations, that Seattle and New York could have the same records if they reach the final, but each have games left right now.

And that's the report for now.

The Guru, if he can clear out early enough, will be heading to Washington, where the Mystics' Crystal Langhorne, who's been hurting, is being rested for the final two games.

Maybe some of these places should give out souvenir tank tops to get their fans in the spirit for Wednesday night's lottery drawing.

The Guru will definitely be at New York Saturday and Connecticut Sunday with tweeting at @womhoopsguru to occur atall locations.

-- Mel








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