By Mel Greenberg
The WNBA's 16th season is not even two weeks old and early trending is already starting to occur, though some of it could change once more teams meet each other.
But for now separation is already in play and with the Olympic break and impact acting as a wildcard some assumptions that will be in place at mid-July could vanish quickly after the players -- both American and currently missing foreign stars -- return from London a month later.
For now, the defending champion Minnesota Lynx are holding up their end of the quest to become a repeat winner with a quick 4-0 start that could be at worst at 6-1 by the time this week concludes with Sunday night's games.
The Los Angeles Sparks are now looking more likely to make the playoffs than not as long as former Tennessee superstar Candace Parker stays healthy and is able to go full tilt wire-to-wire for the first time since her 2008 debut when she was both rookie and most valuable player.
Pecking orders are also being established.
The Connecticut Sun, which is 3-0, holds a 2-0 lead on the New York Liberty and could clinch the season series with a win next month while the Indiana Fever likewise is 2-0 over the two-time defending Eastern playoff champion Atlanta Dream.
But Atlanta has been down early before and not the top seed in both previous seasons in the conference in which the Dream emerged to make the finals.
Then the rest is a wild tangle and, for example, with much attention being paid to those teams that will live on a tightrope in light of the prizes that await four franchises that do not making the postseason, it will will take some time to figure out who might be better off departing early for the overseas winter.
Time and time again, the fate of acquiring collegiate sensations Brittney Griner of Baylor, Elena Delle Donne of Delaware and Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame, with some other worthwhile talent behind the trio, will hang in the balance.
"Why did we win that game? It could cost us in the long run," one person was heard to half-jokingly comment Saturday night in Washington after the Mystics squandered all but one point of a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead but escaped the Tulsa Shock at the finish with a three-point win in the Verizon Center.
Tulsa, with just three wins, and Washington with just six, had the two worst records in the league in 2011 and most feel both teams will fall short again, to the delight of their fans, considering the long-range prospects if either organization gets lucky in the lottery.
Saturday's game was one of what is quickly shaping up as an ongoing labelled attraction of lottery specials where non-performing teams may have the last laugh. While matchups with the likes of Connecticut, Indiana, or Minnesota may be tough deals, it is these games between equally-struggling opponents upon which factors in the lottery results will have a major impact.
That Washington struggled in a game that was going to be easily winnable, by perception, could be a mixed sign, depending on fans' preferences, after two straight outings in which the Mystics are doing more for charity on the court then their well-run community operations off the hardwood.
Maybe its adjusting the seven newcomers with the four-surviving veterans from a year ago. But the Mystics have now committed a combined 55 turnovers against the Chicago Sky and Tulsa, including 32 on Saturday night that were just one short of the league mark shared by three teams, including Washington.
And when we get to the week ahead, unless things get fixed quickly, it could be a gruesome adventure between now and Sunday night for Washington.
But with some separation already occuring, someone or several teams with losing records may make the playoffs because four have to go, though the good teams could be top-heavy with wins above the rest who could all be beating each other.
As for wildcards, though it didn't come up in the postgame conversation when the Guru chatted with new Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg, the former Indiana assistant, with the Shock now at least looking competitive without wins in their 0-3 start, remember that young Australian star Elizabeth Cambage, the No. 2 pick overall in last season's draft, returns after the Olympics.
Likewise, woeful as the Seattle Storm are looking, Lauren Jackson will have an impact after her Olympic participation for Australia, while Atlanta will be getting Erika De Souza back from the Brazilian Olympians in August.
However, the Phoenix Mercury have to make do without important cog Penny Taylor, more so for her season-ending knee injury than for playing with Australia.
As for New York, well the schedule is not kind, and is proving as challenging at the outset as has been expected.
San Antonio is probably a 50-50 deal, though Griner at home in Texas next season if the the Silver Stars get unlucky-lucky has not really been a discussion.
So, hard to believe, but in a short 34-game season, as early as week No. 2 begins, there are must-win games ahead. One way to change trends is to grab games off those in which clubs will be the underdogs.
Therefore, let's take it team-by-team, off the standings, even though the games will be addressed both from either side. The nice thing about all these early must-wins, so considered because the outcome begats the next chapter for the teams involved, is WNBA's live-access viewing apps for electronic devices, even at the $4.99 assessed rate for what was free, is worth the money.Eastern ConferenceConnecticut (3-0) --
The Sun host Minnesota Friday night and a Connecticut win could really get the crowd juice flowing, especially since Washington comes visiting 48 hours later. The biggest problem for coach Mike Thibault's group is the long layoff with seven days between beating San Antonio on Friday and hosting Minnesota.Indiana (3-0) --
The Fever also get a long rest and then it's back-to-back hosting New York Saturday and heading to the Liberty in Newark, N.J., Sunday at the Prudential Center. A sweep keeps pace at the top of the East and quickly Indiana will be close to pocketing two season-series tie-breakers in the conference.Chicago (1-1) --
Many think the Sky with their additions are finally playoff worthy in the seventh season of the franchise's history. They have a chance to prove it this week first traveling to San Antonio Wednesday, hosting Washington Friday with a chance to be 2-0 over the Mystics, and then on to Atlanta on Saturday.Washington (1-1) --
Fasten your seatbelts, it is going to be a bumpy ride. Minnesota comes visiting Wednesday, as mentioned, then it's off to Chicago Friday with what is one of those early must-wins, Then it's on to Connecticut Sunday.Atlanta (1-2) --
The Phoenix Mercury visits on Thursday and this might be a must-win on both sides considering the start for each. Then Chicago visits and depending on the previous games for each, this also will have another must-win label for the moment of confrontation. New York (0-4) --
At this point, even a split in the home-and-home with Indiana this weekend may not be good enough, depending which game would give New York its first win. But the Liberty are underdogs in both games, part of that seven-game, season-opening, underdog forecast, that is holding up, before the June 8 trip to Washington. Western ConferenceMinnesota (4-0) --
Rolling rolling. The Lynx visit Washington, head to Connecticut and then host San Antonio Sunday. The Lynx will not be holding lottery picks in April, 2013, but potentially possessing another trophy baring misfortune.
Oh, while we're here, the Guru would like to make a quick adjustment -- in a recent observation on the preseason WNBA general managers' survey, the Guru had noted all but four were also coaches. However, he was pulled off course from a story written in the preseason that mentioned Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and had the GM title also applied in coverage of her.
But the other day, the club sent an email to the Guru noting that Roger Griffith still has the GM title in the Twin Cities, though on the website he is listed as executive vice president.Los Angeles (3-1) --
Tulsa visits on Tuesday, take a little rest and then Seattle returns Sunday with a chance for the Sparks to pocket the season series with the Storm in the West at 3-0 and stay on the heels of Minnesota.San Antonio (1-1) --
Which way you going Silver Stars? Time to find out. Chicago visits Wednesday with, as mentioned in the Eastern outlook, both teams looking for upside. Then Phoenix arrives Friday in what might be one of those lottery specials the Guru is tracking. Then Sunday it is on to Minnesota. No question, a big week for the Texans.Phoenix (1-2) --
A must week for more success than not, though it is unknown if that can happen. There's Thursday's visit to Atlanta -- a must on both sides; then two lottery specials in visiting San Antonio Friday and hosting Tulsa Sunday in a meeting that's the first between the two since the Mercury escaped the Shock in their recent confrontation.Seattle (0-3) --
Tulsa visits Friday so, as our friend and colleague Jayda Evans of the Seattle paper will surely write, someone will at worst get their first win out of this one. Then it's on to Los Angeles Sunday to complete the double-must for a Storm team that was revamped in late winter.Tulsa (0-3) --
If the Shock want to get ahead of last year's pace, not too difficult considering, though Tuesday's visit to Los Angeles is a tall order, two lotto games await in visiting Seattle on Friday and Phoenix Sunday.
And then will come the Monday break and the Guru will review the bottom line results of the week and look ahead to the next six days on the schedule.
Of course, the Guru will be blogging all week in both the collegiate and WNBA worlds as well as tweeting from some games and in general at @womhoopsguru. Mystics Marking Season No. 15
Recently, the Guru weighed in on the Connecticut Sun marking its 10th season by holding fan balloting to pick the all-time squad. Now Washington is doing likewise but with a much different approach.
The Sun put every player who was on the roster on the ballot and is asking the fans to choose 10 and then the organization will be announcing first and second teams.
Washington, on the other hand, is only offering 14 and asking its fans to pick five.
Well, while the Connecticut choices are a little tough because of the wealth of talent that has appeared on rosters through the last decade in casino-land, it's a piece of cake compared to determining Washington choices, but given the history the head scratching is appropriate.
In fact, it might be fun for the Mystics to ask the fans for their favorite coach in light of 12 who have patrolled the sidelines. Well, OK, D.C. Basketball Cases, we know your pick. And the runnerup is probably easy also.
But the Guru digresses. In determining his five picks for Washington, the Guru might have an easier time noting his five favorite fans who has shown up on the Verizon scoreboard screen over the years.
Only two current players -- former Maryland star Crystal Langhorne and former Duke star Monique Currie -- are on the list of choices and Currie has only been in D.C. six seasons of which one in 2011 was virtually all lost to injury while Langhorne has been on the team five seasons.
Three players have eight-year histories -- first-ever draft pick Muriel Page, Nakia Sanford and Coco Miller; one has seven in former Duke star Alana Beard -- last season's absence to injury is not listed; three have six in Currie, Chamique Holdsclaw, the prize of the 1999 draft; and Chasity Melvin, who has split four and two year tour of duty; Langhorne has five; Nikki McCray has four; Stacey Dales and Vicky Bullett have three, while Lindsey Harding and Nikki Teasley have two each.
So here is the way the Guru would go with his five: Langhorne, though much of her future is in front, she clearly is a person who would be near the top of anyone's draft list; Beard, despite injuries, for consistency; Miller for endurance (no there's not vote for fan endurance); Bullett, despite short service two of Washington's few good seasons were on her watch; and Page for endurance.
Though honorable mentions aren't allowed on Washington's ballot, Holdsclaw, off her healthy years, is one, had she had more she might bump someone in the five; Melvin, who like actor William Holden in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai returned after an earlier escape; and Harding.
One thing that makes this much tougher than the Sun picks, though that organization just listed players and years on the ballot, is the limited number of bonafide achievements that were on the bio release given out on media day when the initiative was announced.
Incidentally, fans will be able to also write-in a candidate not on the list. Though they were short-timers in Washington, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Smith deserve a seat at the table. And Before Signing Off ...
OK, that is the news of the day. As noted last week, on the coaching carousel running blog, there are still 10 Division I openings, though some may be filled this week.
We're also down to less than two weeks until the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductions (June 8-9) in Knoxville of Dawn Staley (Virginia, Olympics, WNBA/ABL All-Star), Inge Nissen (Old Dominion), Pam Magee (Southern Cal), Robin Roberts (contributor: ESPN/ABC contributor), Nikki McCray (Tennessee) and Nancy Fahey (Washington University in St. Louis coach).
Needless to say, considering other events going on in Knoxville, the Guru will be on the scene early.
Speaking of the WBHOF, congratulations to former basketball relations director and former Connecticut Huskies/Sun beat writer Karen (nee Tucker) Garner on the recent arrival of her first family addition.
Also, the Guru will be working on writing the printed program biography of former Georgia star Katrina McClain, who will be inducted in September along with the Redheads Women's Basketball team and four men's notables into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Be back in the next 24 hours or so and will be traveling to Washington on Wednesday, Connecticut on Friday and then either Connecticut or New York/New Jersey on Sunday. -- Mel
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