Guru's WNBA Report: Chicago Playoff Bound While Washington Upsets Atlanta To Enhance Bid
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON -- Of the two games played on the WNBA card involving Eastern teams Friday night both contests involved a piece of the race at the top of the conference and both involved the 3-for-2 scramble going on for what should complete next month's playoff field.
When the evening ended the dual-renaissance Chicago Sky and Washington Mystics helped each other with big victories.
Chicago thumped the New York Liberty 82-64 at home in the Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont, Ill., to enjoy some sips of champagne in clinching its first-ever postseason playoff berth in eight tries since joining the WNBA as an expansion team in 2006.
The Sky (19-8), who missed the playoffs by a game to New York last season, resulting in being able to pick former Delaware all-American Elena Delle Donne overall number two, already made history here on Tuesday night when a win over Washington clinched a first-ever winning season.
Prior to this season the best Chicago had done in the win column was picking up 16 triumphs just once.
Meanwhile, over here Friday night the Mystics ended eight straight games of frustration to Atlanta dating back to September of 2011 by pulling away in the fourth quarter to beat the Dream 74-64.
The two decisions meant that Chicago, which is in first place, opened a 3.5 games lead over Atlanta (14-10) and could widen the differential further Saturday night when the Sky travel to Georgia.
Chicago is also gaining on the two-time defending Western Conference champion Minnesota Lynx (19-7), which is in first, for best overall record and home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs if the Sky advance.
"Playoffs is the first step," former UConn star Swin Cash said. "Now we've put ourselves in the position where we could have the best record in the East, best overall record.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say (the best record) wasn't on the radar, but for us it's really about taking every game at a time."
The win by Washington and loss by New York (10-16) dropped the fifth-place Liberty two games behind the Mystics (13-15) and defending WNBA Indiana Fever (12-14), who are in a statistical third-place tie that would put both teams in the playoffs if the regular season ended right now instead of Sept. 15.
Indiana visits Minnesota Saturday.
The Mystics, with six games left, next play in Atlanta Wednesday.
New York heads to Connecticut Sunday to play the forlorn and injury-riddled Sun (7-18), who won the regular season conference title last season and came within a game of making the WNBA championship final.
Enduring their worst season ever, the Sun are now 4.5 games behind the fourth and final playoff spot and it is hard to see whether Sunday's matchup will feature two teams who didn't feel like showing up or two still striving to use whatever remains in the tank to attempt to make the playoffs.
New York hosts Minnesota and Indiana next week before finishing in September playing Atlanta and the Phoenix Mercury at home and visiting the Tulsa Shock, Indiana and Washington.
"We've got a big stretch of games coming up right here, there's a lot of games that we can win, and we have to win them," New York first-year coach Bill Laimbeer said. "If we don't, we're going to be in trouble."
The other element in Sunday's game is that the New York-Connecticut series is one of the better rivalries in the WNBA so from the pride factor, who knows what might unfold.
Pride is certainly something that has returned here to Washington with the arrival of coach Mike Thibault, who was let go in the offseason by Connecticut, which he coached for the Sun's previous ten years of existence after the Mohegan Indiana Tribe acquired the franchise that previously existed as the Orlando Miracle.
The Mystics recently surpassed their entire win total of 11 games the previous two seasons and considering they are in a stretch of four games of which three are Atlanta and the other was Chicago, to beat the Dream may loom as a signature triumph on the season.
After the Atlanta game, the remaining five games, all against the East, consist of two home-and-home encounters against Connecticut -- Thibault is 3-0 so far against his former employers -- one hosting Chicago, one visiting Indiana, which could be for playoff position or qualification, and wrapping up hosting New York, which could mean a playoff spot or seed situation, or have no value at all.
"Obviously, a terrific win, badly needed for a lot of reasons -- we only played two games here in a 16-17 day period and both against them so we don't play until we see them Wednesday," Thibault said.
"We could feel good for several days, it's miserable otherwise."
Monique Currie, the former Duke star, had a team-high 15 points and grabbed her 1,000th-career rebound on the way to collecting seven off the boards for Washington.
"That we are tired of losing to them, really," Currie said. "They're a really good team, but you can get them to make mistakes and that's what we did. We made them take a lot of outside shots, which isn't their strong point.
"It was our defense that won the game."
Former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn, who came here in a trade with the New York Liberty in the offseason, had her second straight prominent game with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Ivory Latta, the former North Carolina starbsigned as a free agent after being with Tulsa, had 14 points.
Rookie Tayler Hill, the fourth overall pick out of Ohio State in April, had 10 points off the bench for Washington.
Washington's defense resulted in Angel McCoughtry scoring just 17 points, while Erika DeSouza scored 14 points, and former UConn star Tiffany Hayes scored 10 off the bench and late in the game made the Dream's only three-point score out of 17 attempts.
Dream rookie Alex Bentley out of Penn State had four points and four rebounds and has been one of the better newcomers in the WNBA this season.
Washington committed only nine turnovers against the feisty Dream defense.
"They count on steals to win games," Thibault said. "We learned a valuable lesson last time on how to defend them. We forced them to take a bunch of threes and that's not their strength.
"We made them work for everything they got. The fact that they were in the teens in every quarter means we played better defensively than the last time we played them."
Latta spoke of the total effort, saying, "Everybody made big plays down the stretch -- defensive plays, everybody got big rebounds, we got big steals, so I think this whole team was determined to get the win and get to the playoffs."
It was a tough loss for Atlanta, which has three more games than Chicago, which the Dream see next.
"When you have a team thas has lost a few (two) in a row, they're going to regroup as a team," Atlanta coach Fred Williams said of the loss to Washington. "I thought they came out with some energy early and it kept up throughout the game.
"I felt that the team that was going to make the last run would get the (win). And they made the last run at us."
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Sky used a balanced attack against New York to officially check in with their ticket to their first postseason appearance.
Delle Donne, who returned here Tuesday night after missing two previous games with a sprained foot, scored 11 points in 24 minutes, 49 seconds, while Sylvia Fowles had a team-high 14 points, Cash had 11 points, and Courtney Vandersloot scored 10.
Fowles has experienced the past frustration in Chicago since being the second overall pick in 2008 out of LSU, where Chatman had been her coach.
"I'm excited for her because she hasn't experienced this, and I have a personal connection just from the length of our relationship that goes way back," Chatman said. "So I'm happy for Sylvia, but also everybody and this franchise."
Cappie Pondexter, the Liberty All-Star and former Rutgers standout who missed her last game with a bruised left heel, played but could only score three points. She said she felt OK.
However, Plenette Pierson had a season-high 25 points for New York.
Though most of the focus here on the blog is on the East for now, Friday night there were several West games of significance, considering the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot, though just the top two are locked up right now.
Idle Minnesota, the two-time defending Western Conference regular season and playoff champion, had previously got a spot and the idle Los Angeles Sparks (18-8), which is in second trailing Minnesota by a game, joined the field Friday night when the San Antonio Silver Stars fell to the Tulsa Shock 73-67.
San Antonio (9-17) trails the fourth-place and surprising Seattle Storm (13-13) by four games after Seattle took a key 81-73 road win late Friday night in Phoenix against the WNBA preseason favorite Mercury (14-13), which is in third place.
Liz Cambage, the second-year pro out of Australia, had another big effort for Tulsa (9-18), scoring 20 points, while veteran Shameka Christon scored 18 for San Antonio.
Both Seattle and San Antonio have been among the large number of teams missing key players with injuries. Prior to the start of the season All-Stars Lauren Jackson and former UConn standout Sue Bird announced bypassing 2013 to rcover from offseason surgeries, while Becky Hammon and Sophia Young have been sidelined in Texas all season with injuries.
Seattle visits San Antonio Sunday and a win by the Storm would mean coach Brian Agler's team would be up five games and reduce the magic number to two to get to the postseason with each team having seven games left remaining on the schedule.
And believe it or not, Seattle stays in Texas to play the Silver Stars again Tuesday.
Besides being close to returning to the postseason, Seattle is now only a half-game behind Phoenix in the West.
In Friday's win, former LSU star Tameka Johnson had 23 points for Seattle, while Tina Thompson scored 18 points and former North Carolina star Camille Little scored 17.
DeWanner Bonner had 20 points for Phoenix, while former Temple standout Candice Dupree scored 17, former UConn great Diana Taurasi scored 16, and Brittney Griner, the overall No. 1 pick in April's draft out of Baylor, scored 12 points.
That's is. The Guu is contemplating hitting Sunday's New York-Connecticut game.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad