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.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Rob Knox's WNBA Notebook: Delle Donne Has Chicago Heading Skyward Again

By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)

Elena Delle Donne is making the most of her limited minutes in her triumphant return.

The University of Delaware standout played her first game since June 25 last Thursday against New York. It may be or may not be coincidence, but the Chicago Sky won both home games last week against the Liberty and Washington Mystics to bunch the Eastern Conference standings up even more.

Delle Donne scored 10 points in 11 minutes in an 87-74 win over the Liberty. Two days later, Delle Donne was a tour de force by scoring a game-high 21 points in 16 minutes to lead the Sky to a 76-65 victory over the Mystics. Delle Donne averaged more than a point per minute for the Sky last week.

Against the Mystics, Delle Donne flashed her Rookie of the Year form in making 7-of-12 shots, including 3-of-4 from 3-point distance. Her best play may have been a blocked shot midway through the second quarter that led to Janiera Faulkner finishing on a fast break.

“It was amazing,” Delle Donne said after the New York game. “Even when [coach Pokey Chatman] had her little freak-out at one point, it was great. It's just awesome to be back with the team, competing, being back out on the floor and I'm just enjoying every second of it. I feel really good and I'm happy we were able to keep the minutes down because it's something I'm going to have to build on.”

Delle Donne missed 17 games this season because of another flare-up of Lyme disease, an inflammatory condition she contracted by a tick bite six years ago. The Sky appeared energized by Delle Donne’s return.

“The only thing holding me back a little bit right now is my lungs,” Delle Donne. “It's definitely a positive thing and I'm happy that I was able to bounce back for a second game. We’re clicking on all cylinders now.”

Even though the Sky sits a half-game behind the Liberty for the final playoff spot, Chicago is confident it can squeeze into the postseason party and dance for a while.

Without Delle Donne, the Sky went 5-12 and managed to hang around the playoff race in a congested Eastern Conference where one game separates the second place Mystics and fifth place Sky in the standings.

Chicago starts a stretch where it plays four of its next five games on the road beginning Tuesday night at Connecticut and Thursday at Minnesota. After hosting Atlanta over the weekend, the Sky visit Washington (August 13) and Indiana (August 16).

A scarier thought is that Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles have played three games together this season. Fowles had her ninth double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) in the win over the Mystics.

“Every game from here on out is a must win,” Fowles said on the team’s website. “We have to stay on our toes, continue to be aggressive and do the things we haven’t done all season to make it into the playoffs.”

MAYA AGAIN: Maya Moore is making playing in the WNBA look ridiculously easy.

It seems like every week in this space, we are talking about a new Maya Moore accomplishment. Last Saturday during an 84-75 road win over Tulsa, Moore set a new WNBA record for most 30-plus point games in a season.

That effort helped Moore establish another WNBA mark when she became the first player in league history to be named Conference Player of the Week in four consecutive weeks, surpassing the previous mark set by Deanna Nolan, who claimed the honor for three straight weeks with the then Detroit Shock in 2009. This is Moore’s 10th career Western Conference Player of the Week award and her fifth of the season.

For the week, Moore led the WNBA in scoring (30.0 ppg). Among Western Conference players, she ranked No. 1 in steals (2.5 spg) and tied for the lead in free throw percentage (1.000, 12-of-12), while also ranking second in three-point field goal percentage (.500, 6-of-12), sixth in overall field goal percentage (.500, 21-of-42), and seventh in rebounds (7.0 rpg).

Moore helped the Lynx to a 2-0 mark for the week as Minnesota extended its winning streak to nine games and improved its overall record to 22-6.

She now has 11 games where she has scored 30 or more points, breaking Diana Taurasi’s 2008 mark of 10. She finished with 40 points as the Lynx extended their winning streak to nine.

It was her second game this season finishing with at least 40 points. She scored a career-high 48 points in a double-overtime win over the Dream on July 22.

Against the Shock, Moore tallied 28 points in the second half.

She had 15 points in the third quarter, including nine in a row during one stretch, to help Minnesota increase a one-point halftime advantage to five points entering the final period.

Moore really turned up when the game was on the line by scoring 13 points in the final five minutes. In two games last week against the Mercury and Shock, Moore scored 25 points in the fourth quarter.

She has been an equal opportunity scorer this season, scoring 11 more points at home (351) than on the road (340). Over Minnesota’s last 10 games, Moore is averaging a whopping 28.3 points per outing. Lastly in four games against the Shock this season, Moore scored at a 35.7 point per game clip.

Of course, Moore preferred to talk about teammate Seimone Augustus after her latest scoring surge. In the Lynx’s last two games, the duo has combined to score 63.5 percent of the team's points.

“It was really fun to drive and when the lane closed up, to find Seimone,” Moore said following the Tulsa victory. “She had great spacing on the perimeter. We had a couple of three-point connections to each other.

"That is the beauty of being on this team, knowing I don’t have to focus hard on shooting because I know I have teammates that are threats just like I am. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to know the defense has to pick their poison.”

HAMMON’S MOMENT: The San Antonio Stars will host a Becky Hammon retirement ceremony presented by SWBC on August 15.

The ceremony, which will take place following the Stars-Lynx game, will honor the career of guard Becky Hammon, who on July 23 announced that she will retire at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Hammon, who is currently a spokesperson for SWBC, was named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time in July of 2011

. Now in her eighth season in San Antonio, Hammon is the Stars all-time leader in assists, three-point field goals made and points per game while ranking second in franchise history in points and games.

Participants in the ceremony will include Hammon, WNBA President Laurel Richie, Stars Head Coach Dan Hughes and RC Buford, the president of sports franchises for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

L.A. STORY: With owner Earvin Johnson in attendance, the Los Angeles Sparks used some “Magic” as they unleashed one of the most improbable comebacks in WNBA history.

The Sparks amazingly rallied from six points with 29 seconds remaining against the Sun Sunday to win a thriller, 70-69, at the Staples Center.

It was a game in which it seemed as if Los Angeles was headed for another home defeat.

Trailing, 68-62, Alana Beard rained in a 3-pointer to bring the Sparks to within, 68-65.

After Renee Montgomery split a pair of foul shots, Candace Parker followed-up a missed shot to bring L.A. within, 69-67, which set up the dramatic finish. Nneka Ogwumike stole Alyssa Thomas’ inbounds pass and fed Kristie Toliver, who was 0-for-6 from the field at the point in the game.

Just like she did as a freshman at the end of regulation in the NCAA national title game for Maryland to tie the game and send the Terrapins to an overtime win over ACC-rival Duke, Toliver swished the shot this time to give the Sparks a 70-69 edge.

Victory wasn’t secured until Montgomery’s jumper at the buzzer rimmed out. The win, along with San Antonio’s loss later that evening, vaulted the Sparks into third place in the Western Conference.

“For me it's not about what happened,” Toliver said. “It's about what you can make happen in the moment. I knew I was in there for a reason, and that's to make a play. I wasn't down about the game.”

Incidentally, Toliver was the subject of a well-written Washington Post piece a few days ago on her decision to also become a Slovakian citizen to enhance her international Olympic opportunities as well as salary overseas.

Meanwhile, the loss could hurt the Sun’s chances at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

They trail the Liberty by two games with five remaining for the fourth and final playoff spot. The comforting thought for Connecticut is four of its last five games are at home and the one remaining road tilt is a two-hour train ride south to New York.

If you want to see what the Guru thinks of the Sun's chances, as well as Chicago, read his last post just below this one in which he bravely picked every game between now and the finish involving the five East teams involved in the gridlock behind the Atlanta Dream.

He also looked at the 1-2 finish down the stretch between Minnesota and Phoenix.

CHARLES IN CHARGE: having just mentioned New York, Tina Charles was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. For Charles, it was her second Player of the Week award of the season and 12th of her career.

Charles posted three consecutive double-doubles to lead the Liberty to a 2-1 record, including wins over Eastern Conference foes Washington and Atlanta. For the week, Charles led the East in rebounds (13.3 rpg) and minutes (37.0 mpg), ranked second in scoring (22.3 ppg), while tying for third in steals (2.0 spg) and sharing the fourth spot in blocks (1.3 bpg).

The fifth-year pro opened the week by scoring 23 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 80-76 win over the Mystics. She then registered back-to-back 14-rebound outings against some of the league’s top rebounders – Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles and Atlanta’s duo of Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza.

At Chicago, Charles logged 15 points, four assists, and three blocks in an 87-74 loss. She then closed out her week with 29 points and three steals in an 83-76 win on the road against the Eastern Conference-leading Dream.

For the season, Charles is second in the WNBA in rebounding (12.0 rpg) and double-doubles (14), and ranks fifth in scoring (18.4 ppg).

The Liberty will close out a three-game road trip on Tuesday, August 5, taking on the Washington Mystics at 7 p.m. New York, winners in eight of its last 12 games, looks to secure a playoff spot with seven regular season games remaining.

Also in the win over Atlanta, the Liberty got a career-high18 points from Anna Cruz and 13 points —all in the second half—and seven assists from Cappie Pondexter. The Liberty play the Indiana Fever three times over the next 13 days and the Mystics twice in that same span.

KUDOS: To NBA-TV for airing the much anticipated Phoenix-Minnesota matchup last Thursday night. The network was scheduled to air the Chicago-New York contest. NBA-TV will also televise Saturday’s Minnesota-Phoenix game from U.S. Airways Arena beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

STILL STREAKING: Despite having their 16-game winning streak snapped in Minnesota last week; the Phoenix Mercury continued another impressive run. The Mercury extended their home winning streak to 12 consecutive games with a 79-69 win over Indiana last Saturday and have won nine straight.

It was also the team's 12th straight home win by 10 or more, extending the longest such streak in WNBA history. The Mercury improved to 13-1 at home this season overall, and established a new franchise record for home wins in a single season. The win also tied a single-season franchise-record for victories with their 23rd of the season (23-4).

With a chance at becoming the first WNBA team in league history to win 30 games, the Mercury next hosts slumping Atlanta Tuesday at 10 p.m.and also have to visit Atlanta as well as New York over their last seven games.

CATCHINGS MOVES PAST SMITH: Tamika Catchings quietly moved past Katie Smith and into third place all-time in scoring last week in a 76-67 win over Seattle. Catchings now has 6,462 points in her stellar career. A four-time defensive player of the year, Catchings is the all-time leader in steals (948) and ranks 11th all-time in blocks despite standing just 6-foot-1.

No player in WNBA history has made more free throws than the 1,760 by Catchings, who is an 83.3 percent shooter from the charity stripe. While not the most prolific 3-point shooter, the long ball is part of Catchings’ offensive arsenal. She has made 548 3-pointers in her career, the ninth most all-time, and shot them at a 35.8 percent clip.

BRYANT HONORED: The Seattle Storm had an amazing pre-game ceremony to honor Karen Bryant, the Storm’s first employee when the city was granted a WNBA team in 1999, prior to last Thursday’s game against Indiana. Bryant is retiring as the franchise’s CEO and president.

Seattle has done a great job embracing the WNBA and creating one of the best home court advantages in all of sports. The “Storm Crazies” are one of the most passionate fan bases in the country. Under Bryant’s leadership, the fans were treated to plenty of memories, none brighter than the two WNBA championships the franchise won.

Bryant stood center court as WNBA President Laurel Richie choked up while stating that she “never would have found her way to the WNBA if not for (Karen) and Force 10 Hoops.”

It was the Seattle executives who recommended Richie to former NBA Commisioner David Stern to fill the WNBA vacancy in the presidency following the resignation of Donna Orender to pursue other opportunities by her own choosing after continuing the work of founding president Val Ackerman.

Seattle’s longest-tenured players, Sue Bird, Camille Little, and Tanisha Wright, presented Bryant with a mounted and framed Storm jersey with the number 15 on it as well as Bryant’s name. Force 10 Hoops presented Bryant with 15 years of season tickets and credentials.

Bryant was also top executive of the Seattle Reign in the former Anerican Basketball League.

Here’s a partial transcript of Bryant’s address to crowd:

“To all of the players from the ABL, Seattle Reign, former Storm players, current Storm players, Indiana Fever players, many of you here to tonight.

'As I said to the team earlier today, thank-you for allowing me to be a part of your life and a part of your journey as a professional athlete. You are the reason we do what we do.

"You inspire us everyday and I’ve just been so blessed to have so many amazing women come through this organization and I really appreciate how much you open your hearts and your arms and invited me to develop a friendship and relationship with you.”

WELCOME BACK: It was good to see Atlanta coach Michael Cooper, sporting atypical beard stubble on his face, back on the sidelines Sunday against the Liberty.

Cooper told team officials he wanted to be present for the Dream's, ''Breast Awareness Health,'' initiatives, which on Sunday included acknowledging survivors of breast cancer.

“I would like to thank all my friends and fans for all the well wishes and support,” said in a statement released by the Dream before the game. “I am excited to get back to coaching.”

It is unclear if Cooper will accompany the Dream on their upcoming four-game road trip, which begins Tuesday in Phoenix.

Even though they have wobbled lately losing five of their last seven games, the Dream are the only Eastern Conference that has clinched a playoff berth.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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