Rob Knox's WNBA Report: Tulsa Still Targeting Playoffs While Coping With Tough Setbacks
Prior to Sunday’s much-needed 79-69 home victory over the Chicago Sky, Skylar Diggins tweeted to her half-million followers, a simple passage, which perfectly describes her Tulsa Shock squad: “Sometimes the path you're on is not as important as the direction you're heading.”
Tulsa is heading in the right direction thanks to a collection of talented and passionate performers, who are already producing shining moments on a consistent basis.
While Diggins is the WNBA’s second leading scorer at 21.3 points per game and a candidate for the Most Improved Player award, the Shock also feature double-double queens Glory Johnson and Courtney Paris along with rookie guard Odyssey Sims, who is beginning to get comfortable and find her groove. Rookie Jordan Hooper has provided solid minutes this season for the Shock.
Celebrating her 24th birthday on Sunday, Johnson produced her league-leading 14th double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) against the Sky. Paris notched her 10th double-double of the season against Washington Friday night during a tough 82-77 loss. Together, the pair combines to average 24.3 points and 17.8 rebounds per contest.
Sims has led Tulsa in scoring in two of its last three games. She dropped a career-high 39 points against San Antonio last Tuesday and ended the week with a 24-point performance against Chicago on Sunday. Sims has scored in double figures 19 times this season.
Tulsa (9-17 overall) believes it will catch Los Angeles or San Antonio for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The win over Chicago was a perfect way to begin a four-game homestand. The math makes it tough, but as long as the Shock is playing then they confidently believe in their chances. They have eight games remaining and trail the Sparks by 2.5 games and the Silver Stars by three games.
Tulsa and Los Angeles play each other for the final time this season on Tuesday, Aug. 5.
“We just have to finish strong and win games,” Sims said last Wednesday following Tulsa’s practice at the Verizon Center in Washington.
“We’re putting more pressure on us to make the playoffs with all of our close losses. We know we know we have to win at least seven or eight of our remaining games. It’s going to take a lot of determination from us and we have to play with heart. I believe if we all give more with a little extra on top, we’ll be O.K.”
The Shock have already overcome a 0-5 start by winning four consecutive games for the first time since the franchise moved to Tulsa from Detroit earlier this season. The Shock are two wins away from tying the highest win total they have had in Tulsa.
No matter how the season ends for the Tulsa, it has been the most the entertaining team to watch this season.
Playing an up-tempo style and featuring a pair of dynamic scorers who are fun to watch when they are on, the Shock certainly have been must-see television this season. Even though Tulsa has lost nine games by five points or less this season, it has never cheated the fans with its effort.
“Losing the many close games has been tough,” Johnson said. “It seems like we start slow, fight hard and fall short. It’s happened a lot to us this year. But with each loss, we’ve learned something from it.”
The close losses have been frustrating, but the Shock has remained upbeat because eventually they know the heartache will begin to bear fruit down the road.
Tulsa has made analytical and probability formulas go crazy with some of their results this year such as losing consecutive home games by identical 78-76 scores in a 48-hour period on last second shots and limiting Washington to one basket in the fourth quarter and still falling short. The Shock are also one of three teams to beat Phoenix this season.
“We know that wins are going to come if we keep working hard and doing the right things,” Johnson said. “Then we’ll be successful. It might take a while, but we’ll keep working hard. Our games are fun to play in and we give everybody a run for their money. It seems like in all of our games, we keep fans on the edge of their seats.
That’s why people like watching us play.”
Johnson, a two-time All-Star, is also a must-see attraction. She is averaging 14.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
With a smile that can illuminate a dark room and a pleasant personality, Johnson is one of the few players in the league, who can dunk. She has good instincts around the basket, is quick and deceptively strong. Like a magnet, loose balls find her. Trailing by 15 points entering the fourth quarter against the Mystics, Johnson scored eight of her 15 points in the final 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, Sims and Diggins have the potential to be one of the league’s most explosive backcourts in the league for years to come. Consider them the modern-day version of “Fire and Ice” or “Shock and Awe.”
They put pressure on defenses with their relentless and fearless ability to get into the lane and produce points quickly. Both players are improving their shot selection and learning to play with another. They have each scored 20 or more points in the same game four times this season.
“I had a talk with coach Fred (Williams),” Sims said. “He told me to dominate the second part of the season and be aggressive. I am comfortable now and it took me a while to adjust to the league.
"I am getting the hang of it now. It’s a mental thing. I like to keep my eyes on the rim when I am attacking. I just have to stay aggressive," Sims said.
"It’s good playing with Skylar especially when we connect and score 30 points apiece, who can stop that? If we can do that every night, we’ll be unstoppable. Then with our post players Glory and Courtney chipping in we’ll be hard to beat.”
Tulsa’s problem has been on defense where it’s in the bottom half of the league in opponents’ field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and forcing turnovers.
The Shock limited Washington to 1-of-13 shooting in the fourth quarter and that effort carried over to Sunday’s win over the Sky. Tulsa allowed fewer than 70 points for the first time since it beat the Los Angeles Sparks, 69-67, on June 13. It held the Sky to 38.9 percent shooting and had eight steals.
Tulsa hosts Seattle on Tuesday, Atlanta on Thursday and Minnesota on Saturday.
MAYA’S MOMENT: Maya Moore’s 48-point performance last Tuesday against the Minnesota Lynx was simply breathtaking in an 112-108 double overtime victory over the Atlanta Dream.
The game was so great that NBA-TV aired it as an “Instant Classic” on Sunday afternoon. Moore came within three points of the Riquna Williams’ WNBA single-game record of 51 points.
That effort earned Moore her league-leading fourth Western Conference Player of the Week honor of the season, her third in as many weeks, and the ninth such honor of her career. For the week, Moore shared the scoring lead in the West with Sims (25.7 ppg), tied for third in the conference in rebounds (8.3 rpg), ranked fourth in three-point shooting percentage (.467, 7-of-15), and placed ninth in assists (4.0 apg).
Now that Minnesota has its entire team back together for the first time in a while, don’t expect any additional point explosions from Moore.
Sunday’s 76-65 road win over Connecticut was just the second game in which defending WNBA champion Minnesota had its entire team available. Rebekkah Brunson missed the first 24 games after knee surgery. Simone Augustus returned Friday after being out eight games with a knee injury. The Lynx also clinched a playoff berth last week.
“There's a lot of people who could've handled it differently and felt sorry for ourselves,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said to the Associated Press following the win over the Sun. “Maya has been terrific, as you guys know, in this run. Lindsey Whalen has been really, really good and above her (scoring) average. They're just warriors; just that competitive drive that fuels them every day. It's fun to be around.”
The Lynx (20-6) have quietly won seven straight games.
They have two games remaining against the red-hot Mercury, winners of 15 straight games and owners of the best record in the league at 21-3 overall. The teams play twice over the next 10 days, including Thursday night in the Twin Cities at 8:00 Eastern Time. Minnesota trails Phoenix by two games overall, although the Mercury have played two fewer games.
Minnesota is the fourth WNBA team to put together at least four straight seasons with 20 or more wins and second team to win 100 or more games in four-season span.
With all due respect to the remaining four teams in the West, Thursday’s game is most likely a glimpse at would be a most anticipated Western Conference finals series in league history since the early Los Angeles and former Houston Comets showdowns.
Both teams are playing at an incredibly high level and are healthy, so this game will have lots of eyes on it for a regular season game.
It’s widely believed that Minnesota stands between Phoenix and the WNBA-record winning streak of 18 games held by Los Angeles. Now, with Atlanta having lost four straight games, the prospect that one of these two teams won’t make the finals is disheartening.
MARVELOUS MYSTICS: Washington extended its winning streak to four games by beating Atlanta, 77-67, on Sunday afternoon. It’s the Mystics' longest winning streak since they won six straight to close the 2010 season. They are back at .500 with a 13-13 record and have climbed toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings by averaging 81.8 points in those victories.
Washington, which has won six of seven overall, has also pulled within three games of first-place Atlanta, losing only to Phoenix in that stretch in a competitive setback on the road.
The Mystics have been winning with defense, contributions from everybody on their roster and foul shooting.
Washington, holding teams to a WNBA-low 41.3 percent shooting, has limited its last two opponents to under 40 percent shooting: Tulsa (30-for-84, 35.7 percent) and Atlanta (28-for-75, 37.3 percent).
The Mystics scored a season-high 89 points, including 30 in the fourth quarter to beat Connecticut, 89-75.
Two days later, they beat Tulsa, 82-77 despite making one basket in the fourth quarter.
In that same game, former Duke star Monique Currie was 16-18 from the foul line for all of her points while shooting 0-3 from the field.
A Mystics team spokesman said that was a record in the WNBA. No matter how they got the job done, the Mystics find themselves in second place and entertaining visions of winning the conference crown.
“Everybody's feeding off each other,” said guard Ivory Latta, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. “This is a collective unit that's finally coming together and buying into what we need to do. It's a great feeling right now, but we can't get complacent. It's going to be a dogfight every night in the Eastern Conference. We just have to maintain what we're doing and keep this confidence and keep this swagger.”
For Latta, this Player of the Week award is her first of the season and the fourth of her career. For the week, Latta led the East in assists (5.3 apg), ranked second in scoring (20.3 ppg), and third in both field goal percentage (.564, 22-of-39) and three-point shooting percentage (.500, 12-of-24).
The WNBA All-Star began the week with 23 points, six assists, and three rebounds in an 89-75 win over the Sun. Two days later against the Shock, she tallied 17 points and four assists in an 82-77 win. To close out the week, Latta handed the Dream its fourth straight loss, posting 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
PRINCE ADDS ANOTHER GRAND: Epiphanny Prince recorded her 2000th career point and finished with 14 points and five rebounds to lead the Chicago Sky during a 79-69 loss to Tulsa on Sunday.
DELLE DONNE UPDATE: Ursuline Academy and University of Delaware All-American could return to the court later this week, the team said Saturday. Delle Donne has been out while dealing with a recurrence of Lyme Disease symptoms, which have plagued her since her sophomore season at Delaware.
She missed 12 UD games in 2010-11 and six more as a senior in 2012-13 while coping with fatigue-related Lyme issues.
The 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Delle Donne returned to Chicago last week from Delaware, where she'd been undergoing treatment.
She'll have further medical evaluations in Chicago, and the Sky are "hopeful" Delle Donne could play in Thursday night's home game against the New York Liberty, said Sky spokesperson Lauren Niemiera.
Delle Donne has played in nine games this season, averaging a team-best 21.2 points.
The Sky, which had their first winning record last year in franchise history, are 10-15 overall, but have won two of three since the All-Star break. In a congested Eastern Conference, Delle Donne’s return could make a significant difference in the race for a playoff spot.
LIBERTY ALIVE: New York accomplished its goal of a winning West Coast trip. The Liberty beat the Sparks and Storm in overtime before falling to the red-hot Mercury Saturday night. The Liberty hosts red-hot Washington Tuesday in a crucial game before heading out on another three game road trip to Chicago (Thursday), Atlanta (Sunday) and Washington (August 5).
Tina Charles had 31 points and 15 rebounds to lead New York to a 66-64 win against the Sparks on Wednesday night, spoiling the coaching debut of general manager Penny Toler.
Cappie Pondexter added 16 points as the Liberty snapped an eight-game road losing streak, dating to their only other road win in their season opener May 16. Charles doesn’t want July to end as she is averaging 21.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in The month.
BHA WEEK: The WNBA has teamed up with Bright Pink to bring breast health education to fans and encourage all women to live proactively. The league along with its teams and players are proudly supporting the effort to fight breast cancer by raising awareness and funds during WNBA Breast Health Awareness (BHA) Week July 28 to Aug. 3.
During the week, the WNBA will share breast health education with fans and followers through social media and in-game activation.
In partnership with WNBA Cares, sales proceeds of BHA T-shirts sold on WNBAStore.com will benefit Bright Pink, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to save women’s lives from breast and ovarian cancer by empowering them to live proactively at a young age.
This year, ESPN2 and NBA TV will air a combined seven nationally-televised games, bringing attention and cognizance to this important cause.
ESPN2 will feature a doubleheader on July 29 when the Chicago Sky takes on the San Antonio Stars at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the Los Angeles Sparks visiting the Phoenix Mercury at 10 p.m. ET.
NBA TV will televise five BHA games, including an Aug. 3 doubleheader featuring the Washington Mystics and the Sky at 6 p.m. ET, and the Stars and the Seattle Storm squaring off at 9 p.m. ET.
QUICK DUECE DELIVERS: Seattle’s Temeka Johnson recorded the fifth triple-double in WNBA history and first in Seattle franchise history last week in an 84-80 overtime loss to the Liberty. The diminutive and quick 5-3 guard out of LSU delivered 13 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
“I didn’t even know, honestly,” Johnson said following the game on the Storm website. Her face, solemn from the loss, cracked into a grin. “I mean, I’m not going to downplay it, it’s a huge accomplishment…but…aren’t I a little small to be doing this??”
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: One of the best players in WNBA history, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon will retire at the conclusion of the 2014 WNBA season.
A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon was named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time in July of 2011. She will end her career as the Stars all-time leader in assists, points per game and three-point field goals made.
Hammon holds career averages of 13.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 28.0 minutes in 440 games. She was named to the All-WNBA First Team twice and the All-WNBA Second Team twice in her 16 seasons. We’ll have more on Hammon later this year in this space.
MERCURY HOME TO START THE PLAYOFFS: Phoenix officially clinched home court advantage in the first round of the 2014 WNBA Playoffs presented by Boost Mobile following its 78-63 home win over New York that extended the Mercury’s franchise-record win streak to 15 games, matching the second-longest win streak in WNBA history.
Phoenix will host Game 1 of Round 1 on Thursday, August 21 or Friday, August 22 at US Airways Center. The playoff schedule will be released at a later date.
Phoenix is a franchise-best 11-1 at home.
The Mercury have won 10 consecutive home games by win by double figures, giving them a share of the longest such streak in WNBA history (2000 Houston Comets).
More amazingness, the Mercury have shot over 50 percent from the field in six straight games (51.7), a WNBA record. During the streak, Phoenix has shot 206-of-385 for a percentage of 53.5 percent.
Saturday marked the eighth consecutive game in which the Mercury have not trailed in the fourth quarter. Phoenix hosts Los Angeles Tuesday night before visiting Minnesota Thursday in a highly-anticipated matchup.
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