With just over a week left in the season, every game has added importance with how tight the standings are between the three and eight seed — only separated by two and a half games. Las Vegas is the only lower-ranked team with a chance to sneak in. I would hate to look too far ahead but next season, with the Aces, Sky and Fever improving now, could be even better.
Five main stories of the week.
1) Wings need bench scoring: What started out as a bad stretch of games heading into the break has turned into disaster without Skylar Diggins-Smith in the lineup as they have lost five straight. In a situation like this you can’t blame one person or one aspect of their game; everything is falling apart. The only person who is doing her part has been Liz Cambage who has averaged just under 27 points to go along with 10 rebounds per game. Glory Johnson has been providing nice support with eight points and rebounds per game but hasn’t been enough to help Cambage.
The main culprit offensively has most clearly been the bench. Eight points per game is all they’ve been able to cobble together outside of rookie Azura Stevens. The poor performances have been somewhat cancelled out by the monster performances of Cambage to keep the Wings above average on offence. Meanwhile the defence has completely fallen apart. The team allowed over 80 points seven games in a row before finally limiting the Mystics to 76 points. One problem is they allowed Kristi Tolliver to score eight points in a row to end the game, after leading by six, so yeah that one hurts. Dallas can make the playoffs still with the Aces cancelling games, but they’re going to be an easy out if they can’t stop anyone.
2) Connecticut back rolling: After starting the season 7-1 Connecticut looked like it had something special brewing before losing nine of twelve games in the middle of the season. A quick change of fortunes has lead to the Sun’s winning six of eight including four in a row. It’s no coincidence that the struggles in the middle of the season came without Alyssa Thomas in the line-up with a shoulder injury. When Thomas plays the Sun have a record of 12-5, which if they matched over a full season would be second best in the league.
Not all the credit can go to Thomas though. Both Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams have stepped up in recent games to bring the offence back to a league leading 88.6 points per game over their last eight. The duo has scored at least 15 each in five of their last eight while also averaging 5.6 rebounds per game combined. It doesn’t hurt either when you’re connecting on 42.6% of their three’s while on this roll as they continue to bomb away from long-range as part of their overall season strategy. With two games against Dallas, currently self-destructing, and Chicago, still a very beatable team, left on the schedule to close the season they have a chance to stay hot until the playoffs when nobody will want to play them.
3) Loyd leading the Storm: She may be an All-Star, but as the third wheel in Seattle I sometimes feel Jewell Loyd doesn’t get the credit she deserves, neither does Natasha Howard but that’s a whole other story. The stats back up her importance to Seattle with a 10-0 record when she reaches at least 20 points. The difference between Seattle wins and losses in her points totals represents how important her shooting is, she scores over 18 per game in wins, while in losses she averages a shade over 10.
Loyd isn’t the only reason the Storm have all but locked up the top seed. The Storm have won six of seven and it hasn’t been very close for most games with them winning by double digits in five games. Leading the league in both three-point percentage and attempts this season is a quick way to bury your opponents and take a quick lead or make a comeback if necessary. With a four-game road trip coming up the Storm will have one final chance to test themselves before what should be a nice break due to their expected byes in the playoffs due to all but locking up a top two seed.
4) Indiana starting to get results: It may be a little to late, and costing themselves a top pick, but the Fever have won three of five, including their first set of consecutive wins this season. Sure, their wins were over two teams that are in collapsing to different degrees in Dallas and New York, but at this point a win is a win. Their defense put on a masterful defensive performance against New York. They limited them to 55 points total, and only 2 in the fourth as they pulled off a comeback.
The veteran presence of Cappie Pondexter may have helped the young players with their composure in close games after signing as a free agent. The Fever had a record of 0-11 in games decided by 10 points or less but with Pondexter in the lineup have a 2-0 record in such games. Indiana is still struggling, they have a negative net rating over their last five, but with a young team struggles are expected but the effort level they played with against the Wings and Cambage should turn into wins in the future.
5) New York falling apart: New York likes to be the centre of attention, but this is not the way to go about this. Nine losses in eleven games has brought New York close to the league’s basement and ruined yet another strong season from Tina Charles. Charles pulled off the rare feat of leading the Liberty in points, rebounds and steals against Indiana. Charles is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds to lead the team in both categories. Too bad nobody else is above nine points or four rebounds.
The rest of the roster has a few bright spots. Brittany Boyd is top 10 in both assists and steals collecting 5.3 and 1.41 per game respectively. She’s had a chance to play lately (starting seven straight), so she could be a useful piece in the future. Another player finding a role in her fourth season is Amanda Zahui B who has played a key role of the bench, scoring in double digits nine times already this season including a career high 21. There only player who’s been in the league less than three years is Kia Nurse. Nurse has struggled as a rookie, scoring more than 10 points only once in her last 16 games after doing so in seven of her first 11. New York has a dark future and could be heading toward a few seasons of what Indiana has gone through this year.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
A starting line-up with one bench player who were the best over the last 6 days, amount of games has an impact.
G: Courtney Vandersloot (CHI): Over two games she averaged 18 points and 11 assists including a double-double in one game and 24 points in the other one. Her play has been a big part of their success this season and has been one of the top players over the last few weeks as she cements her place in this league as a borderline all-star.
G: Chelsea Gray (LAS): Doing her part on many fronts Gray has been the standout performer for the Sparks has they look for some stability. Connecting on over 50% of her shots helped Gray average 21 points, this goes along with her playmaking skills as she averaged 6.5 assists per game and an impressive five rebounds per game.
F: Brittney Griner (PHX): The Mercury had a tough week but Griner was still a star scoring at least 22 in all three games. She did collect a double-double against A’ja Wilson in Phoenix’s only win this week as she scored 25 to go along with 11 boards to secure this spot over Wilson herself.
F: Elena Delle Donne (WAS): Just another week for the underdog MVP candidate. She scored 28 to go along with 16 boards against Atlanta in a big win for Washington to end the Dream’s eight game winning streak. More performances like that one and she could sneak into the MVP convo even after missing a few games early in the year.
C: Liz Cambage (DAL): I might have to retire Cambage from this award as she continues to dominate the league one week at a time. Another couple of double-doubles and 30-point performances to put in the bag as she makes her case for MVP while trying to drag the Wings to the playoffs. One potential problem is the amount of technicals she has accumulated — one more and she’ll be suspended. She’ll need to learn to keep calm come the playoffs to remain successful.
Bench: Cheyenne Parker (CHI): Twenty points on 9-14 shooting against Dallas was the type of performance a team needs from their bench if they want to be near the top of the standings and is something Parker has managed to pull off a few times. If the fourth year pro can continue to make a leap she could be a starter next year or at minimum a key role player for an improving Sky team.
Based on recent results above all else, also a quick way to laugh at me when a lower ranked team beats a higher ranked one.
1) Seattle Storm (21-7): Whether at home where they have a 11-4 or on the road where they have a record of 10-3 the Storm are a tough team to beat with the best record in both categories. Oh, and their current starting five is 19-3 just to make them even more scary.
2) Atlanta Dream (18-10): They may have had their eight-game winning streak snapped by the Mystics, but consecutive dominant wins over Chicago and Minnesota have kept them near the top. A 13-2 record when scoring 80 or more and 13-1 when leading at half shows their recipe for success going forward.
3) Connecticut Sun (16-12): Their four-game winning streak is the longest active one in the league. Their offence has returned to early season form scoring at least 92 every game, while their defence has picked up helping them win by an average of 20 points during their streak.
4) Washington Mystics (16-11): Winning three of four has helped the Mystics climb in the standings and if they end up getting the win for the cancelled game against the Aces then that’ll only help more. The Mystics have done it through both offence and defence, comebacks and blowouts, star power of Delle Donne and the strength of their entire roster.
5) Los Angeles Sparks (17-11): they finally snapped their streaks of alternating wins and losses with consecutive victories over the Mercury and Lynx. Limiting the Lynx to 55 was impressive but more importantly are the returns of Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard. Meanwhile Candace Parker has become a double-double machine with five in six games, and only missing one rebound in the sixth.
6) Phoenix Mercury (16-13): The only thing separating Dallas and Phoenix is that DeWanna Bonner is as a strong a third option as you’re going to get with her all-around game. Bonner is 14th in points and rebounds while ranking 21st in assists and steals to give support to Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner.
7) Minnesota Lynx (15-13): Three losses by double digits in a row has taken all the wind. Maya Moore has struggled offensively going 10-29 from the field and 3-11 from beyond the arc. Fowles is still doing her thing though averaging 17 and 11 during the streak but she’ll need more support come the playoffs from an aging roster that appears to have lost their energy from years past.
8) Las Vegas Aces (12-15): After winning six of seven going into the break, the Aces have now lost two straight and allowed over 100 points in both. They cancelled their game against the Mystics (which should officially be a loss soon) and the chances that Las Vegas makes a playoff run are fading.
9) Dallas wings (14-14): After finally tightening up the defence against Washington they managed to find a new way to lose, and in the process learnt they can’t always rely on Cambage. Even with the Aces struggling the Wings need to turn things around to guarantee a playoff spot.
10) Chicago Sky (10-18): Courtney Vandersloot is the straw that stirs the drink in the windy city. In Sky wins she averages a double-double including 11.5 assists, while in defeat she averages 6.8 per game.
11) Indiana Fever (5-23): After playing some tough defence over their last few games the Fever put together consecutive wins for the first time this season and have now won three of five.
12) New York Liberty (7-20): A new low was reached in that loss to Indiana with only two points in the fourth has they lost their sixth game in a row, nothing else needs to be said.