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Week Four Rebound: Indiana wins, Connecticut panics, Delle Donne returns

I like to break things into tiers and lists. Organization helps me focus, so I decided to do the same with WNBA teams.

There are the top five looking to secure a bye to the semi-finals, or at least the (quarter-finals): Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Washington and Connecticut.

The middle group is focused on securing a playoff spot as the season continues and features teams rising, such as Seattle, regular contenders Dallas and surprisingly Minnesota.

​The bottom tier is for teams that are focused on the future but wouldn’t mind making the playoffs this year for experience in Las Vegas, New York, Chicago and Indiana.
As you watch games and check scores try to keep an eye on these battles throughout the season and see if any team jumps up a tier or drops one.

STARTING LINE-UP
Five main stories of the week.

1) Indiana deserved that win: Seven losses in a row by 10 points or fewer. Four consecutive games they were tied or lead in the final minute. Frantic comebacks before losing in overtime. It has been a tough start to the season in Indiana before they won game number eleven in dominant fashion at home against Atlanta. They went on to outscore Atlanta by 35 points over the second half as they finished with 96 points, the most a tough Dream defence has allowed since their season opener.

Indiana surprisingly has a positive rating over their last five games over the last two weeks as they’re young players learn what it will take to be successful. With five of their top six players still within their first four years of playing in the WNBA, there are lots of moving parts and players learning how to play together as professionals. A performance like the one Natalie Achonwa had against Las Vegas with 25 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs, will become more common helping the team pull out more close games.

We all know the rookie season Kelsey Mitchell is having for Indiana as she battles A’ja Wilson for rookie of the year, but Indiana has another first round pick in Victoria Vivians who has earned a starting spot this week. The guard struggled in her first, starting with 0 points on 0-7 shooting. Vivians had her best game of the season against Atlanta with 21 points on 8-14 shooting from the field, including 5-8 from deep. Between Vivians and Mitchell the Fever could be a threat for top teams as the season progresses.

2) Sparks just doing there thing: A lot of time has been spent on Phoenix, Seattle and Connecticut but if you look at the standings today the team on top is not a surprise at all as Los Angeles goes about their business and is 8-2. This is what happens when a team plays at the league’s slowest pace while excelling in the simple category of not turning the ball over while forcing their opponents into the league’s highest number of turnovers.

A group lead by Candice Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray who could all be MVP performers on any night forces opponents to hope that they can get a few bounces to go their way but the extra possessions the Sparks collect throughout the game makes it even harder to beat them. They will remain beatable to elite teams as evidenced by losses to Seattle and Connecticut which could be an interesting development.

3) How doomed is Connecticut really: The Sun’s may be one of the deepest teams in the league leading to their success, but losing their MVP is still going to be tough. Alyssa Thomas appeared to hurt her shoulder on a harmless looking play as she got tangled with Elena Della Donne against Washington. She missed the rest of the game as well as the Sun’s loss to Phoenix later in the week. Thomas was leading the team in rebounds with 9.9 and second in assists with 4.2.

Connecticut should be able to survive without her 12 points per game due to their depth with five other players averaging at least nine points per game. Up front the Sun’s will still be able to rely on another MVP candidate in Chiney Ogwumike who has been stellar this season so far and will have Jonquel Jones starting alongside her now. The ball will also be run through Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams now without Alyssa’s playmaking around. The roster can survive for now without Alyssa Thomas but in the long-term they will need her back if they want their offence to return to form.

4) Aces turning it around: After starting the season 1-7, a week with two wins is quite the accomplishment for the Aces, even if it came with two losses in a busy week. Head Coach Bill Laimbeer is starting to get his troops organized and it showed in winning consecutive games in back to back nights. It helps to have someone like A’ja Wilson who can go off for 35 points as a rookie, including an 9-0 run by herself to start overtime against Indiana, to help steer the ship and get easy points.

The role players are what have made the difference for the Aces with Dearica Hamby scoring 17 and 11 in their two wins this week off the bench while also collecting 6 and 4 rebounds as well. The fourth-year pro is starting to show some positive signs but has struggled with consistency. One player who is thriving on a regular basis is Kayla McBride. She averaged 19 points in the four games this week and was a big part of the offence every game. Just to show how being young can lead to wild changes in performance here’s an odd little stat, against Dallas the Aces were outrebound 43-27 and 11-1 in offensive rebounds but against another strong frontcourt in Phoenix they won the rebound battle 49-34 and collected 19 offensive rebounds. If they can even out their performances they can improve.

5) Delle Donne makes real return: It’s a funny thing how when a team gets their best scorer back and in gull health ready to go, all of a sudden they turn into a good team again. After missing four games Elena Delle Donne scored only eight points in her return before going off for 36 in her second game back as part of a win over Connecticut. Her inside out game works great for a Mystics team that at times can almost feel like it is hoping for someone to take their shot while they pass the ball around.

Washington has relied on their depth all season with 11 players averaging over 10 minutes per game and 10 different players starting games for various reasons whether it be injury or as an attempt to find a line-up that works. The Mystics should try and find a line-up and stick to it as they allow the third most points per game in the league with their opponents scoring 84.7 on average. Washington is second in the league in 3P% and the percentage of their points from three, which has been a key reason for the success they have had so far.

BENCH SQUAD
Other interesting pieces of information.

6) Atlanta was up, now they’re down: This is why I wasn’t overly sold on Atlanta last week even with three big wins. The dream woke up and were faced with reality in a loss to Los Angeles before almost losing consecutive games to Indiana. If Kelsey Mitchell doesn’t go 1-12 in their win over Indiana they would have been swept by the worst team in the league, as is they gave the Fever their first win.

7) Refs ruin Cambage/Griner matchup: Okay so before I get started on this I know refs have an impossible job and I can admit never get credit for doing their job right. Still, did anyone enjoy them stealing the show in Dallas/Phoenix by fouling out Griner and Cambage while dishing out fouls left and right including a few technical, please just let the players play.

8) Replay reviews: I’m sorry for complaining so much this week but another common occurrence throughout the league is the use of replay. Do we really need to have multiple stoppages every game to check last touch or the intent of a foul? It slows down the game and ruins any type of momentum.

9) I was wrong: Dear loyal readers, last week I said to avoid Indiana and Las Vegas… yeah about that . . . the game went into overtime and was one of the most exciting games of the year. A’Ja Wilson and Natalie Achonwa had career nights in quite the duel down low.

10) Pick and roll defence: If you remember the days when defenders fought under or over a screen instead of switching the WNBA is heaven. As opposed to the switch happy systems taking over the NBA, defenders fight for every inch and good screens are required to free up a player.

11) Fever have no color commentator: The Indiana Fever only have a play-by-lay broadcaster for their home broadcast providing another unique league pass experience. The silence can be a little odd and leads to a lack of interaction with nobody to conversate with, but it does get rid of the fluff in the broadcast.

12) What to watch around the World Cup: I know there’s a big soccer event going on but us basketball fans still have good games to watch. This week the Wings play in three big games against Minnesota Tuesday, Los Angeles Thursday and Seattle on Sunday, you know Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith will be up for the challenge.

TEAM OF THE WEEK
A starting line-up with one bench player who were the best over the last 6 days. The amount of games has an impact.

G- Elena Della Donne (WAS): Well she is definitely back to full health after missing four games due to injury. She played all but seven minutes in two games this week and averaged 27 points, including a season high for any player with 36 points while shooting above 50% in both games and 50% from long range.

G- Diana Taurasi (PHX): Just another solid week for the legend with 28, 19, and 21-point performances this week, not to mention the leadership she brings to Phoenix as they continue to roll. During the Mercury winning streak Taurasi has scored at least 18. If she can remain in the top 10 in both scoring and assist it would be quite the achievement for the 36-year old.

F- Breanna Stewart (SEA): When you shoot just under 70% including 66% from three you’re bound to put up some good numbers and Stewart did with 23 and 30-point performances. Her most important contribution may have came when Seattle was down to Chicago in the fourth quarter on Tuesday when she shot 4-4, had 11 points and collected 4 rebounds as they fought back for the win.

F- Chiney Ogwumike (CON): Someone had to step up without Alyssa Thomas this week and it was Ogwumike who played 75 of 80 minutes. She did her part against Washington to help a struggling offence by collecting seven offensive rebounds and 13 total to go along with 19 points. Meanwhile in the second game of the week she scored a career high 30 points in a losing effort that can’t be blamed on her.

C- Liz Cambage (DAL): There’s a reason she’s my favourite for MVP and it has a lot to do with performances like the one she had against Las Vegas with career highs in point sand rebounds with 28 and 18 respectively. She struggled a bit against Brittney Griner only getting season lows with 10 points and three rebounds, but I’ll write that game off due to foul trouble for both.
Bench- Erica Wheeler (IND): The dynamic guard has been excelling as a floor general for the Fever bench averaging 5 assists per game, fourth in the league. In three games this week the fourth-year pro averaged 9 points, 7.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Wheeler shot 5-8 as the Fever got their first win of the season to help them with some key bench scoring.

POWER RANKINGS
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) Phoenix Mercury (9-3): They’re undefeated this month and have won eight in a row thanks to a deep roster that is getting contributions form everyone.

2) Seattle Storm (8-3): Another undefeated week for the league’s hottest offence, they needed all of it to comeback against Chicago but still got the win.

3) Los Angeles Sparks (8-2): They keep on winning, but I still can’t get their defeat at the hands of the Storm out of my head, so they’ll stay here for now.

4) Washington Mystics (6-5): If they can remain healthy and get more consistent performances out of their role players they could be an elite team, for now they’re going to be going up and down these rankings.

5) Connecticut Sun (7-4): Ouch. That was a tough week for Sun’s fans. Do everything forward Alyssa Thomas hurt her shoulder and they lost all three games.

6) Dallas wings (5-4): With two of the best players in the league all Dallas needs is a full roster around them and for their two fiery leaders to keep their cool under pressure.

7) Atlanta Dream (6-5): Two losses and a comeback win over their Fever sapped them of all their momentum they built with their run.

8) Minnesota Lynx (4-6): One day I think they might have it figured out, the next they look lost in defeat, but I’d still bet on them making the playoffs.

9) Las Vegas Aces (3-8): Back to back wins was nice even if it was over Indiana and New York.

10) New York Liberty (3-6): Poor Tina Charles, the second most productive player on her team is a rookie, no matter how good Kia Nurse can be she still has bad nights.

11) Chicago Sky (3-7): The saddest part about Chicago’s season is they haven’t even done anything to make me watch one of their games, the only team I haven’t seen yet.

12) Indiana Fever (1-10): Do they deserve to be a little higher with all their close games, maybe, but for now at least I’m going to keep them here.

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