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Weekly Rebound: Top of the league is fun, bottom not so much

Without spoiling to much of what I have in this week’s Rebound, the headline here really does tell the whole story.

Any top team could be another on any given night, but if you dare watch the bottom half play each other you have been warned it may not be the best game of the night.

​Some teams at the bottom are showing signs of life — mainly Chicago — while some should have their pulse checked.

STARTING LINE UP

Five main stories of the week:

1) Exciting playoffs ahead: The top of the league this year is filled with amazing depth among the top five or six teams, depending on your feeling about the Mercury, and even seven if you respect the champs in Minnesota. The matchups could also prove to be dynamic with a wide variety of attacking methods, such as the Storm and Sun attempting to shoot teams out of the building from beyond the arc.

Team building will also be on display with the youth of the Sun’s possibly meeting up with the veteran Lynx . . . or the deep Mystics team that gets contributions from across the roster compared to the Mercury that rely on their big three to carry the team to victory.
Seattle may look strong at the top, as well as Atlanta, but with just three games separating third and seventh in the standings this could be anyone’s playoffs if they get the right matchups.

2) McCoughtry Injury: In a scene nobody wanted to see with the Dream rolling happened against Las Vegas late in the fourth as Angel McCoughtry had her season end due to an ACL injury. The Dream have been the league’s hottest team over the last half of the season having won 12 of 14 to race up to second in the league after sitting in eight at 7-8 before the run. McCoughtry was having a stellar season ranking in the top 25 in every major statistical category with 16.5 points (15th), 6 rebounds (19th), 3 assists (25th), 1.3 steals (12th) and .55 blocks (21st) per game.

The Dream faced a stiff challenge in their first game without their leader facing off against a hot Sparks team that had won four of five heading in. In a low scoring game full of turnovers, with a season high 19 from the Dream, Atlanta got some clutch scoring from Alex Bentley off the bench. Bentley hit a three with 2:30 left and then put the game out of reach with a jumper to extend the lead to five with 15 seconds left in the game. Renee Montgomery then stepped up in their last two games of the week by putting up 24 and 30 points including shooting 14-20 from three and setting a WNBA record with seven three’s in the second half on Sunday against New York to propel the comeback. Winning close games over the struggling Wings and Liberty might be concerning long-term but as it stands the Dream are 3-0 without their leader.

3) Does anybody want the last playoff spot: Speaking of the Wings they just fired their head coach. They have now lost eight in a row and are on the playoff bubble. I don’t know if you can blame Fred Williams for the absence of Diggins-Smith and Cambage at different points during the streak, but change was needed. After losing three games by a combined nine points last week, Dallas lost all three this week by at least nine points and seemed to be lacking over their last few games.

Lucky for Dallas the team that is chasing them for the final playoff spot decided to forfeit a game last week in Washington due to travel concerns which may come to haunt them as they only trail Dallas by one game. I’m not sure it would have mattered though since Las Vegas finally won on Sunday. The Aces shouldn’t get to excited as their win was over Indiana and their win before the streak was also over Indiana, which unfortunately they do not play this upcoming week. The Aces do play Dallas this Friday which they need to win otherwise they will be eliminated since Dallas owns the tiebreaker between the teams via winning the first two match-ups. If Las Vegas wins Friday they still need to win over the Liberty (likely) or Dream (not likely), while hoping Dallas loses to both Connecticut and Seattle (likely).

4) Vandersloot on fire: Chicago may have been eliminated from playoff contention this week after a tough season with a roster full of young players. One not so young player though is Courtney Vandersloot who is in her eighth year. Vandersloot once again hit the 15 assists mark against Connecticut to once again fall one short of the single game record. Having reached the double-digit assist mark in the Sky’s last three wins, Vandersloot has proven herself to be a key part of Chicago’s future success. Vandersloot is leading the league in assists by a healthy margin averaging 8.6 per game. Unfortunately she is also averaging a league high 3.4 turnovers per game though, clean that up and she’ll be a star around the league.

5) What to watch this week: It’s the final week of the season so it’s time to either invite your friends to watch it without you and educate them before the playoffs or take the week to find some new quality friends. Tuesday and Wednesday provide a chance to watch playoff teams beat on non-contenders, okay fine Dallas plays Connecticut on Tuesday in a chance to prove they belong in the playoffs along with the Aces having a chance to potentially tie Dallas with a win over the Liberty. The action heats up on Friday at which point each team will have two games left. Minnesota visits Connecticut, Los Angeles will be in Washington and the Mercury will host the Dream along with the main course of the week: Las Vegas at Dallas. The final Sunday of the season will see the Sparks and Sun meet along with a nice side course of Washington and Minnesota to end the season.

In terms of tiebreakers and seeding here’s what you need to know: Seattle has a bye to the semi locked while Atlanta will do the same with a win or Washington loss. Washington needs two wins to guarantee a top four seed, while Connecticut needs to win out and have Washington lose their three remaining games while Los Angeles needs to win against Washington to get the tiebreaker over Washington. The fourth and final bye out of the first round will be decided by the Sun’s, Sparks, Lynx and Mercury that are separated by one game and involves way to many tiebreakers for me to list them all here so just watch the games and enjoy the show, folks.

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): I already gave her a full section, so this should come as no surprise. After being named an All-Star in her rookie year she hasn’t been invited back. This is a bit of surprise after last season and her success continued this year, so hopefully she can make it next year to show off her passing.

G: Diana Taurasi (PHX): A pair of 20-point games including one with 29 points and seven rebounds while in another she put up 20 and 14. Her averages for the week would be higher (they were already 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds) if she had played more than 23 minutes in a blowout of the Fever.

F: Breanna Stewart (SEA): Just another week for the MVP favourite who racked up 32 points against the Liberty while shooting 3-7 from three and picking up nine rebounds. Stewart would arguably slow down from there but when that constitutes two double-double performances in three games you know you’re on a special type of roll.

F: Maya Moore (MIN): A pair of 30-point performances from Moore got the doubters to calm down a little. She helped Minnesota right the ship as they continue to try and fight their way into a first-round bye. The Lynx offence has struggled this year and it’s going to be up to Moore to produce on a more consistent basis if they want a chance to properly defend their title.

C: Sylvia Fowles (MIN): I know this is only supposed to be based on one week, but when someone rips off five consecutive monster double-doubles, it makes it any choice. The reigning MVP is not going to hand over her title easily. She averages 18 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks over three games this week including 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks against the Storm.

Bench: Jonquel Jones (CON): 17 points and 15 rebounds in 21 minutes against the Sky on Sunday was her most dominant performance of the season. Jones also rattled off 13 in another game against the Sky and 17 in a matchup with Dallas. Jones is a key piece off the bench if the Sun want to early season form when they were arguably the top team in the league for the first few weeks using their depth to overwhelm opponents.

​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) Seattle Storm (24-8): At this point the Storm are simply going through the motions waiting for the regular season to end so they can get a bit of time to rest before the semi-finals. Even saying that it’s not like Seattle is slumping with only four losses in their last 20, against the finalist from last year along with surging Washington and Atlanta. One minor concern for the Storm is they allowed Washington to reach the 100 point mark which is the most Seattle has allowed all year. Also Jewell Loyd hasn’t reached the 20 point mark in her last five games.

2) Washington Mystics (20-11): They’re the only team to beat Atlanta over the Dream’s last 13 games and have also collected wins over the Storm and Mercury during their six-game winning streak, although one was a forfeit. Elena Delle Donne as usual has been the heartbeat for this team with two 3-point performances this week and a third game with a paltry 23 points and seven rebounds.

3) Atlanta Dream (22-10): They may have lost to the Mystics but if you ignore that game they would be on an astonishing 13-game winning streak stretching all the way back to the start of July. Take away their star player, McCoughtry, and role players like Bentley, Elizabeth Williams and Brittney Sykes step up to keep the machine rolling.

4) Los Angeles Sparks (18-13): The Sparks have still yet to find their top gear this year as for most of the season they’ve been comfortably sitting near the top of the standings but have yet to reach their performances of the last few years. They struggled at the end of their road trip with losses in Phoenix and Atlanta which is not a good sign as they end the season on the road in Washington and Connecticut.

5) Connecticut Sun (18-13): They got their revenge on Sunday over the Sky after having their five-game winning streak snapped two days earlier in Chicago. They continue to climb in the standings and currently sit in a tie for fourth with a key matchup on Sunday to determine the tiebreaker between the teams.

6) Phoenix Mercury (18-14): They seemed to have right the ship this week ending their run of five consecutive losses at home and six of seven overall. This week was a perfect week on multiple fronts with each of their star trio leading one game in scoring and even getting 33 points from their bench against the Fever. Their win over the Sparks included Griner and Taurasi both grabbing a double-double and Bonner leading the team with 31 points.

7) Minnesota Lynx (17-14): Where to place the Lynx right now is quite the struggle with only two wins in their last six games. it looks rough until you realize the losses were to the Storm twice, along with the Dream and Sparks. The exploits of Moore and Fowles have already been covered but on the negative side for the Lynx they’ve potentially lost Danielle Robinson for the playoffs and Rebekah Brunson missed all three games this week with a concussion.

8) Dallas wings (14-17): No Liz Cambage for the Wings and it led to a predictable pair of losses that cost Williams his job in charge. Before the current losing streak the Wings were having their best season under Williams but that’s not saying much considering he was only able to put together one winning season in his time with the franchise at 18-16 in 2015.

9) Las Vegas Aces (13-18): Kelsey Plum has continued her recent play of late showing why she still has a chance to grow into the expectations of being a top overall pick. Plum has reached double digit points in five of six and 20 points in three of four games as well. She has leaned into her playmaking skills as well setting a franchise record with 13 assists against Atlanta on Tuesday.

10) Chicago Sky (11-20): At least they tied the league record for team assists in a with 35 against Connecticut. On the down side it required some questionable timeouts and substitutions in the final minutes, which taints the record in my opinion. That would also explain why it was the Sun on Sunday who eliminated the Sky from playoff contention with a win.

11) Indiana Fever (5-26): After winning two games last week the Fever returned to their regular form and lost all three games this week, with none closer than 15 points. Maybe the top overall pick will help their offence, which has topped out at 84 points in their 15 games since the start of July and has only reached 80 four times.

12) New York Liberty (7-23): A team that has been bitten by the injury bug all year had another member miss a game on Sunday with Amanda Zahui B out. Zahui B had scored at least 13 in four of her last five games coming off the bench while also collecting 11 and nine rebounds respectively in her last two games before the injury.

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