Posted Aug 19, 2011 10:00 PM
The nightmare is over in Atlanta. After struggling through the first half of the season, the defending East champs have hit their stride. Over the past five weeks they have gone 10-3, improving from 3-9 to 13-12. Angel McCoughtry has been phenomenal, Sancho Lyttle has bolstered the front line since her return from injury and offseason acquisition Lindsey Harding has proven to be the upgrade at point guard that Marynell Meadors was looking for.
Of the three teams clustered in the middle of the East standings - Atlanta, New York and Connecticut - Atlanta gets the nod right now. But keep a close eye on these teams down the stretch as they jockey for playoff positioning.
There's a similar theme happening in the West, but with an added twist. Minnesota is well ahead of the field with a trio of teams - Phoenix, San Antonio and Seattle - separated by just 1.5 games. Now comes the twist. Two former MVPs that have missed the majority of the season are either on the verge of returning (Lauren Jackson for the fourth-place Storm) or just returned (Candace Parker for the fifth-place Sparks).
This should be an entertaining final three weeks of the regular season. But before we watch it unfold and see which teams rise and which teams fall, let's look at how the teams rank at this very moment.
|2011 WNBA.com POWER RANKINGS: 8/19|
|TEAM (last week)||W / L||NOTES|
The Lynx suffered their worst defeat of the season (a 29-point road loss to Connecticut), but still finished the week 3-1 to maintain their lead for the top record in the WNBA. They are on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2004.
Upcoming Games: 8/20 vs Los Angeles, 8/23 @ Tulsa, 8/26 vs San Antonio
This week the Fever posted a 2-1 record and watched Tamika Catchings join the 5,000-point club. Indiana still holds a two-game lead in the East, but New York, Connecticut and now Atlanta are within striking distance.
Upcoming Games: 8/21 vs Washington, 8/27 vs Atlanta, 8/30 @ Atlanta
Winners of three of their past four games, it looks like the Mercury are back on track after their midseason swoon in late July/early August. While catching Minnesota (4.5 games back) is unlikely, can the Mercury hold onto to the two spot out West?
Upcoming Games: 8/20 vs San Antonio, 8/23 vs New York, 8/26 @ Connecticut
No. 4 may seem high for a team that just passed the .500 mark for the first time this season on Friday, but this is a team that no one wants to face right now. Winners of 10 of their last 13, the Dream are back in the playoff picture, looking to defend their Eastern Conference crown.
Upcoming Games: 8/21 @ Connecticut, 8/23 @ Chicago, 8/27 @ Indiana
This week did not end well for Connecticut. First, they squandered an 18-point lead in just over a quarter in an overtime loss to New York. Then followed it up the next night by blowing a 14-point lead in a loss to the Dream, again in overtime. But even with that the Sun remain just two games back of the Fever in the East.
Upcoming Games: 8/21 vs Atlanta, 8/26 vs Phoenix, 8/28 @ Tulsa
New York (7)
The Liberty have been like a see-saw over the past few weeks - a win, a loss, a win, two losses, two wins. The search for consistency continues for the team. However, Cappie Pondexter has been consistently great, particularly in leading the Liberty on the furious comeback over the Sun on Thursday.
Upcoming Games: 8/20 @ Seattle, 8/23 @ Phoenix, 8/28 @ Chicago
San Antonio (4)
The Silver Stars have faced Eastern Conference teams for the past four games and gone 1-3 in that span. While they looked good against Connecticut (holding the Sun to just 59 points), the rest of the time was a struggle. Their focus shifts back to the West this week with a trio of road games against playoff contenders. With the West so tight, the Stars cannot afford another 1-3 stretch.
Upcoming Games: 8/20 @ Phoenix, 8/23 @ Seattle, 8/26 @ Minnesota
First, the good news. Lauren Jackson is practicing with the team and hopes to return to the court soon. And they need her. Seattle has lost four of its last five games and now sit just 2.5 games ahead of L.A. for the final playoff spot in the West. And L.A. beat them to the punch on returning a star player.
Upcoming Games: 8/20 vs New York, 8/23 vs San Antonio, 8/25 vs Tulsa
Los Angeles (10)
The Sparks have won three of four games and welcomed back Candace Parker to the lineup earlier this week. L.A. heads out on a three-game road trip that opens in Minnesota, which should be a great test for this seldom seen healthy version of the Sparks. That is followed by games with the bottom teams in each conference.
Upcoming Games: 8/20 @ Minnesota, 8/21 @ Tulsa, 8/23 @ Washington
The Sky are in danger of extending their "have yet to make the Playoffs in franchise history" streak to six years. With Atlanta playing at such a high level right now, that four spot in the East is becoming fainter and fainter on the horizon in Chicago.
Upcoming Games: 8/20 @ Washington, 8/23 vs Atlanta, 8/26 vs Washington
The Mystics lost three of four games last week and picked up their sole win by the smallest of margins, a one-point come-from-behind victory over New York. With a pair of games against Chicago, Atlanta and Indiana and one more game against Connecticut left on their schedule, what role with the Mystics play in shaping the playoff picture in the East?
Upcoming Games: 8/20 vs Chicago, 8/21 @ Indiana, 8/23 vs Los Angeles
The Shock continue to struggle, but at least they only played - and lost - one game this week. With a full week between games, recent Hall of Fame inductee Teresa Edwards has had plenty of time on the practice court with her team. Can she lead her team to a win to snap their 17-game loss streak? It's possible, but the schedule is not doing them any favors.
Upcoming Games: 8/21 vs Los Angeles, 8/23 vs Minnesota, 8/25 @ Seattle