Liberty and Sky in Photo-Finish Race to the Playoffs
Posted September 19, 2012 10:15 AM
By Aman Ali, WNBA.com
It's down to the wire as the New York Liberty and Chicago Sky duel it out for the league's last ticket to the playoffs. The Liberty are one game ahead of the Sky, but with two games left in the season for each of them, anything can happen.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks are back to their dominating ways after recent slowdowns in their momentum. Time to rank 'em!
The Minnesota Lynx saw their 11-game winning streak snapped by the Chicago Sky this past week and while that normally could trigger a bump down in the rankings board, they bounced back on Monday by shutting down the not-afraid-to-scrap Indiana Fever, 86-79. thereby earning home court advantage throughout the post-season. Maya Moore scored a career-high of 29 points in the game making it the eighth time she's racked up 20+ points this season. The Minnesota Lynx are so hot right now that it's starting to feel like their losses are nothing more than flukes.
Upcoming Games: 9/20 @Los Angeles, 9/21 @Phoenix
The Los Angeles Sparks are back. The team is back in its winning groove this week after losing it in recent weeks amidst a heavy road schedule. Nneka Ogwumike is putting up freakishly impressive numbers, including recording 30 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the the team's win against the Sky on Sept. 13. Candace Parker, meanwhile, has returned to her MVP-worthy ways, including scorching the Sun for 23 points and 10 rebounds in L.A.'s win against Connecticut on Friday. In that same game, all five L.A. starters scored in double figures. The Sparks are on an eight-game home winning streak and clearly staying at home has helped them restore the energy they'll need to be a force come playoffs time.
Upcoming Games: 9/20 vs. Minnesota
The Connecticut Sun may be the hottest team in the Eastern Conference but their play was lukewarm at best last week. After losing to the Los Angeles Sparks, the Sun followed up with a 60-58 yawn-worthy win against the Seattle Storm. It was one of the lowest scoring games for the Sun this season against a team playing without its star players in Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Maybe all the road games are fatiguing the Sun, but this is supposed to be the team that's the best at playing away from home. Nevertheless, they are still deserving of the No. 3 spot because it's hard to find an Eastern Conference competitor as worthy as them.
Upcoming Games: 9/19 vs. Indiana, 9/23 vs. Atlanta
The Indiana Fever take a tiny bump down on the rankings board as a result of back-to-back losses over the weekend. Both losses, however, came to the West-leading Minnesota Lynx. The Fever kept things competitive in both games (they lost by a combined total of 9 points) giving a glimpse of what to expect from Indiana in the postseason. They were able to hold their ground and keep in interesting against the top team of the league, so all the teams below that should beware.
Upcoming Games: 9/19 @ Connecticut, 9/21@ Washington
The Atlanta Dream secured their playoff spot thanks to the Chicago Sky losing to the Los Angeles Sparks last week as the team tries to capture the Eastern Conference championship for the third year in a row. Atlanta started this week by clobbering the Seattle Storm, 77-61, where Angel McCoughtry came off the bench to rack up 23 points. Fortunately for the Dream, the team's supporting cast has stepped up significantly in complementing McCoughtry, including Erika de Souza's 20 points and eight rebounds in the win against Seattle. But with McCoughtry coming off the bench for some games, it appears there may still be some behind-the-scenes drama going on in Dreamland. Case and point - the Dream had to rally from an 11-point deficit against the Washington Mystics, the team with the worst record in the league, over the weekend in one of the Dream's poorest displays of teamwork all season. I'll back off the speculation for now, but whatever is going on with Atlanta, it needs to end now because the playoffs are just around the corner.
Upcoming Games: 9/20 @ Chicago, 9/23 @Connecticut
Behind the efforts of Cappie Pondexter, the New York Liberty continue to rally their way into playoffs contention. In back-to-back wins against the Washington Mystics this past week, Pondexter first racked up 22 points and seven rebounds and then topped herself the next game with 30 points and 11 rebounds. Without Sylvia Fowles to help the Sky because of injury and because the Liberty's remaining schedule is much easier, New York has taken the advantage over Chicago in grabbing the last playoff spot. The Liberty, however, haven't been able to address their biggest weakness all season which is that they rely too much on Pondexter to carry them to victory. She may able to carry the team into the playoffs, but expect teams like the Connecticut Sun or Indiana Fever, teams that they could potentially face off against in the playoffs, to bring in all the guns to shut her down.
Upcoming Games: 9/20 @Tulsa, 9/22 vs. Tulsa
The Chicago Sky shrugged off the fact that their remaining games this season are tougher than the New York Liberty's by defeating the Minnesota Lynx last week, the first loss the Lynx suffered in two months. Epiphanny Prince led the team with 26 points as the Sky returned back to the solid shape they were in before she sat out in the early part of the season with an injury. Then, a few nights later, the Sky clobbered the Phoenix Mercury, 86-55, in a game they led at one point by as many as 29 points. Shay Murphy came off the bench to lead the Sky in scoring that game with 22 points - 20 of which she picked up in the first half. The Sky need this momentum to carry them through the rest of the season because they only have three games left to pull ahead of the Liberty for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Upcoming Games: 9/20 vs. Atlanta, 9/22 vs. Washington
It's anyone's guess what is happening to the San Antonio Silver Stars. This past week the team lost to the Tulsa Shock by 17 points and looked absolutely nothing like the team that only a month or so ago was on a 12-game winning streak. The team could be taking a breather to prepare themselves for playoffs, but there's a fine line between taking a breather and simply slipping up by losing that much to the Shock. The team needs to get back to form and finish the season strong otherwise they will get gobbled up by the likes of the Minnesota Lynx or Los Angeles Sparks in the playoffs.
Upcoming Games: 9/21 @Seattle, 9/23 vs. Minnesota
The Seattle Storm are on a four-game losing streak almost solely because their two star players, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, have been sidelined for injuries. Last week the Storm got handled by the Fever, 72-48, during Seattle's lowest scoring outing of the season. Luckily, Bird and Jackson did return this week making the Storm's ascension on the rankings board one that is safe to assume.
Upcoming Games: 9/21 vs. San Antonio, 9/23 vs. Phoenix
The Tulsa Shock continued to impress this season with an 80-70 win against the San Antonio Silver Stars this week. It might be too late for it to matter for the Shock considering all the playoffs spots in the Western Conference are locked up, but the young Shock roster are screaming potential for the years to come. The talent on the roster is there and slowly but surely the team is figuring out its chemistry. Once they do figure that out, they could potentially be a top contender in the Western Conference. But when that happens -- let alone if that happens -- remains to be seen.
Upcoming Games: 9/20 vs. New York, 9/22 @ New York
The Phoenix Mercury were dominated by the Chicago Sky, 86-55, over the weekend. The team has suffered for most of the season with their star scorer Diana Taurasi sitting out with a hip injury. But now that she's back, it hasn't really done much to change the team's losing ways as the team is currently on a 5-game losing streak. But this is a team that knows a thing or two about winning WNBA championships. And with DeWanna Bonner and rookie Samantha Prahalis stepping it up for the Mercury in lieu of Taurasi, expect the team to spend the offseason retooling to get back into championship form.
Upcoming Games: 9/21 vs. Minnesota, 9/23 vs. Seattle
Extending their losing streak to 11 games, the Washington Mystics have struggled all season to get any momentum going on the rankings board and they aren't likely to muster any for the remainder of the season. This past week's back-to-back losses to the New York Liberty show that the Mystics simply don't have what it takes to be competitive this season. Granted, the struggles the Mystics have faced this year can probably be attributed to them overhauling their roster in the offseason, but any positives coming from that gutsy move have yet to be seen.
Upcoming Games: 9/21 vs. Indiana, 9/22 @Chicago