The Watch: Tuesday in the WNBA
Chicago (12-14) at Connecticut (14-12)
If not for a loss last Tuesday to the league-leading Shock, the Sun would be riding a nine-game winning streak after sweeping a home-and-away series from the Liberty this weekend. Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas have led the way for Connecticut of late, and Asjha Jones has hit clutch shot after clutch shot. Rookie Evanthia Maltsi has performed well while Nykesha Sales -- who returned to the court on Sunday -- recovers from a concussion. They've been among the hottest teams in the league and now sit fairly comfortably in third place in the East, two games up on Chicago.
The Sky have been nearly as hot, taking four of five, including recent triumphs over Indiana, San Antonio and Detroit. Not bad for a young squad that won only five games all of last season. Veteran Stacey Dales has been on fire, scorching the nets for 19.0 ppg over her last three. Candice Dupree has calmed over the past few weeks after her scorching start, but is still a valuable presence, Chasity Melvin has played well down low and rookie Cathy Joens has been scoring well off the bench.
Washington (10-14) at Indiana (16-10)
The Fever, long the class of the Eastern Conference, have fallen back to Earth with a thud since losing Tamika Catchings to a foot injury. They've lost six straight, including Sunday's 80-75 decision at Phoenix.
So what is different without Catchings in the lineup? "A lot of things," says coach Brian Winters. "She's our leading scorer, our leading rebounder, our best defender and leads us in assists. There's a lot categories to fill up there. We're still working our way through it."
Winters added guard Tan White to the starting lineup on Sunday with hopes of injecting some energy and scoring. White had a season-high 25 in her first start of the year, but she didn't get a ton of help from her frontcourt.
The Mystics have won four of six and, despite being tied for last in the East, stand only a single game behind fourth place Chicago for the final playoff spot. Tree Rollins has worked wonders since taking charge and has been getting a lot out of All-Stars Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton-Jones. Nikki Blue is starting to get more and more minutes, though her season high in scoring is only 12 points.
Los Angeles (8-16) at New York (10-14) (NBA TV)
The Sparks led for much of the way Sunday against the Shock, but ended up falling by two in Detroit, their ninth loss in 10 games. Taj McWilliams-Franklin was strong inside and newly healthy point guard Temeka Johnson had her best game of the season, notching 11 points and seven dimes. Still, the Sparks need more reliable scoring, whether from Johnson or rookies Sidney Spencer or Marta Fernandez. LaToya Thomas could be another to pump in some points as she works her way back into the regular rotation.
New York has struggled just as much as Los Angeles of late, losing their last six games, their last five by six points or less. They've been in just about every game, a testament to their well-rounded scoring and the remarkable rise of center Janel McCarville, who has 16 points or more in five of her last eight. But the Liberty seem to struggle down the stretch of games, going cold from the outside or making crucial late turnovers. This home game is a must-have if the Libs, who started the season off 5-0, have any hopes of making the playoffs in the piano-string tight East.
Detroit (20-6) at San Antonio (16-8) (ESPN2)
This is it: the best in the East versus the best in the West! Of course, this matchup on the last day of July doesn't have the impact of, say, a WNBA Finals game in September, but this game could help us place some of the significant puzzle pieces in the East-West hierarchy.
The Shock have won nine of their last 10 games despite playing their last five games without All-Star Game MVP and post power Cheryl Ford, who will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a knee injury. Center Katie Feenstra has stepped into the starting lineup and performed solidly and All-Star starter Kara Braxton has been handed increased playing time.
Still, without their force down low, the Shock players realize that no game will be easy. "Every game is going to be a battle and we have to pick up the slack," says Swin Cash, who had 16 points and 10 boards in Sunday's win over L.A. "Everybody has to step up and I think that the players are going to do that. Plenette [Pierson] has had two great games…. Other players have really been there."
The Silver Stars have been nearly as successful, claiming eight victories in their last 10, including Sunday's road triumph over the Storm that earned them a sweep of the regular season series. Becky Hammon has been incredibly clutch down the stretch of games for San Antonio and has been the impetus behind this team's turnaround, but Sophia Young has stepped up her game as well. Helen Darling has been solid in her starting role since Erin Buescher was lost for the season due to injury. This Tuesday night tilt at home will be a good test for Dan Hughes' crew.
Phoenix (16-10) at Houston (8-17)
The high-octane Mercury are hitting on all cylinders, having won four in a row and averaged nearly 97 points a game during that stretch. Diana Taurasi is still among the league leaders in scoring, Cappie Pondexter has been heating up and Penny Taylor has established herself as one of the league's elite offensive players. Center Tangela Smith led the way past Indiana on Sunday with 18 and 12 and is proving to be a vital addition at both ends of the court.
The Comets have been playing considerably better of late. Well, anything would be better than their 0-10 start… but they topped the Silver Stars in San Antonio last week behind Tamecka Dixon's 21 points. She has been a boon to the Houston offense since her arrival and Tina Thompson is still among the league's top overall talents, but they don't have the horses to consistently run with most of the other teams in the league.
Sacramento (14-10) at Seattle (13-13) (ESPN2)
Barring a late-season collapse, both teams look to have secured playoff spots in the West, but this tilt will help decide who ends up where and playing whom. The Storm fell on Sunday to the Silver Stars despite 29 from MVP candidate Lauren Jackson, 17 from Sue Bird and 15 apiece from Janell Burse and Betty Lennox. Seattle got but two points from its bench, though, and fell by four to the Western leaders. That's been the problem much of the season: a great starting five, but not much help off the pine. Tanisha Wright and Wendy Palmer need to contribute something aside from 10 minutes of rest for the starters.
The defending Western champs have been struggling as well, having lost four of six after Sunday's mild shocker against the Lynx and having. They've now fallen into third in the West, one game behind Phoenix and two behind San Antonio. Nicole Powell has turned into a legit go-to player for the Monarchs and Rebekkah Brunson has been gutting it out with a leg injury that is not 100 percent healed. Sacramento isn't getting much scoring production from its backcourt, and though defense remains the team's priority, the 17 points they got from their guards against Minnesota simply won't cut it.