Post-Break Preview - East
Sutton-Brown has bounced back this season.
What lies ahead: The Sting has to like its chances right now; no other Eastern Conference team has as much experience, playoff or overall, in its starting five, and the Sting has no juggernaut in the way of making the WNBA Finals. Then again, it wasn't juggernauts that tripped up Charlotte the last two seasons, it was lesser first-round opponents. The Sting's remaining schedule features no unwinnable games; Charlotte's most difficult road matchups are at Detroit and New York, opportunities to gain ground in the East. Over the break, Charlotte added new mothers Teana Miller (formerly McKiver) and Jia Perkins to the roster, but it's unlikely either player will have a major impact this season.
Key player: Powell. She averaged 13.3 points in the last four Sting games before the break. Can she maintain her momentum after a month off? Critics still question her defense, but Powell has scored double-digits every time she's played at least 20 minutes and has also been a terrific per-minute rebounder. Powell doesn't yet have a WNBA position, which means Lacey can be creative in using her off the bench.
McWilliams-Franklin earned her fourth All-Star berth this season.
What lies ahead: The Sun has plenty of experience in its starting lineup, but not at point guard, and how Whalen holds up as the pressure grows in September will be critical. Of course, Whalen faced plenty of pressure in leading Minnesota to the Final Four this spring, and the month off will be particularly valuable for rookies like her who have played heavy minutes with only a month off between their NCAA and WNBA seasons. Connecticut benefits from being the only WNBA team without a player in the Olympics, giving them uninterrupted practices during most of August. The schedule is generally favorable, with a nationally-televised test against the Storm on the 12th.
Key player: Whalen is an obvious pick, but what about Douglas? A 44.9% and 43.8% shooter the last two season, Douglas is down to 36.6% this season. Given she's shooting 35.9% from three-point range, she's connecting on a dismal 37.2% inside the arc. Her turnovers have also increased by 60% to their highest point since her rookie season. Douglas shot just 32.6% in July. Can she get it turned around?
Cash and Riley represented the Shock in Athens.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty
What lies ahead: For all the problems, Detroit is still tied for second in the East with Connecticut and in position to claim home-court advantage for the second straight season. The question is, are the Shock's problems fixable? If opponents and referees have caught on to the Shock's tricks, and if Nolan, Cheryl Ford and Ruth Riley can't get their shooting percentages to where they were in 2003, maybe not. Detroit also faces the hardest schedule of any Eastern Conference team, with a brutal four-game trip to Charlotte, Phoenix, L.A. and Seattle still on tap; a 2-2 performance on that trip would be a major success. Still, never count out the defending champs.
Key player: Nolan. Detroit isn't going to get three-point shooting from anyone else on the roster, so Nolan simply has to be better than she has been. During national broadcasts of Shock games, announcers love to make the comparison between Nolan and Michael Jordan and note how Detroit Coach Bill Laimbeer has said Nolan could lead the league in scoring. But Detroit doesn't need Jordan right now; the Shock needs the Nolan of 2003, meaning better shot selection from downtown and more catch-and-shoot instead of creating off the dribble.
Catchings' shooting percentage is down this season.
What lies ahead: Alas, the schedule doesn't get a ton easier, with only three home games left, one of them against the Storm. The Fever does get three games against two teams, the Minnesota Lynx and Washington Mystics, that are without their star players. Even with the losing streak, Indiana is just two games out of first place in the East and a game out of a playoff spot, so if the Fever can forget about the last two weeks of July, it certainly has the chance to turn its season around.
Key player: Ebony Hoffman. The rookie center from USC started 13 games early in the season, but played a much smaller role during the losing streak (coincidence?). Hoffman has been a phenomenal rebounder, ranking fourth in the league with 10.8 rebounds per 40 minutes, but she needs to shoot better than 32.3% to stay on the court. Getting to the free-throw line would help; Hoffman has attempted just four free throws in 260 minutes of action.
New York Liberty
Hammon earned a second straight All-Star berth in her first year at the point.
Jesse D. Garrabant/NBAE/Getty
What lies ahead: New York is one of two East teams (Charlotte is the other) with nine games left on the schedule, which has to be a disadvantage. Five of them, however, are in New York. The Liberty also has only one Western Conference game left on the schedule, that against woeful San Antonio. Besides for fatigue (three back-to-backs remain), the schedule sets up well for New York to claim home court in the East.
Key player: Baranova. Fortunately for the Liberty, she saw only limited action in the Olympics as Russia made full use of its frontcourt depth, a la the U.S. Still, Baranova did not get the month off, which may affect her. Beyond that, Baranova had been playing the best ball of her career at 32 (46.8% from the field vs. previous career-best 42.7%, for example), which might have been tough for her to keep up either way. Whether she does keep it up might decide whether New York stays atop the East.
Beard appeared to breakout during July.
What lies ahead: Probably not Holdsclaw's return; the Mystics aren't publicly expecting her back this season, if at all. Washington has an even 4-4 home-road split the rest of the way and no back-to-backs, but three games against playoff contenders from the Western Conference. If Beard can continue her strong play and several players who were banged up in late July are back at full health, the Mystics will contend for a playoff spot.
Key player: Beard. While the Mystics are talking about a balanced team attack that would stand in contrast to the Holdsclaw era, they still need someone to create their own shots, and Beard is the player in the lineup most capable of doing that. Between the high scoring and her impressive perimeter defense, Beard was one of the league's best guards over the last two weeks before the break, and she falls into the Whalen category of rookies who could have used the month off.