Post-Break Preview - West
Despite getting no rest in the Olympics, Swoopes and Tina Thompson will have to carry the load for the Comets.
What lies ahead: No WNBA team was affected more by the Olympics than Houston, which had Sheryl Swoopes and Thompson starting for the U.S. team and Van Chancellor on the sidelines instead of leading practice in Houston. As veterans, Swoopes and Thompson could have fatigue issues down the stretch. The schedule is reasonably favorable as the Comets try to move ahead of Phoenix and Sacramento in the West standings. Houston is done with L.A. and Seattle, has four games left against the three teams most affected by injuries (Minnesota, San Antonio and Washington) and plays the other four games (even home-road split) against Phoenix and Sacramento, putting destiny in their own hands. The bad news is Arcain has reportedly chosen not to return to the Comets after the Olympics.
Key player: Holland-Corn. The Comets need a reliable fourth scorer after Swoopes, Thompson and center Michelle Snow, and Lambert is too inconsistent to fit that role. Holland-Corn was terrific as a reserve in Detroit, and a return to that role seemed to spark her in July. In five games as a reserve, she shot 56.0% from the field and 43.8% from downtown.
Los Angeles Sparks
Leslie is the only WNBA player averaging a double-double.
What lies ahead: The home-road slant of the schedule will even out down the stretch, as Los Angeles plays a league-high six of its eight games at the STAPLES Center. However, the Sparks may be without forward Laura Macchi (and guard Raffaella Masciadri), who were placed on the suspended list during the break as they returned home to Italy. Macchi had emerged as Milton-Jones' replacement in the starting five and had been one of the league's most productive rookies. With Tamika Whitmore likely in the starting lineup, the Sparks bench is incredibly thin, with only rookie post Christi Thomas averaging more than 10 minutes per game so far this season.
Key player: Nikki Teasley. After Teasley broke onto the All-WNBA second team last season, it was expected she'd take another step forward in her third season in the league. While she does lead the league with 6.0 assists per game, her scoring has been inconsistent. With the ranks of Sparks scorers thinning, Teasley may have to look for her own shot more.
Smith's loss is a blow to the Lynx's playoff chances.
What lies ahead: The warm fuzzies of the Lynx's first half were interrupted by a bruised knee suffered by star wing Katie Smith in late July. Smith missed three games with a knee contusion, but Minnesota won two of those three games to go into the break strong. Still, it came as devastating news when Smith tore cartilage in her knee and was ruled out for the season. The injury robs the Lynx of their best player and one of just two double-figure starters. Given the Minnesota offense was already the second-worst in the WNBA on a per-possession basis, the Lynx may really struggle to put the ball in the hoop in September. At the same time, the defensive intensity should be even greater in Smith's absence, and anyone who doesn't take the Lynx seriously down the stretch will be in for a rude surprise.
Key player(s): Ohlde, Svetlana Abrosimova and Tamika Williams. These are the three main players who are going to have to step up to try to replace the points lost with Smith's injury. Ohlde has impressed on defense, but she hasn't been the high-percentage scorer she was at Kansas State, shooting 41.6% from the field. Still, in Smith's absence, she is the team's leading scorer. Abrosimova wasn't 100% before the break because of a herniated disk in his back, but she averaged 10.0 points in Smith's absence and is the team's best player at creating her own offense. Williams once again leads the league in field-goal percentage, but her points per game have fallen for the second straight season, a trend she needs to reverse.
Taurasi is looking to add Rookie of the Year to the numerous honors she's won this year.
What lies ahead: Phoenix got good news when 6-8 Russian center Maria Stepanova, who has not played in the WNBA since 2001 - when she averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game - decided to re-join the team after the Olympics (though Graf maintains she's still not counting on Stepanova until she sees her with the team). Stepanova should be a major upgrade over Slobodanka Tuvic in the middle and gives Phoenix a chance to do big things if she can quickly be integrated into the lineup. However, with three Olympians on the roster, fatigue may be a factor for the Mercury. Phoenix can't afford to start slowly because of the fierce battle for the last two playoff spots in the West. The schedule is tough, with two games apiece against Detroit, L.A. and the Storm.
Key player: Stepanova. There's a line of thinking amongst Mercury fans that the team hasn't done more to upgrade the center position because it's been waiting for Stepanova to return and be the answer. That means there could be a lot of pressure on Stepanova if she actually appears in a Phoenix uniform. Stepanova's performance won't break the Mercury's season, but it could make the difference in the battle for playoff spots if she comes in motivated and effective.
The Monarchs will need Lawson's outside shooting down the stretch.
What lies ahead: The Monarchs face arguably the most brutal schedule in the league, including an arduous five-game road trip that lasts 13 days (assumedly, the team won't be on the road that entire time, returning to Sacramento a few times between games). All told, six of Sacramento's remaining nine games will be away from ARCO Arena, a difficult obstacle to overcome in the battle with Houston, Phoenix and Minnesota. Sacramento does have only two games left against the Storm and Los Angeles.
Key player: Kara Lawson. A popular breakout pick before the year, Lawson started slowly because of injuries but had a great July, averaging 9.7 points and shooting 48.3% from downtown. Lawson has been more effective as a starter (in place of veteran Edna Campbell, who has spent two stints on the injured list), shooting 52.8% in nine starts (Sacramento is 5-4 in those games). Lawson is the best bet to supply the perimeter punch that the Monarchs could use.
San Antonio Silver Stars
Because of injuries, Johnson hasn't been herself this season.
What lies ahead: For the second straight summer, Shell Dailey takes over the Silver Stars on an interim basis. Last year, San Antonio was 6-6 under Dailey after starting 6-16 under Candi Harvey. Dailey might have had a shot at the full-time job had she not given birth to her first child this winter. Dailey will have to establish a new rotation without both Ferdinand and Bibrzycka, who will return to Poland after San Antonio's Sep. 1 to play with the Polish national team in the 2005 European Championship qualifying round. The Silver Stars are already all but eliminated from the playoff hunt, and even catching any other team in either conference would be a monumental task. That makes the rest of the season important mostly to getting everyone on the same page for another playoff run next year.
Lennox is a candidate for Most Improved Player.
What lies ahead: The Storm's two weeks of August practice were almost entirely conducted without stars Bird and Jackson as well as Coach Anne Donovan; only the Houston Comets were similarly interrupted. The Storm plays five of its final nine games on the road and has two matchups with the Sparks to try to gain on them for the top spot in the West.
Key player: Lennox. She was terrific and consistent before suffering a broken nose against Houston. After returning to the lineup, she had some great games but disappeared at other times. The month off helped her nose, and Lennox looked great over the break, good signs for the Storm.