Professional Basketball

Teams Seek to Position Themselves in Season’s Last Month

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With two-thirds of the 2019 WNBA regular season in the books, only 6.5 games separate the league leader from the projected eighth seed, giving this season the potential of being one of the closest finishes the league has seen in a while.

While there are long odds that the bottom four teams in the league standings will make the playoffs, nobody has been eliminated just yet. The Atlanta Dream, currently holding the last place position, find themselves 13 games down from the league leaders, and 6.5 behind the eighth place Phoenix Mercury.

Here is a recap of WNBA League action so far:

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne has taken home five player of the week and two player of the month honors this season. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine.

1. Washington Mystics (18-7): The Washington Mystics are playing some of the best basketball in the league right now. They have won their last four consecutive games by wide margins, and are riding a streak where they have been on the winning side of nine of their last ten contests after dropping three in a row a month ago. The team is led by 2015 League MVP Elena Delle Donne, who is shooting a career high 51.5 percent this season, and has taken home five Eastern Conference Player of the Week Awards and both Player of the Month Awards. While the odds certainly are in her favor to take home League MVP honors again, she is still without the elusive championship, which the Mystics feel is within reach.

2. Connecticut Sun (17-8): Head Coach Curt Miller is probably feeling some relief knowing that his team will be playing the next three games at home, where they have an 11-1 record. They concluded a brutal four-game road trip with a 2-2 record, losing at Minnesota and Las Vegas. The Sun was on a seven-game winning streak until they were embarrassed in Minnesota on the short end of an 89-57 loss. Then they fell short against the Aces, before getting back on track with a win against the Phoenix Mercury, who played without center Brittney Griner who was serving her first game of a three game suspension. Despite the mid-season struggle, the Sun undoubtedly will make the playoffs and be in the thick of the fight for one of the top two seeds for what Miller hopes to be a deep playoff run.

3. Las Vegas Aces (17-9): A year ago, Bill Laimbeer’s team was in ninth place and on the bubble for playoff seeding. Now, in the second year of a three-year planned rebuild, the Aces are in third spot and battling for prime playoff seeding. Laimbeer has been in this position before with both the Detroit Shock and the New York Liberty. Dearica Hamby is averaging 15.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the last three games. However, the Aces play six of their last eight games away from Mandalay Bay Events Center, making for a true test prior to post-season play.

4. Los Angeles Sparks (15-9): Don’t turn your back on the Los Angeles Sparks. You would think that an off-season coaching shakeup would have the Sparks on the outside looking in for a season, but what head coach Derek Fisher has been able to do with this talented team is amazing. They started slow, with a 4-6 record in the first third of the season, but since then have posted an 11-3 record including eight consecutive games at home. They got upended by the Dallas Wings in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday, but play six of their last ten games at Staples Center, where they have shown their dominance thus far.

Chicago Sky’s Kahleah Copper attempts a layup over the outstretched arms of a Minnesota Lynx defender. Under first year head coach James Wade, the Sky has already exceeded its win total for each of the past two seasons. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

5. Chicago Sky (14-10): Under first-year head coach James Wade, the Chicago Sky has already defied expectations. With a 14-10 record, they have already surpassed their win total for each of the last two seasons. Guard Courtney Vandersloot is on pace to shatter the WNBA single-season assists record (258), which she set last season, and is 12 assists shy of reaching 1,600 for her career. She is in sixth place all-time in the assists category. Expect a playoff berth for the Sky, but they might not find out their seeding until the season ends as center Janel Lavender will miss the rest of the season after foot surgery.

6. Seattle Storm (14-12): The Storm plays their annual Breast Health Awareness game on Sunday versus the Minnesota Lynx. Considering the injuries to the Storm this year, the game should be one of the most important ones on the schedule, as head coach Dan Hughes missed the beginning of the season due to an off-season diagnosis of a cancerous tumor in his digestive tract that he had surgically removed. It forced Hughes to miss the first nine games of the season from the bench, after already losing Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart to injury. Still, at this point in the season, the 2018 defending champions are very much alive in the playoff hunt. After Friday’s game at Connecticut, they return home for their final four-game home stand before finishing with their last three on the road.

7. Minnesota Lynx (13-12): In one way, the Minnesota Lynx have defied expectations set for them at the beginning of the season, and in another they have fallen short. For head coach Cheryl Reeve, things are proceeding according to schedule. For a team that has been to the playoffs eight straight times, won four championships and had six Finals appearances, Reeve has established a winning system in Minnesota. The problem she faced heading into the season was keeping the winning going with a host of new players. She seems to be doing just that. Odyssey Sims is averaging 16.3 points, 7.7 assists and 2.33 steals in the last three games, while Sylvia Fowles recently took the all-time mark for double-doubles in league history and is the fourth player to record 600 career assists. They play five out of their last nine at home, which should improve their chances at playoff seeding.

Phoenix Mercury guard Leilani Mitchell is averaging a career-high 13.3 points per game this season, up from 4.4 points per game last season. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

8. Phoenix Mercury (11-13): It has been a frustrating season for Phoenix Mercury fans. Guard Diana Taurasi has only played in one game for 16 total minutes this season. The team has had to learn to play without their stalwart leader on the court this season, and then was dealt a severe blow when an in-game altercation against the Dallas Wings on Saturday left the team without center Brittney Griner, who was suspended for three-games. Furthermore, Taurasi was suspended for one-game for leaving the bench during the altercation. The bright spot is that Leilani Mitchell is averaging a career-high 13.3 points per game this season, up from 4.4 points per game last season. Another bright spot is that the Mercury plays six of their final ten games at home. If they can get past Saturday’s incident and focus on the future, they should do okay.

9. Indiana Fever (9-16): Of the nine wins so far this season, the Indiana Fever has managed to beat two teams that are higher in the standings than them. Seven of their wins have come against the Liberty, Wings and Dream. They have matched their win total from two seasons ago when Pokey Chatman took over the helm, and surpassed last season’s win total, but still find themselves 2.5 games from the eight seed with nine games remaining. Erica Wheeler needs seven assists to break Tamika Catchings single-season franchise record.

10. New York Liberty (8-16): Second year head coach Katie Smith is still developing her young squad. She has been teaching them the finer aspects of professional basketball, including the expectations. For Smith, it’s not the X’s and O’s that amount to being the difference maker. It’s the fundamentals. All season long she has been trying to get the team to improve their ball handling skills, cut down on turnovers and improve communication. They have now lost six in a row and nine of their last ten, which makes a playoff berth highly unlikely at this point. Of their final ten games, five are at home and five on the road.

11. Dallas Wings (8-17): The Dallas Wings have been playing shorthanded for most of the season, and Saturday’s altercation with the Phoenix Mercury hasn’t made this season any easier. Kristine Anigwe and Kayla Thornton each received two-game suspensions for their role in the incident and Kaela Davis received a one-game suspension for leaving the bench. Despite the challenges, head coach Brian Agler still maintains his philosophy that when somebody is not available, somebody else gets the opportunity. A playoff spot is still possible, but like the Liberty, highly unlikely. They play four at home and five on the road in their final nine games.

12. Atlanta Dream (5-20): For a team that nearly played for the championship a year ago to the league’s cellar dwellers, team president and general manager Chris Sienko and head coach Nicki Collen may have a lot of important decisions to make regarding the future of the franchise during the offseason. On one hand, they were playing short-handed without Angel McCoughtry, who sustained a season-ending injury last year and has not played at all this season, on the other hand, they will have a good shot at landing a high lottery pick in the draft. If the team parts ways with McCoughtry in the off-season, saving valuable salary cap space, and they manage to secure the top overall pick in the draft, the Dream may be worth screaming about in seasons to come. As for now, they are three games away from being mathematically eliminated from 2019 post-season play.

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