WNBA Today, 06/30/2012: Playing away can be fun

Three WNBA games last night, all overlapping each other. Sometimes, the multi-game view in LiveAccess can be very useful. Considering very few of the fans in attendance went home happy, maybe they’d have been better off in front of a computer screen as well. Let’s get right to it, via the Bullet-Point Breakdown.

 

Connecticut Sun 77 @ Washington Mystics 64

  • For the fifth straight game, Sun coach Mike Thibault retained the same starting lineup, with Kalana Greene and Alison Hightower on the perimeter ahead of Danielle McCray. Washington switched things up a little, bringing Shannon Bobbitt in at the point to replace Jasmine Thomas. For whatever reason, Monique Currie continues to come off the bench – so the Mystics still haven’t tried starting all their best players together for a single game this season.
  • Washington were without backup guard Natasha Lacy due to concussion-like symptoms.
  • The game started poorly for Washington, with multiple turnovers and a forced timeout when Bobbitt picked up her dribble and was trapped. It looked like a blowout waiting to happen.
  • Despite those early problems, Bobbitt illustrated quickly that she was an upgrade on Thomas. Bobbitt has drawbacks – she’s tiny, at times she over-dribbles or has tunnel vision, she often can’t finish inside, and she’s not as good a shooter as she thinks she is – but she makes things happen. If the shot-clock’s running down she’ll penetrate and create something, even if it’s something fairly undesirable. Even when the ball’s in someone else’s hands, she’s often pointing and directing everyone as to what they should be doing. She gives this team a pace and directness they haven’t had with their other lead-guard options.
  • After their lead went as high as 11 in the first-quarter (ooh, unintentional Spinal Tap reference), the Sun relaxed a little too much. It had almost been too easy, and they took their foot off the gas. The ball stopped moving as well as it usually does in their offense, their key post pairing of Tina Charles and Asjha Jones faded out of the game, and Washington drifted back into it.
  • Offensive rebounds were helping the Mystics as well, even if they often only led to an extra opportunity to miss. Continue reading
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WNBA Today, 06/29/2012: San Antonio teach LA a lesson in team basketball. Again.

Either by coincidence or design, the WNBA left last night free for everyone to focus on the NBA Draft (which was filled with kids who wouldn’t be eligible for the WNBA equivalent if they were female, but that’s a debate for another day). The only game yesterday was yet another Kids’ Day contest in the early afternoon, featuring the third match-up in the recent weeks between Los Angeles and San Antonio.

The Silver Stars won both previous encounters – the first in overtime, the second in a blowout – so this was a chance for either confirmation of superiority, or revenge. Having lost to Tulsa on Tuesday night in another embarrassing defeat, the Sparks needed some kind of bounce-back performance to snap them out of the funk they’ve slipped into. San Antonio were just looking to continue their development, cut further into LA’s advantage in the standings, and send all their screaming fans home happy.

The same starting lineups began the game as in the last clash between these teams, and the game picked up right where Sunday night had left off – San Antonio dominated. The Sparks started out with a couple of plays that had clearly been scripted by the coaching staff – post-ups for Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike – but their offense quickly devolved into far too many jump shots. Meanwhile, at the other end, the Silver Stars were picking them apart.

Once again, the most noticeable difference between these teams was the chemistry and teamwork that San Antonio exhibit. They make the extra pass, and they rotate to help defensively when necessary. This is a team to a far greater extent than LA. Their execution offensively is also far superior. They move without the ball and find the open shooter, and if someone slides open on a pick-and-roll, more often than not they’ll receive the ball. LA just aren’t anywhere near as organised or crisp, there’s a lack of communication on screens and traps, and it leaves them looking a mess. And when these breakdowns give up points on the defensive end, their heads drop and it affects their offense as well.

Of course, it helped San Antonio that they were making every shot on offer as well. LA’s weak rotations and inability to close out on shooters helped, but there’ll be days where they’re this open and still not hit much. With everything falling for Sophia Young, Shameka Christon and Jia Perkins, the Silver Stars were up 26-11 less than nine minutes into the game.

The fact that Young had 11 of San Antonio’s points at that stage didn’t reflect too well on Parker. The Silver Stars had come out with the same defensive assignments as in previous games – Jayne Appel on Parker, Young on Ogwumike – but LA had switched around. Parker was the primary defender on Young, and it didn’t work at all. All the statements about her new dedication to defense from earlier in the season seem to have been forgotten, and Candace is back to being the same defender she’s been for most of her career. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/28/2012: Day or night, injuries take their toll

Just two games in the WNBA on Wednesday, and unfortunately injuries continue to play a key role in how these contests play out. It’s going to be nice to come back in August and see healthier, more complete rosters take the floor.

The early game was in Chicago, where Indiana arrived for their second Kids’ Day outing in succession. Not the greatest piece of scheduling the world has ever seen. The key injury here was obviously Epiphanny Prince, the Sky guard who looked like she might be making ‘The Leap’ into an elite class in the early weeks of the season. Prince was in attendance, but she was hopping around on crutches, not in uniform. She should be back to start the second half of the season along with the rest of us.

Other team news for Chicago had backup post Le’coe Willingham missing for personal reasons (although she was sat right next to Prince on the bench in street clothes), and Shay Murphy back after missing five games to represent Montenegro in EuroBasket Women qualifiers (they went 4-0, by the way). Sydney Carter had been cut after one game, because for the first time since May 19th, veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro was in uniform and ready to play. Penicheiro’s recovery from her lingering calf injury meant that the hardship exception used to sign Carter immediately expired.

The Sky had lost their previous two games, both played essentially without Prince. But this was their first game back on their own floor without her, and the first one they might’ve felt capable of winning in her absence. The Fever have been inconsistent lately, with both Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas struggling to find their jump shots. The Fever were also fairly comfortably beaten the day before in Atlanta, so were carrying the fatigue from a back-to-back. With Indiana 2-0 up in the season series already, Chicago needed this one to avoid conceding the tiebreaker that could come into play at the end of the year.

Both teams started the expected groups – without Prince, Chicago presumably didn’t feel they had the players to go small again to match up with Indiana’s ‘Catch at the 4’ lineup. The early stages featured a stark contrast in styles, with Chicago working hard to feed Sylvia Fowles in the paint, while Indiana fired in perimeter jump shots. Largely speaking, the success rates were fairly similar and the game stayed close.

While both teams diversified their attacks, neither team managed to take control throughout a tight first half. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/27/2012: Dream win early, Storm win late, and Sparks suffer a nasty Shock

It was a unusual schedule for the WNBA yesterday. We had one game on so early that most people with ‘normal’ jobs couldn’t watch it; one game on national TV that everyone was petrified would be so excruciating that the league would lose fans rather than gain them; and one that was blacked out everywhere and impossible to watch until it was over. But as ever, WNBAlien is here to meet your needs, and cover all the action, Bullet Point Breakdown-style.

 

Indiana Fever 58 @ Atlanta Dream 70

  • It was the same starting five as usual for Indiana, with Shavonte Zellous starting despite the neck strain that forced her out early in Saturday’s game against Tulsa.
  • For the Dream, Ketia Swanier started once again at point guard, ahead of Lindsey Harding. If Harding’s fit to play, despite the ankle injury she suffered last week, it’s hard to understand the rationale behind bringing her off the bench. But it’s often hard to understand what’s going on in Marynell Meadors’s head.
  • The first quarter was Indiana’s. Tamika Catchings picked up two quick fouls (the first was cheap, the second could easily have been a charge on Angel McCoughtry instead), but Erlana Larkins came off the bench and filled the gap smoothly. McCoughtry was very quiet early on, and with the Fever taking good care of the ball Atlanta couldn’t get out on the break, leaving their offense utterly anaemic. So the Fever led 18-12 at the end of the first.
  • And that, frankly, was as good as it got for Indiana for the rest of the day. The momentum of the game swung entirely in Atlanta’s favour in the second period. A couple of quick shots from the Fever created long rebounds that let the Dream stretch their legs, a couple of sloppy passes did the same, and suddenly Atlanta were off and running.
  • Meanwhile, Indiana’s penetration had completely disappeared, and the only shots they were throwing up were perimeter jumpers, that wouldn’t fall. They shot 1-15 as a team in the second quarter. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/25/2012: Ever Increasing Victories

So, three WNBA games this Sunday, and the levels of defeat became increasingly comprehensive as we went along. It was like the basketball gods were tired of this week and just wanted it over and done with. They had no time left for tight, hard-fought contests. This was a day where the threat of overtime never even remotely raised its head above the parapet.

First up was Atlanta’s trip to New York, a game which completed the four-game season series between these teams, despite the fact that it’s still June. Address all complaints to the WNBA scheduling department. While they’ve had a largely miserable start to the season, two of the Liberty’s four wins this year have come over the Dream, so a win in this game would’ve taken the series 3-1 and given them the tie-break over Atlanta. Assuming New York still have hopes of making the playoffs, that’s something that could come into play later in the year. Thoroughly inconsistent themselves this year, the Dream were looking to bounce back from a loss to this same Liberty squad last Tuesday.

Making that recovery far more likely was the simple fact that leading scorer and star player Angel McCoughtry was back in uniform, after missing a couple of games with an MCL sprain. There was more encouraging news for the Dream in that both Tiffany Hayes and Lindsey Harding were dressed and ready to play after their ankle injuries late in the last game. Ketia Swanier had been moved into the starting lineup, but Harding was fit enough to come off the bench. She looked like she was in a lot of pain on Tuesday night, so it was good to see her in one piece. New York were still without Plenette Pierson due to what was previously a hyperextended knee – although the official listing in the box score for this game read ‘calf strain’.

The first quarter was dominated by Atlanta. McCoughtry came out firing, but the Dream swiftly realised that they could knife through what New York were generously calling ‘defense’ at will. While the Liberty were clanking perimeter jumpers off the rim, Atlanta were constantly in the paint for layups, either in transition or in the halfcourt. It was far too easy for the Dream, and they were up 26-16 by the end of the first quarter.

The opening period also contained one of the worst charging calls you’re ever likely to see. Armintie Price was coming in for a layup, and Essence Carson was still sliding both backwards and sideways when she flopped on the ground after barely any contact from Price. Hideous call.

The only good sign for New York in the first quarter was that point guard Leilani Mitchell was already 3-3 from three-point range. In general, when Mitchell’s produced points this season, the Liberty have won games. Now they just needed to remember how to do everything else. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/24/2012: Favourites all cement their superiority. Just.

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday – it’s been a busy few days in WNBAlien-land. Everything should be back to normal next week. For now, we’re going to catch up on Friday night’s game, as well as everything that happened on Saturday. Everyone who was supposed to win eventually took care of business, but some of them did it with far greater ease than others.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 76 @ Seattle Storm 82

  • Both teams went with the starting fives we’ve come to expect from recent games. Seattle’s bench was slightly shorter than usual with Victoria Dunlap out again due to concussion – but then, Brian Agler probably wouldn’t have used her anyway.
  • Those starting lineups created a matchup at center between Ann Wauters and Jayne Appel, and once again it didn’t reflect well on Wauters. The Belgian is supposed to be a top-level pivot, one of the better centers around, at least offensively. Appel, on the other hand, has been a huge disappointment for most of her WNBA career, and we’re still waiting on her to prove she even belongs at this level. Wauters makes her look good. It seems like the perfect matchup for Appel, who bodies Wauters just enough to make her uncomfortable, usually without drawing whistles. Wauters should be able to do better against her, but it’s the second time in two games between these teams that the Storm center has done practically nothing.
  • Meanwhile, defensively, Wauters continues to be a conspicuous flaw in the Storm’s structure. Everyone else is starting to work it out and find their old form, but her rotations and mobility are weak, and she gets lost an awful lot. A central part of the Storm starting the season so poorly is that Wauters was meant to be better than this. Replacing Lauren Jackson with her has proven to be a huge step down.
  • As a unit, it didn’t feel like Seattle were playing that poorly in the early stages, but they couldn’t make any shots. The team defense was still largely working as it should, but Jia Perkins came in for San Antonio and actually tickled the twine. The Silver Stars led 17-11 at the end of the first quarter as a result.
  • Danielle Adams offers a balance to Wauters: she can’t move or guard anyone either. In this game, she also couldn’t hit any shots, which essentially made her useless. Continue reading

WNBA Todays 06/21/2012 & 06/22/2012: Double the W

Apologies for the late posting, it’s been one of those weeks where WNBAlien is restricted by non-WNBA related matters. In order to make up for it, we offer up a double dose of WNBA coverage – both of Wednesday’s games, and both of Thursday’s as well. So two later than usual, but two considerably earlier. See, it all evens out in the end.

Let’s hit the Bullet Point Breakdowns.

 

Washington Mystics 77 @ Phoenix Mercury 88

  • Already without Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi, the Mercury were missing Candice Dupree and Nakia Sanford for this game as well. Both had picked up ‘left knee contusions’ in the loss to Tulsa on Sunday night. Assuming you believe the Mercury (more on that later). Alexis Hornbuckle and Krystal Thomas came into the starting lineup.
  • Washington stuck with the same starting five they’ve used lately (including the blowout loss to LA on Monday).
  • Most of this game was pretty awful, in terms of actual basketball. In the first half, against a woefully understrength Mercury team, Washington settled for far too many jump shots. Phoenix did the best they could with the personnel they had left, but came out with their 3-2 zone which constantly left shooters ludicrously open.
  • It’s amazing how often Mercury players seem to be close enough to challenge shots, but their arms are down by their sides. How hard is it to stick your hand in the air and make some mild effort to contest? Don’t they teach you that when you’re five? Continue reading