WNBA Today, 06/17/2012: Potential Playoff Primers; Prince in Pain

Just two games this Saturday in the WNBA, but both with potential playoff implications down the line. Both could even be early previews of matchups we might see in the 2012 postseason.

The first game to tip off was Chicago’s trip to Indiana. The Sky held the prettier record heading into the game, but Indiana are the team with the history of making and advancing in the playoffs. All this winning is new to Chicago and they’re going to have to keep proving themselves as the season goes along. The Fever had lost three in a row, including a disappointing performance in Washington the night before. They needed a bounce-back performance to stop this losing streak from lingering and causing serious consternation.

Chicago made a switch to their starting five, noticeably trying to match up with this year’s smaller Fever starting lineup, featuring Tamika Catchings at power forward. The Sky slid Swin Cash to the 4 to guard Catchings, bringing Tamera Young in as an extra perimeter player and moving Ruth Riley to the bench. With Riley out there, Sylvia Fowles had been forced to guard Catchings in their previous game against the Fever, which puts added pressure on Big Syl. The change allowed Fowles to take Tammy Sutton-Brown as her initial assignment, and offer her standard help defense wherever else it proved necessary.

Unfortunately for the Sky, the lineup change ultimately proved something of a waste of time. Twice inside the opening three minutes of the game, Shavonte Zellous drove around Courtney Vandersloot, who bumped her as Zellous tried to shoot. Both occasions drew fouls on the Sky point guard, Sloot went to the bench, and Riley was back in anyway. So much for the new lineup.

Despite having their pre-game plans disrupted, Chicago were flowing nicely in the opening quarter. Continue reading

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WNBA Today, 06/16/2012: Blowouts, a squeaker, and a little bit of history

It was another heavy evening of action in the WNBA on Friday, with five games taking place in one night. Fortunately for me, the teams decided to take it easy on us poor writers and offer up an array of blowouts. Some of them even would’ve benefitted from a WNBA version of the mercy rule. Nonetheless, there were still some interesting moments, and one game that went down to the wire, so let’s get to it: WNBAlien Bullet Point Breakdown-style.

 

Indiana Fever 66 @ Washington Mystics 67

  • Tammy Sutton-Brown returned to the starting lineup at center for Indiana, after being losing her spot to Jessica Davenport for one game. Briann January continued to start in place of Erin Phillips at the point, with the Australian still in Europe with her national team.
  • Washington switched things up, with Jasmine Thomas, Matee Ajavon and Noelle Quinn starting on the perimeter. Dominique Canty was waived earlier in the week, and Monique Currie went to the bench. Mystics coach Trudi Lacey was clearly trying to avoid the horrendous starts her team has made a habit of lately, and was opening the game with the lineup that keyed Washington’s comeback in their previous game. She also had Canty’s replacement, Shannon Bobbitt, as a new point guard option off the pine.
  • The fresh starting lineup seemed to work for the Mystics. They avoided digging their typical first half hole, and even built a small lead in the second quarter. Indiana’s problem was that when they couldn’t get out and run off steals or long rebounds, their halfcourt offense wasn’t creating anything. There was very little going to the rim, resulting in a lot of jumpers, very few of which were falling.

WNBA Today, 06/14/2012: Parker puts on a show; Sky box out the Storm

So there were two WNBA games taking place last night, one on national television, and one available for live viewing virtually nowhere. So we likely had one of the most watched games of the regular season, and one of the least watched, taking place simultaneously. Fortunately, the one on ESPN2 was the significantly better spectacle. We here at WNBAlien, of course, play no favourites. Full coverage of both games follows, and yes, every minute of both games was witnessed. Just not live, thanks to those silly blackout rules.

Let’s start with the big game on the ‘Worldwide Leader’. Both Connecticut and Los Angeles came into this matchup with only one loss, but due to the teams they’d beaten and some late escapes the Sparks generally weren’t considered as impressive. This was their chance to prove themselves against a real test. LA had guard Alana Beard back in the lineup after she missed their previous game with a hamstring injury, but now had backup post Ebony Hoffman missing thanks to an ankle sprain. Connecticut had no injury issues, and head coach Mike Thibault stuck with Allison Hightower in his starting lineup ahead of Kalana Greene.

It was a scrappy start from the Sun, who were making too many passes that resulted in turnovers or at least tips by the Sparks defenders. LA are a long team – DeLisha Milton-Jones at small forward is far bigger than any of Connecticut’s wings, and Beard is pretty big for a guard as well – and it took the Sun a while to adapt. Meanwhile, although the Sparks were firing away a little too freely from outside, Nneka Ogwumike was doing her typical yeoman’s work on the offensive boards and cleaning up the leftovers.

Out of a timeout only six minutes into the game, we got a taste of what was to come for much of the night. The Sparks came out in their 2-3 zone – a zone which several other teams have found almost pathetically easy to score against this season – and Connecticut immediately gave up a 24-second shot clock violation. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 11/06/2012: Eastern Conference follows suit

So after an all-West double-header on Saturday night, the schedule threw up a pair of all-East clashes on Sunday afternoon. Just to maintain the symmetry, the Eastern games followed the same pattern – the leaders keep winning, and the stragglers continue to struggle.

We open in New York, where the Liberty came in with a three-game winning streak that had finally given them some hope for the 2012 season. However, their visitors were the Chicago Sky, who arrived as a 5-1 team who’ve been finding a way to win games this season – instead of give them away as they have in previous years.

New York once again had Plenette Pierson in the lineup, despite an injury that’s finally been disclosed as a hyperextended knee. She was ready to give everything she could, but clearly wasn’t playing at 100%. Chicago are at nine players for now, with Ticha Penicheiro still out due to her calf injury, and Shay Murphy in Europe to represent the Montenegrin national team.

The opening stages were worrying for New York, because their ‘white line’ defense was getting picked apart with ease by simple passes over the top to Sylvia Fowles under the hoop. Even when the Sky couldn’t get the ball in to her and fired up jumpers from outside, the fronting involved in the defensive system left Fowles with immediate position on the offensive boards, making her the favourite to put the ball right back in.

The Liberty were at least keeping in touch early thanks to an aggressive Cappie Pondexter – who looked like she was determined to produce against fellow Rutgers alumnus Epiphanny Prince, who’s had the more impressive start to the season – along with some solid interior passing. The problem was that as the first half progressed, New York ran out of ideas against the Chicago defense. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/10/2012: Western hierarchy maintained

Just two WNBA games last night, after the exertions of quintuple-game Friday. It was an all-Western evening, and neither game required paying much attention in the fourth quarter. Which was a good thing, considering Game 7 of the Miami-Boston NBA series was going on simultaneously, and LiveAccess had some unfortunate issues. Just occasionally, everything falls into place.

First up, the game that might actually have some impact on playoff positioning (and even qualification) somewhere down the line. Seattle were in San Antonio, looking to find a win that might jump-start their season. After the Storm’s obituary was prompted by their capitulation in Minnesota on Wednesday night, maybe they could start afresh and find some new life. The Silver Stars have hardly been tearing up the league themselves, and were coming off a tough, physical loss the night before in Atlanta. In fact, the Storm had been in San Antonio waiting for them for a couple of days, and should’ve been the fresher team despite being on the road.

Both teams kept faith with the starting lineups they’ve used in recent games. Seattle opened the contest encouragingly, finding Ann Wauters and Camille Little in the low post for finishes in the paint on two of their first three possessions. Given how few inroads the Storm had made down low in recent games, it was nice to see them get the ball inside early.

Unfortunately for the Storm, that was as good as it got in the first quarter. San Antonio were making everything, whether outside jumpers or on penetration and layups. They were even getting every call from the officials, although having an attack mentality and speed within your offense inevitably leads to whistles going in your favour. A 17-2 run for the Silver Stars built a 21-7 lead.

While many of their most obvious issues have been on offense this year, Seattle’s defense also isn’t what it used to be. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/09/2012: Four Nailbiters and a Mess

Let’s get right to this: five games last night, including several tight ones (a couple of which never should’ve been remotely close at the end). And one game that left you thinking an early night would’ve been a better idea.

 

New York Liberty 76 @ Washington Mystics 70

  • Trudi Lacey made a change in her starting lineup, inserting Michelle Snow ahead of Ashley Robinson at center. Snow offers slightly more offense, without quite the defensive presence or instincts of Robinson. It’s much of a muchness, to be perfectly honest. The decaying corpse of Dominique Canty continues to start at point guard (not that Washington have glorious options to replace her with).
  • New York, as expected, kept the same starters that have led them to win their last two games. That meant Plenette Pierson had been ruled healthy enough to play, after missing nearly the entire second half of Tuesday’s game with some kind of injury (the Liberty are typically thoroughly unhelpful in regards to letting us know about things like that).
  • Unfortunately for New York, Pierson played less than three minutes of this game before subbing out, and stayed out for the rest of the night. It’s still hard to tell what the injury actually is – she didn’t seem to be clutching anything as she left the floor – but regardless of the ailment, losing her hurts this team. She’s their engine, their solid, reliable core. The Liberty have other post options, but none of them are as dependable or as mobile as Pierson.
  • Fortunately for New York, they’ve got a lot of confidence right now whoever’s out there – and they were playing the Mystics. It was already 11-6 when Pierson sat down, and the massacre snowballed for the entire first half. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/07/2012: Here lies the Seattle Storm (a.k.a. Requiem for a Team)

In Affectionate Remembrance

of

THE SEATTLE STORM

which died at the Target Center

on

6th June 2012,

Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing

friends and acquaintances

R.I.P.

N.B. – The body will be cremated and the

ashes taken to Minnesota.

Okay, so I’m being a touch overdramatic. Also, there’s about three people who’ll read this and actually understand that reference (check here if you’re interested). Nonetheless, there was one WNBA game last night, and unless you happen to be a Minnesota Lynx fan, it was depressing. If you’re a devoted Seattle Storm fan, it must’ve felt a hell of a lot worse than that. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/06/2012: Liberty fight past Dream

All the focus was on just one game in the WNBA last night, with the New York Liberty looking to build on their first win of the season from Sunday night. In these early stages of the season, last night’s visitors Atlanta look like the most realistic option among the other top teams in the East for New York to beat out for a playoff spot. So having lost to Atlanta once already, it was an important game for the Liberty to ensure they didn’t drop behind 2-0 in the season series against the Dream. New York also needed to prove, both to their fans and themselves, that the performance against Indiana two days earlier hadn’t just been a fluke. Atlanta have had a choppy start to the season themselves, looking impressive one moment and terrible the next, so finding some rhythm and putting some space between themselves and New York in the standings would’ve been useful for them as well.

New York finally stuck with the same starting lineup from their previous game, hardly a surprise considering they came away with a victory last time out. Atlanta also continued with the same starting five that they’ve used since center Yelena Leuchanka returned to fitness. The Dream’s bench was a little different after Courtney Paris was cut in favour of Jessica Moore, but that didn’t change much besides the name next to ‘Did Not Play’ in the boxscore.

It was a tight first half, with neither team managing to establish much of an advantage. New York’s confidence was noticeably higher after finally getting their season going against Indiana. They were knocking down jumpers from outside early, and role players like point guard Leilani Mitchell and center Kia Vaughn were stepping back up to the levels we’ve seen from them in previous years.

Atlanta couldn’t get much going early on, and bizarrely the only shots dropping for star scorer Angel McCoughtry were three-pointers – a shot she typically struggles with. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/04/2012: So many games, so little time

There aren’t any six-game days on the WNBA schedule this year, which at least goes some small way towards keeping me sane. Yesterday, however, was one of several occasions where we get the next-best thing – one day, five games. That’s a lot of basketball, and a lot of writing. So we’re going game-by-game, chronological order, Bullet Point Breakdown-style, and hoping you all find something mildly entertaining in there somewhere.

 

Washington Mystics 86 @ Connecticut Sun 94

  • The teams came out in the ‘wrong’ uniforms (Connecticut road, Washington home), in a desperate attempt to sell a few road jerseys to the Sun fans.
  • Same starting fives as prior games for these teams, Matee Ajavon and Renee Montgomery still being used by their respective teams as bench energy despite typically playing starter minutes.
  • It wasn’t exactly gripping stuff in the first half. The Sun have more confidence than the Mystics these days, especially on their own floor, and it showed at times. But the only player they had who could offer any scoring punch at all was Tina Charles. The lack of offensive support she received meant the half drifted along with the Sun up 5 or 6 points most of the way.
  • Charles really was outstanding though, showcasing all the different ways she can score. Jump hooks, offensive boards for putbacks, running the floor for layups, mid-range jump shots – she’s got it all. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 06/03/2012: A Barnburner and a Blowout

Two games this Saturday night in the WNBA, one a wild matchup with crazy comebacks and buzzer-beaters galore, the other a demolition that sent a fanbase into yet further despair. Guess which one we’re going to start with?

Atlanta isn’t usually a fun place to arrive on the second half of a back-to-back. All they want to do is run you out of the building, and less than 24-hours after scraping past the Mystics, you wouldn’t have blamed Chicago for letting this one slip away. That wasn’t how it played out.

It certainly looked like it was going that way in the early stages, though. Both teams opened with their usual starting fives, but Atlanta looked like the only team who’d shown up mentally in time for the tip. With their defense playing passing lanes aggressively, and Sancho Lyttle in particular snaking those long arms out to pick up a swathe of steals, the Dream ignited their running game in the opening quarter. And this team is hard to keep up with once they start rolling. Armintie Price and Lindsey Harding were the main beneficiaries, as fast break after fast break led to easy points for Atlanta, and even on the rare half-court possession they had so much momentum that scoring seemed easy. Chicago head coach Pokey Chatman called multiple timeouts to try to break the momentum, and sent in a host of reserves to see if they could do any better than her starters, but nothing was working. Amazingly, Atlanta’s lead hit 22 in the first quarter, and it seemed like a blowout of monumental proportions could be on the cards.

But just as quickly as Atlanta had turned on the afterburners and raced away from Chicago, the jet fuel ran out and the pace of the game died. Continue reading