WNBA Today, 09/22/2012: Lottery positions cemented with trio of tepid contests

It was hard to find many meaningful implications in yesterday’s WNBA games. The playoff matchups and schedule were already decided, almost anyone with the slightest injury or sniffle was being given the night off, and much of the basketball was less than scintillating. But when you’ve stood firm through the first 93 days of the WNBA season, it would be frankly ridiculous to quit on the antepenultimate night. Especially when it gives you an excuse to use the thoroughly pointless word ‘antepenultimate’.

 

Indiana Fever 66 @ Washington Mystics 53

  • Amazingly enough, this game actually had a little meaning for both sides. Washington still needed one more loss to confirm themselves as the worst team in the WNBA this season, thereby securing the best odds in Wednesday’s draft lottery. Theoretically, with two games left, they still had a shot at catching Phoenix. For the Fever, while home-court advantage within the conferences has been decided, home-court in certain potential WNBA Finals matchups was still up in the air. They went into the night tied with San Antonio.
  • Of course, none of that really meant much. Six players who might well have started in this game if they were healthy – and it really meant anything – were missing. Washington had Crystal Langhorne out again due to her left foot strain, Noelle Quinn missing due to her shoulder, and Michelle Snow out due to either her back or her knee (depending on where you found your information). Indiana were still missing Briann January and Shavonte Zellous, who went home to be evaluated for concussion symptoms after hits taken in the game against Minnesota on Monday. Fellow starter Katie Douglas was also out, having gone back to Indiana already due to illness. With Erlana Larkins sliding into Douglas’s spot in the lineup, it was the first time all season that Tamika Catchings was back in her old small forward spot to start a game.
  • Let’s not waste much time on a dreary basketball game that no one really cared about. It was 28-26 Indiana at halftime, and the only notable aspects of the first half were that a) Catchings has grown so used to playing power forward that she was constantly fading into the paint defensively, even if she was meant to be at the 3. And b), yet another Fever player got injured. Karima Christmas, who was only playing so much because of the players already out, took a smack in the face midway through the second quarter from Ashley Robinson’s flailing arm. Once again an Indiana player looked dazed and had to be helped back to the bench. She didn’t return for the rest of the night.
  • Indiana pulled away in the second half, despite being down to essentially six players (three missing from the start, Christmas out, and Catchings being wrapped in cotton wool on the bench). Erin Phillips made some shots, Larkins and Jessica Davenport dominated the glass, and Washington repeatedly sent Davenport to the foul line. That was enough, against the moribund Mystics.
  • The lack of options did lead to some odd lineups. Indiana had Davenport, Larkins and Sasha Goodlett all on the floor together – a super-big lineup for a team that’s been going small all season. Washington countered with Monique Currie sliding to power forward and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton playing center – a small lineup they haven’t tried all year. It didn’t liven anything up.
  • There was an amusing moment when tiny point guard Shannon Bobbitt elevated and rejected big Jess Davenport’s shot from behind, though.
  • So it’s confirmed, Washington will finish with the worst record in the WNBA in 2012, and have cemented the highest percentage chance of landing Brittney Griner next week. The only question left is whether they can match last season’s 6-28 record by winning their final game, or if yet another loss will confirm their backward momentum.
  • Indiana will just be happy that the only Fever player who got hurt was a deep reserve.

 

Minnesota Lynx 89 @ Phoenix Mercury 66

  • The Lynx had confirmed home-court advantage over everyone in any playoff series a while ago, so while Lindsay Whalen returned after missing one game through illness, Taj McWilliams-Franklin got a night off to rest (or a ‘DNP-Old’, if you prefer). Phoenix no longer had a chance to lose enough to match the Mystics, but there was still a risk of catching Tulsa if the Mercury won their final two games. Phoenix decided the danger was low enough to allow rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis to return from her shoulder injury, and DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree were both in the lineup again as well. Diana Taurasi continues to sit out.
  • The only worthwhile aspects to this game for Minnesota were the hope that Seimone Augustus could shake off some of the rust from her sprained foot, and that Rebekkah Brunson might bounce back from a few weak performances. Augustus has looked fine physically since returning, but her shot hasn’t been falling with its usual smoothness. Brunson’s had a strange week. After exciting everybody with the way she was flying around snatching rebounds – which invariably translates into offensive production as well – she’s gone very, very quiet. Some of it is simply limited minutes, which has inevitably restricted her production, but Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve has generally been sitting her because she wasn’t playing that well to begin with. An average of just over 4 rebounds per game in her last 4 appearances just wasn’t very Brunson-y.
  • Phoenix were in this game for about 12 minutes. Bonner, Dupree and Prahalis each made a couple of shots, the Lynx took a while to get rolling, and that kept it close. Dupree looks like she’s recovering well from her knee surgery, with her mobility returning, and Prahalis’s shoulder seems fine. Minnesota backup guard Erin Thorn showed off the primary skill she’s always been known for, drilling three consecutive three-pointers, and that ignited the Lynx run that took over the game. Phoenix’s offense disappearing into one of the deep, deep holes that have swallowed it all season long played a part, too. Minnesota led 51-34 at halftime, and were up by at least 20 for the vast majority of the second half. It wasn’t exactly gripping stuff.
  • Rookie post Devereaux Peters, starting in place of McWilliams-Franklin, had another chance to impress. She’s not an especially polished scorer, but she’s athletic, active, and has a nice passing touch. She finished this game 3-8 for 8 points, but added 9 boards, 6 assists and 4 blocks. Fellow Lynx backup Amber Harris was out again due to illness, and Peters may be stealing some of her minutes while she’s gone.
  • Augustus seemed to be getting some of her touch back, although she ended the game 6-15 for 16 points. But as she proved in last season’s championship run, one thing that’s likely to show up when you need it is Seimone Augustus’s jump shot. Brunson was rather underwhelming yet again. She played 17 minutes for 4 points and 7 rebounds. Maybe I’m paying too much attention to production and performance in meaningless games with limited floor time, and she’ll turn it on as soon as the playoffs begin – but it’s not really the way you want to be playing heading into the postseason.
  • Phoenix confirmed the second-worst record in the WNBA with this loss (they can no longer catch Tulsa). It’s either the reward for a horrible season ruined by countless injuries, or the reward for the ‘tanking’ that’s been one of the hot topics around the WNBA all year. Regardless of how it happened, the Mercury will have the second-best odds on Wednesday night.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 75 @ Seattle Storm 84

  • More players missed out to make sure they’d be ready for the postseason – Seattle’s Svetlana Abrosimova with a sprained right wrist, San Antonio’s Jia Perkins with illness. On the other hand, Storm center Lauren Jackson returned after missing three games with a strained hamstring. After a little rest and an injection to relieve nerve pain, she was looking to build some rhythm and momentum before the first-round series against Minnesota.
  • While again both teams were playing for practically nothing, the first half was encouraging for Seattle and dispiriting for San Antonio. The Storm moved the ball well and shot exceptionally, with Jackson looking smooth on her way to 11 points on 5-6 shooting in under 9 minutes of action. It’s usually a bad sign when Seattle put up an endless series of jumpers, but they were taking open shots within the offense and knocking them down. You can’t really complain about that. San Antonio’s offensive execution was nowhere near as good. Shots were being forced up from outside, and there was a lack of penetration or interior attack. Late in the half they ran their comfort-blanket play – a Becky Hammon/Sophia Young pick-and-roll – only for Young to be comprehensively rejected by Ann Wauters at the rim. Moments later the same play left Hammon wide open for three – and she was badly off with the shot. Nothing was clicking for the Silver Stars, and they trailed 48-29 at halftime.
  • Katie Smith was having an impressive game, because she was smart and strong enough to take advantage when San Antonio essentially suggested she was the weak link. The Silver Stars were frequently guarding Smith with Becky Hammon, trying to hide Hammon defensively on the least threatening perimeter player. They’ve done that before against the likes of Nicole Powell with New York, or even Maya Moore with Minnesota last season (it didn’t work so well this year with Moore). But Smith posted Hammon up and bullied her way to points, or shot over Hammon outside, or made the passes for others to finish. While facing players like Moore and Augustus will be very different, it’ll be a huge bonus for Seattle if this version of Katie Smith shows up for the series against the Lynx.
  • The second half wasn’t quite the comfortable, relaxing blowout that the Key Arena crowd had started to expect in the opening 20 minutes. San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes made some adjustments, pushed his team into being more aggressive defensively, and the shots stopped falling so easily for the Storm. The Silver Stars made a few shots to open the third quarter, then Danielle Adams came in and gave them an interior presence that they’d lacked in the first half. Ultimately that all added up to a 16-2 run that pulled San Antonio back within 5 points.
  • With Ann Wauters having another strong night offensively, the Storm eventually held on for the home win the crowd was hoping for in the Key’s regular season finale. Christon bombed in another couple of threes in the final moments to make the finish a little nervy, but Seattle got there. In the end, San Antonio still didn’t make enough shots in the second half to complete the comeback.
  • While Seattle will obviously emerge from this game the happier, both these teams must be concerned about how they’ve closed out the regular season. With Jackson, Bird and others fighting off injuries, the Storm have never had the chance to put all the pieces together and build any real rhythm for the postseason. This was a step in the right direction, and they’ve got one more game on Sunday, but it could be too little too late. San Antonio have struggled in a lot of games over the last month, and better hope that Hammon is saving herself for the postseason – because if this Becky shows up for the playoffs, it could be a quick exit.

 

Notes

Two stars who were once part of the same blockbuster trade have signed contract extensions in recent days. Phoenix’s Candice Dupree and New York’s Cappie Pondexter have both committed to extra years with their existing teams, Pondexter announcing to the Liberty crowd that she’d signed for three further seasons. Both teams will be happy to have important players secured for the future, and to save their ‘core’ designation in case they need it for someone else.

 

Upcoming Games

Saturday September 22nd (today):

Tulsa @ New York, 2pm ET

Washington @ Chicago, 8pm ET

—–

Sunday September 23rd (tomorrow):

Seattle @ Phoenix, 3pm ET

Minnesota @ San Antonio, 3pm ET

Atlanta @ Connecticut, 5pm ET

Tulsa @ Indiana, 5pm ET

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