Sometimes, the WNBA can be pretty predictable. When one team fighting at the top of a conference faces a sub-.500 team heading backwards, there’s a likely result. When the two worst teams in the West face off, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the game ends up scrappy and tight. And when the league’s best team faces a squad that have been fighting for their lives all year, a blowout is on the cards. Let’s take a look at Sunday’s action.
- The bad news for Los Angeles was that Candace Parker was still out with her right wrist injury, and had in fact left the team to head back to LA for an MRI. She’s listed with a bone bruise and is day-to-day. Mike Thibault made a change to his starting lineup, finally reacting to the fact that his bench was frequently outperforming his starters. Rookie Emma Meesseman came in for Michelle Snow at center, putting her alongside Crystal Langhorne in the post. Interestingly, Thibault was reluctant to use Langhorne and Meesseman together at all at the start of the season – both are primarily power forwards at this level, so it can be an awkward fit. Now he was trying them as his starting frontcourt.
- For the first few minutes, Washington were on top, with everything rimming out for LA while the Mystics made a series of short jumpers. But that balance was very short-lived. The Sparks were getting deep into the Washington defense with Nneka Ogwumike finishing inside, Marissa Coleman came off the bench and started nailing jumpers, while all the Mystics could offer were bricks from the perimeter. LA took control.
- The silver lining in Parker’s injury for LA could be the extra responsibility it places on Ogwumike to step up. While she’s put together solid numbers, she has a tendency to fade into the background in many games while Parker and the perimeter stars dominate the ball. With Parker out she can be more of a focus for the offense, remind everyone – including herself – what she can do, and then hopefully keep that rolling after Parker returns.
- Washington made a bit of a run in the second quarter to get themselves back into the contest, but there were still too many turnovers, too much one-on-one play, and too many jumpers being fired up. The home commentators were happy about how high a percentage of their scoring was coming in the paint – but that was because they weren’t getting to the line and they weren’t making any jump shots. When that happens, virtually all your points have to come in the paint. There’s no other way to score. LA led 33-26 at halftime.
- LA blew the game open in the third quarter. Parker’s replacement, center Jantel Lavender, had trouble getting anything to drop in the first half. In the third period her little hooks inside and even her mid-range jumper started to fall. Lindsey Harding was left far too open by Washington’s defense to knock down a few jumpers, and the Sparks simply eased away into the distance. After a couple of moments of promise where Langhorne finished in the paint and Ivory Latta reminded us she was on the floor, Washington went back to the same aimless play from the first half. Their defensive rotations weren’t great at all, but the offense was where everything was really breaking down. They were forcing up awful shots under pressure, failing to draw any fouls or hit anything from outside. Trailing 59-39 at the end of the third, the game was over.
- The last few weeks have been disappointing from the Mystics after the early stages of the season raised expectations. As Latta’s cooled off their perimeter success has dropped dramatically, and they’re not hurting teams as much any more. In his halftime interview, Mike Thibault talked about Meesseman’s promotion into the starting lineup being about developing the youth and building for the future of this team, not necessarily being about success this year. That has to be the case – this was never meant to be a one-year turnaround – but it’s still disappointing when the losses start to pile up. They remain in a playoff spot, and the state of the Liberty and Sun means they still have a decent shot at staying there, but their position is looking increasingly precarious.
- It was a solid performance from LA, albeit with some bumps along the way and plenty of help from their opponent. They showed that they’re capable of performing without their star – they damn well ought to be, considering the other talent on their roster – and took care of business. Ogwumike led the way going 10-18 for 22 points and 10 boards, while Harding finished 4-7 for 11 points and a career-high 14 assists. She did a nice job making sure the posts got the ball in good position, rather than looking for her own shot or waiting for her perimeter teammates to fire over the defense. They didn’t even need anything from Kristi Toliver, who was a virtual nonentity for the entire afternoon.
- This was the first of four meetings between these teams in 2013, and if either has designs on making a playoff run it could be an important series. If Tulsa or San Antonio want to make a push into the top four in the West, dominating the games against their fellow strugglers will likely be a necessary element. If they end up 2-2, there’s a decent chance they’ll both be on the outside looking in at the end of the season.
- Both teams had the same starting lineup as in recent games, DeLisha Milton-Jones continuing to sit out for San Antonio due to her knee, and Skylar Diggins continuing to be kept on the bench by Angel Goodrich. The one surprise absentee was Tulsa’s Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Riquna Williams, out with a minor ankle injury and day-to-day according to the Shock’s Twitter account.
- A huge part of this game came down to Liz Cambage versus Jayne Appel. Cambage has finally started to turn her size and skills into real dominance on the floor in recent weeks, with several teams struggling to handle her and Glory Johnson in the paint. But Appel has developed into a strong interior defender, and she’s big enough to give Cambage something to worry about inside. Appel started the game doing precisely what you’d expect – playing solid, straight-up defense, staying between Cambage and the basket, and making it difficult for the big Aussie to finish inside.
- So San Antonio were on top in the first quarter, with Danielle Robinson and Jia Perkins leading the way offensively from the backcourt. Tulsa turned things around in the middle of the second quarter when Cambage started having some success. San Antonio were having problems against her on the pick-and-roll because Appel was sliding over to hedge against the ballhandler, but the gap was still there to make the pass to a rolling Cambage. Once she got the ball, with Appel out of position, there was nothing San Antonio could do to handle her. Even if Danielle Adams managed to rotate over in time as she’s supposed to do in that situation as the help defender, Cambage was just too big for Adams and scored anyway. With Roneeka Hodges hitting a couple of threes as well, the Shock put together a 17-0 run that helped them to a 35-33 halftime lead.
- Tulsa’s lead hit double-digits in the third quarter as the same problems with Cambage on the pick-and-roll persisted, but the game swung back around in the middle of the period thanks to Appel’s defense. Instead of taking a step back on those pick-and-rolls she hedged harder, preventing the return pass to Cambage from being made in the first place. On standard post-ups Appel still wasn’t giving an inch, and Cambage’s frustration began to grow. The Shock center still spends almost as much time whining to officials as playing basketball, and it can take her out of games. Meanwhile, Appel had a dramatic recovery block as well once Cambage had sat down, and used her defensive success to feed into her energy on the offensive end. Appel doesn’t tend to produce many points, but that also means teams pay very little attention to her. When the mood strikes, she can use the resulting space to finish in the paint.
- The fourth quarter was a desperately scrappy affair, with Appel quickly returning to the game after rookie post Kayla Alexander barely survived two minutes trying to battle Cambage. The scoreboard was stuck on 55-55 for a long time (including a timeout at 5:55, amusingly enough). It was Appel who broke the deadlock, grabbing a loose ball off the ground and forcing up a three to beat the dwindling shot clock, and banking it in off the glass. Moments later she was important again, setting a (slightly illegal) screen to break Adams open for another big three.
- Tulsa kept fighting, and late threes from Hodges and Jen Lacy made things interesting. They spent too much of the fourth quarter reverting to their old style of flinging up a host of threes, but the bombs away approach nearly got them back in it. Lacy had another look from beyond the arc with seven seconds left which would’ve tied the game, but hit nothing but air. From there, Robinson hit a free throw and finally iced the game.
- Tulsa’s limited success in this game still revolved around the Cambage/Johnson pairing in the post. Cambage had her moments of success in the pick-and-roll, but was otherwise handled pretty well by Appel; Johnson found most of her production by hustling after everything, grabbing offensive rebounds, and doing the dirty work inside. But apart from those few shots from Hodges, they got very little support. They were also part of a 13-25 effort from the free throw line, which in a game as tight as this proved fatal.
- While Tulsa revolved around their frontcourt duo, it was the backcourt pairing of Robinson and Perkins that carried the Silver Stars offensively. Perkins has been up and down this year, thrust into a more central role by the injuries to Becky Hammon and Sophia Young, but she finished 6-11 from the field for 18 points. Robinson was 6-14 for 19 points and 9 assists, and too good for Diggins or Goodrich for most of the afternoon. But Appel was the quiet star, ending the game with just 9 points, but adding 13 rebounds and vital presence at the heart of their defense. She didn’t allow Cambage to dominate the game, and it was enough for San Antonio to sneak the victory.
- The starting lineups were as we’ve come to expect. Minnesota had Rachel Jarry back in uniform after her ankle sprain, and Seattle had recent seven-day contract addition Jasmine Hassell available for the first time, but neither of those were exactly major additions.
- It feels like it’s becoming rather redundant to talk about the Minnesota Lynx. They’d won their previous eight games, by an average of nearly 16 points per contest. They’re quick, smooth, and very skilled on offense, and the team defense that often goes overlooked is swamping opponents and preventing anything easy. It took a few minutes for them to get going in this one, but once they forced a few Storm turnovers and slid right into their transition game, they were off and running. The Lynx were up by 10 in under five minutes, and led by as many as 16 before the first quarter was done.
- Brian Agler and his Storm team have put in some solid work this season and clawed out some impressive results, but without Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson they’re just outgunned against this Lynx team. They couldn’t handle them at either end of the floor. Seattle had 10 turnovers in the first quarter as they searched for ways to create points and couldn’t find any gaps. By halftime, Minnesota led 46-32 and it didn’t even feel that close.
- The Lynx blew the game out entirely in the third quarter, running repeatedly by Seattle and pushing their lead as high as 31. You could argue that Minnesota take too many long two-point jumpers, but when Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen are the ones taking them (with Rebekkah Brunson, Monica Wright and Janel McCarville pretty solid additional options) an awful lot tend to go in.
- The lead somehow slid down to just 13 points in the fourth quarter, as Shekinna Stricklen in particular started making shots for Seattle. A quick Cheryl Reeve timeout, the five Lynx starters reunited on the floor, and normal service was speedily resumed.
- There’s not a great deal to say about either team from this game. Yet another comfortable win for the Lynx, who’ve been outstanding in recent games. The only threat to them right now is complacency. The Storm were outclassed, but there’s no shame in that. It shouldn’t be hard to forget this one and move their attention to their trip to Phoenix on Tuesday night.
New York gave up on point guard Samantha Prahalis, deciding not to re-sign her after her second seven-day contract expired. That’s probably Prahalis’s last chance this season, although you never know. She’s heading off to Romania in the offseason, and she’ll likely be in someone’s camp with a chance to make another WNBA roster next year. The Liberty signed Janeesa ‘Chucky’ Jeffery instead, a guard drafted by Minnesota this year and cut by the Lynx in camp.
The Phoenix Mercury, on the other hand, decided they liked the player they’d been signing to seven-day contracts, and signed guard Jasmine James for the rest of the season. She’s had a couple of nice moments for the Mercury, offering another option to handle the ball, and she certainly isn’t afraid to shoot when given the chance.
Tuesday August 6th (tomorrow):
Washington @ New York, 11am ET. Liberty -3 is the line, and with the way New York massacred the Mystics in the paint last week I’ll take the Liberty to win and cover.
Los Angeles @ Connecticut, 7pm ET. Connecticut +4.5 isn’t enough to get me to take the Sun, even on their own floor against a Sparks team that will probably be without Parker again. Two scrappy wins are yet to make me a Sun believer.
Minnesota @ San Antonio, 8pm ET. The Silver Stars are 10-point underdogs on their own floor, and I still like the Lynx. This has been such a mismatch in the previous meetings this year that I can’t even take San Antonio to cover a double-digit spread at home.
Indiana @ Chicago, 8pm ET. The third meeting of these teams in 2013, but the first where Tamika Catchings and Elena Delle Donne are both expected to be on the floor. It should be fascinating. Chicago are 6-point favourites, and I like Indiana to at least keep it closer than that. Their defense gave Chicago all kinds of problems on Saturday. But that was with the Sky on a back-to-back and Delle Donne still out due to her concussion – so I’m not taking the Fever with a huge amount of confidence.
Seattle @ Phoenix, 8pm ET. Mercury -9.5 is the line, and after the way Seattle handled them last week I’ll take the Storm to cover. Significantly greater minutes for Griner will help the Phoenix defense, but a lot of the holes Seattle exposed last time will still be there. It’s a question of whether they can repeat the same shooting performance.