The Daily W, 05/17/2014

 

A new regular feature here at WNBAlien – quick recaps of the previous night’s games, mentions of who played and who stood out, notes on anything interesting that might’ve cropped up, and anything else that seems worth talking about. Just without the ridiculous length of previous seasons. Most days, it should go up much earlier than today’s initial example.

We’ll still look in depth at certain games and teams when it’s warranted, especially when there aren’t four or five games on a single evening.

There’s also an injury report at the bottom, collating the news on who missed out last night and who got banged up while playing.

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Minnesota Lynx 89 @ Washington Mystics 77

 

Lineups: Brazilian rookie Damiris Dantas got the start at power forward for Minnesota in place of the injured Rebekkah Brunson. Belgian youngster Emma Meesseman got the nod to start at the same spot for Washington in the place vacated by Crystal Langhorne. Otherwise starters as you’d expect, including Kara Lawson making her debut in the Mystics backcourt.

 

Story of the Game: Maya Moore came out firing, carrying the Lynx into an early lead. Washington’s bench unit helped them get into the game, led by Stefanie Dolson drilling a trio of deep jumpers when the Lynx left her alone. Minnesota maintained a single-digit lead for most of the night behind Moore and Seimone Augustus, but Ivory Latta bombing from outside kept Washington in it. Then Tierra Ruffin-Pratt joined in and the Mystics actually took a very brief lead with 8 minutes left.

But Minnesota’s starters responded, tightened up defensively and hit a series of jumpers to pull away again. Ballgame over.

 

Key Players: Latta and Ruffin-Pratt were the only players who really showed up offensively for Washington, with the occasional flash from Meesseman and Dolson. Some weak rotations defensively – with Augustus and Moore the main culprits, surprisingly – left Latta too open from outside in the second half.

But it was those same two Lynx stars who carried much of Minnesota’s offense over the course of the game. Dantas also had a nice debut, and fit in smoothly as part of the starting core. Asia Taylor, the other rookie post the Lynx retained from camp, looks awfully small and thin for a frontcourt player. You can afford to be one or the other, but when you’re both it’s hard to survive in this league without moving more to the perimeter.

 

Notes of Interest: This is going to become a theme as we go through the other games from last night – solid, impressive rookie performances, but with sequences where they’re still working out what they can get away with at this level. Dolson made some shots, and had a lovely touch pass for a Tianna Hawkins bucket, but was called for at least a couple of illegal screens. Even though many of the refs are the same, that’s the kind of thing that can be called differently in the pros from the college game. Dantas made the necessary hustle plays, and generally kept things simple, although there were a few miscommunications. It looks like she’s already realised that there’s so much freaking talent on her team she doesn’t need to do anything too outlandish. Just fill your role, rook.

 

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New York Liberty 75 @ Connecticut Sun 54

 

Lineups: Spanish ‘rookie’ (it’s her first year in the WNBA, but she’s 27) Anna Cruz got the start at the point for New York (so much for Cappie Pondexter at ‘lead guard’). DeLisha Milton-Jones was at power forward despite Plenette Pierson being in uniform and seeing a few minutes of action. Pierson doesn’t look physically ready to play starter minutes yet.

The perimeter of Alex Bentley, Allison Hightower and Katie Douglas was about what we expected from Connecticut, but Kelsey Griffin started in the frontcourt next to Chiney Ogwumike. Kelsey Bone and Ogwumike will surely be the best frontcourt pairing this franchise can offer over the course of the season.

 

Story of the Game: Charles was booed a little during the introductions, but the effects microphones weren’t high enough to be able to hear properly. Sounded like Bill Laimbeer had more venom thrown his way than Charles, which is silly.

Connecticut started pretty well, moving the ball and making some shots, while the Liberty were repeatedly turning the ball over. The Sun led by as many as 8 in the first quarter. But it was pretty much all downhill from there for the home team.

Ogwumike did a decent job fighting it out with Charles inside, and between solid individual defense and collapsing help they held New York’s new star in check for most of the night. But Connecticut shot just as dismally as they did through most of last season, Anne Donovan doesn’t seem to have the first clue about what her rotations or lineups need to be just yet, and New York eased away to a comfortable win in the second half.

 

Key Players: Cruz had some teething problems early on – as mentioned in the previous game, all these rookies are still establishing what will and won’t work on the WNBA level – but had a nice game overall. She shot surprisingly well, has the size Laimbeer likes in his guards, and Connecticut didn’t manage to exploit what I still feel is a suspect handle. Having seen her play in Europe, I didn’t expect her to translate this well across the pond – but of course it was only one game, so we’ll see if it lasts.

Cappie Pondexter had a solid game, finishing as easily New York’s leading scorer but without having to be the focus of the team all night. Essence Carson looked pretty healthy, but didn’t do an awful lot.

Alyssa Thomas had a couple of nice drives for the Sun in the second half, and Bone needs to play more. If Donovan can’t work out how to feature Ogwumike and Bone together, find a head coach who can.

 

Notes of Interest: DeLisha Milton-Jones didn’t play like a 39 year-old, but the difficulty when you’re getting older is usually recovery rather than initial performance. Can she reproduce that night after night?

 

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San Antonio Stars 75 @ Atlanta Dream 79

 

Lineups: The expected three-guard lineup for San Antonio, but with Becky Hammon back home nursing a sprained ankle, it was Danielle Robinson, Jia Perkins and Kayla McBride starting the game. Atlanta opened with Jasmine Thomas at the point and Tiffany Hayes at off-guard, although over the course of the game Thomas spent most of her time at the 2 while Shoni Schimmel came off the bench to run the offense.

 

Story of the Game: This one was a tight contest virtually all night long. Atlanta couldn’t stop either Danielle – Robinson or Adams – but no one else produced anything much at all for San Antonio. Atlanta pushed the ball whenever they could, and Angel McCoughtry replicated one of her good games from last season – the ones where she kept her head up and found teammates if the defense swarmed her on drives, and where she didn’t force too many bad shots.

The big moments down the stretch saw Sophia Young-Malcolm miss a pair at the line, before Erika and Robinson both went 1-of-2. McCoughtry posted up McBride for a big bucket inside – the rookie’s going to have trouble against lots of teams if Dan Hughes keeps asking her to guard small forwards – and then the Dream got a break when McBride tried to dribble through a trap, bounced the ball off someone’s foot and turned it over. Schimmel and McCoughtry hit free throws to ice the game.

 

Key Players: The eye-catching performance came from Schimmel in her first game as a pro. She played over 30 minutes and finished with 11 assists (although a few of those were courtesy of a generous home-town scorer). She showed off impressive court vision, likes to make the highlight-reel pass, and relishes the spotlight. She also resisted the temptation to fire up too many shots of her own to attempt to take over, which we saw plenty of when she was at Louisville. One of the things most rookies have to realise quickly on the next level is that they have much more talented teammates than previously surrounded them. Schimmel’s defense currently leaves an enormous amount to be desired, but this was still a very impressive debut.

Otherwise it was the usual suspects playing key roles. Tough start for McBride, who struggled to get into the game. At the other end of the experience spectrum, Swin Cash also had a pretty terrible first game for her new team.

 

Notes of Interest: One of Schimmel’s smartest plays was a non-assist that won’t show up in the stat-sheet. On that McCoughtry post-up in the final minute, Schimmel was looking to enter the ball but didn’t have the angle. So she rotated the ball back to the top, Sancho Lyttle entered it instead, and McCoughtry scored. Another good example of knowing when to avoid forcing something that isn’t there.

It’s early season for coaches as well. Both Hughes and Cooper had some weird lineups at times that didn’t make a lot of sense, and awkward rotations that left key players needing rest late in the game. Opening night in a league with only two weeks of preseason, everybody.

 

—–

 

Indiana Fever 71 @ Chicago Sky 74

 

Lineups: The big news was that Tamika Catchings didn’t make the trip for Indiana due to a sore back – which is worrying considering she didn’t even play overseas this offseason. Layshia Clarendon was out as well due to a concussion. Rookie Natasha Howard started in Catchings’s spot at power forward.

As we already knew, Sylvia Fowles (hip) and Epiphanny Prince (personal reasons) were out for Chicago. Jessica Breland and Sasha Goodlett started in the paint, while Tamera Young took Prince’s spot at off-guard.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana dominated early on and led by as many as 18 in the opening quarter. Their shots were falling, there were gaping holes in the Chicago defense, and the Sky were basically a mess. Then began the long road back.

It was a messy game from both sides for much of the night, that eventually balanced out into a fairly even contest. All the inexperienced posts – Breland, Goodlett and Gatling for Chicago, Howard and Kizer for Indiana – made mistakes, but they all had their moments as well (apart from Kizer, who Lin Dunn quickly gave up on). Elena Delle Donne struggled to find much room to work for the Sky. They rarely found her the ball in positive situations – it was usually either handed to her way outside so everyone could watch her try to do something on her own, or she was already swamped by traffic before receiving the pass. The fact that she already gets all the superstar calls helped her out a little (yes, she’s good at drawing fouls. She also gets the benefit of the doubt a hell of a lot).

It was a little worrying how mediocre Indiana looked for much of the game with only one important player missing. Admittedly she’s very important, and it’s opening night, but they would’ve hoped to be more in sync than this.

The Sky scored the final seven points of the game to snatch the win, including one on a thoroughly dumb technical foul by Erlana Larkins for something she said.

 

Key Players: Just to maintain the theme for the night, the brightest spot for Indiana was a rookie – with Natasha Howard showing off her potential inside. She tried some things outside of her comfort zone that didn’t come off, but when she used her length and athleticism to attack defenders, chase rebounds or affect shots she was impressive. She abused Breland off the dribble several times.

For Chicago, Goodlett did indeed look in much better shape than last year, as had been reported in preseason. Rookie guard Jamierra Faulkner was quick and aggressive off the bench as Courtney Vandersloot’s backup. But while they wait for Prince and Fowles, Pokey Chatman still needs to spend most of her time working out better ways to find Delle Donne in positions where she can hurt opponents.

 

Notes of Interest: Marissa Coleman started at small forward for Indiana, and did most of the defensive work on Delle Donne. Offensively, she shouldn’t be such a major feature. Except on those rare nights when she’s hot.

 

—–

 

Los Angeles Sparks 80 @ Seattle Storm 69

 

Lineups: Los Angeles stuck with the same five they used last year, resisting the temptation to hand any of their new acquisitions a starting spot. Seattle were as expected, with Noelle Quinn taking the third perimeter spot that had been essentially up for grabs in training camp, alongside Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright.

 

Story of the Game: Seattle pretty much got their butts kicked. LA only led by 11 at halftime, but the gap between the teams had felt much larger. The Storm were out of sync for most of the night, and already had 14 turnovers at halftime. Bird’s return was supposed to help them with that problem, not leave her looking just as frustrated as everyone else while passes sailed out bounds or into the hands of various Sparks.

Seattle made a push in the second half when Brian Agler benched all his starters and turned the game over to the backups. A Jenna O’Hea three even pulled them within eight points with six minutes left in the game. Then Alana Beard, who’d been nailing jumpers all night, drilled another one and stemmed the tide. It was swiftly over again.

 

Key Players: Beard was great, Candace Parker was her usual self, Jantel Lavender had a nice night in more minutes than expected after Nneka Ogwumike went out with an apparent back problem – but it was a pretty collective dominance for LA. Their depth is just as scary as anticipated, and barring significant injuries no one needs to average more than about 25 minutes a night for this team. Parker, for one, undoubtedly will – but no one will need to.

O’Hea had a decent outing off the bench for the Storm against her former team. That’s about it. And they’ve still only got three bigs, only two of which Agler appears to trust. That seems a really difficult and dangerous way to start the season. There surely has to be someone somewhere over 6’1″ who can play for this team, whether it’s Angel Robinson on the end of the bench, or someone currently sitting on their couch.

 

Notes of Interest: LA seemed so relaxed. Maybe too relaxed, when the lead started slipping away in the fourth quarter, but in general it’s a good thing. This team knows how talented it is.

 

—–

 

Injury Report

 

Brunson, Wright and Peters (all Minnesota, all knee) out as expected; Jelena Milovanovic (Washington) twisted her knee nastily, but the sideline reporter claimed that it wasn’t as serious as initially feared. Still she didn’t return.

A little surprisingly, Plenette Pierson (New York) was healthy enough to play.

Becky Hammon (San Antonio, ankle) stayed home

Tamika Catchings and Layshia Clarendon (Indiana, back and concussion respectively) didn’t play; Sylvia Fowles (Chicago, hip) will be out for a while, Epiphanny Prince (Chicago, unknown personal reasons) is expected back in a couple of weeks.

Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles) strained her lower back and missed the entire second half; Temeka Johnson (Seattle) took a hit to the head and had to be helped from the floor.

 

—–

 

Today’s Games

 

Atlanta Dream @ Indiana Fever, 7pm ET

Chicago Sky @ New York Liberty, 8pm ET

Tulsa Shock @ San Antonio Stars, 8pm ET

Seattle Storm @ Phoenix Mercury, 10pm ET

 

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