The Daily W, 05/23/2014

 

There often won’t be columns on the days when there’s no WNBA action to report, but enough has happened in the last couple of days to be worth talking about so here’s a little bonus piece. With four games tonight, there are also some mini-previews to be found if you scroll down.

 

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League News

 

Epiphanny Prince has reported to the Chicago Sky, been unsuspended, and is expected to return for the team tomorrow night. There’s still been no explanation beyond ‘personal reasons’ for her absence, but it’s understandable that some of these players need a little time between their overseas commitments and the WNBA just to breathe. Due to the World Championships this year the WNBA season started early, which meant anyone playing a full European season had virtually no break. Maybe Prince just needed a little time to sort her head out. The Sky cut Aaryn Ellenberg to make room for her on the roster. They wouldn’t have needed to, but Sylvia Fowles was also quietly unsuspended on Monday. Exactly why they did that remains unclear, although hopefully it means her recovery from hip surgery is going well.

 

Prince, fortunately for the Sky, isn’t in Russia’s squad for their EuroBasket Women 2015 qualifiers this summer. But there are other WNBA players who might be required. Kristi Toliver was just naturalised by the Slovak Republic, whose qualifiers begin in just over two weeks. She’ll likely be gone from the Los Angeles Sparks for at least a couple of weeks in June. Phoenix has several players who might go missing for a while, including Ewelina Kobryn already confirmed as leaving to help Poland in their games. Shay Murphy is Montenegrin these days, and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota is still part of the Latvian set-up, so it remains to be seen if they’ll stay with the Mercury rather than heading to Europe. Both Emma Meesseman and Farhiya Abdi have committed to staying with their respective WNBA teams rather than playing for their countries this year. Ironically, Abdi might gain some playing time with the Sparks while her ‘Slovakian’ teammate is overseas.

 

Sadly our first in-season year-ending injury occurred this week, with San Antonio guard Davellyn Whyte ruled out with an ACL tear. After partially tearing an Achilles tendon late last season, it’s unfortunate for her that another serious injury has taken her down again so soon. San Antonio started the season with eight perimeter players on their roster, so they’ve got plenty of guard cover to fill the spot, especially if Becky Hammon returns from her ankle sprain soon. But with Whyte a fringe backup, there’s also the option to cut her (while paying her off for the remainder of the season) and sign a replacement. They have the cap space to do that, as long as the new player is relatively cheap. They may well just roll with what they’ve got for now, and save that option for later in the season if an extra player becomes a necessity at a certain position.

 

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Tonight’s Games

 

Seattle @ Connecticut, 7pm ET

If the Storm play like they have in their first two games, and the Sun replicate their first half performance from Wednesday’s loss to Chicago, this one will be virtually unwatchable. Hopefully, with both teams yet to record a win, there’ll be a sense of desperation fueling them and it’ll be a little better than that. The Storm have been off since Saturday night, and they needed the practice time to develop some much-needed cohesion after looking like they barely knew each other’s names in their opening games. Crystal Langhorne has barely been heard from so far in a Storm jersey, which needs to change, but basically the whole team’s attitude and level of competence needs to improve. Sue Bird doesn’t usually run teams that look this disorganised.

The young Sun squad have produced some decent passages of play so far, but they’ve also had extended periods that made you wonder if Anne Donovan has the first clue what she’s doing any more as a head coach. Camille Little’s liable to make things uncomfortable for rookie post Chiney Ogwumike, so some of Chiney’s teammates are going to have to step up and hit some shots. It’d be nice if Donovan showed some signs of figuring out what her rotation is going to be, too.

Someone has to win this game.

 

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Washington @ Indiana, 7pm ET

Tamika Catchings remains doubtful for this game with the same back injury that’s kept her on the sidelines so far. Her return would be a welcome boost for a Fever team that’s 0-2 after close losses to conference rivals Chicago and Atlanta. Natasha Howard has had a great start to her pro career in the spot that opened up – to the extent that Lin Dunn is going to have to figure out extra ways to keep Catchings and Howard on the floor together once her star returns – but Indiana are still missing a spark. The return of their leader could provide that, although Shavonte Zellous actually hitting a few shots is another possibility.

Washington have only played one game so far, and that was against the reigning champs, so we don’t have a lot to look at yet for the Mystics. Kara Lawson was awful in her Mystics debut, so they’ll be hoping for more from her in particular, but improvement could come from anywhere. This is a team built to have enough good pieces that someone should show up and produce on any given night. Ivory Latta and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt were the only ones who did so for their first game, and it wasn’t enough. Production from more than two spots would also be nice.

 

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Minnesota @ Tulsa, 8pm ET

This is the start of a group of three games in four nights for the Lynx. They fly home to play New York tomorrow night, before a Monday afternoon game on Memorial Day in Chicago. With three players still out injured, even Cheryl Reeve is likely to look to her bench to try to keep the minutes down as much as possible for her stars. Of course, the best way to do that would be to blow Tulsa out in the first half, then play the bench for the last 20 minutes – a that’s certainly a possibility. Maya Moore has been ridiculous in their opening games, Seimone Augustus is shooting 59% from the field, and if there’s one thing Tulsa lack it’s wing players with any size to guard players like those two. Players like Roneeka Hodges, Odyssey Sims, Jordan Hooper and Skylar Diggins are going to have to do what they can to restrict them as much as possible.

The Shock showed a few decent signs in their opening game against San Antonio. Courtney Paris helped out Glory Johnson effectively inside, and Diggins looked significantly improved from last year. But it’s a far cry from running San Antonio close to dealing with the Lynx, even with Minnesota shorthanded. Expect Paris to be put in pick-and-rolls until her head spins, expect Moore and Augustus to shoot over smaller defenders all night long, and expect Tulsa to need to shoot the lights out to stay in this one – even if Reeve plays the kids more than usual.

 

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San Antonio @ Phoenix, 10pm ET

The Mercury have looked like the significantly better team from this pair in their opening games, but San Antonio have a history of giving them a run for their money. A small extra level of intrigue is added because it’s the first game for new Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello against Dan Hughes, the man who handed the reins of the (Silver) Stars to her, before taking them back a year later. It took Brondello over three years to find another head coaching opportunity in the WNBA.

The size discrepancy between these teams is something worth watching. Sophia Young-Malcolm and Danielle Adams are both crafty as post players, but they’re also about the same height as the smallest player the Mercury will have on the floor at times. Even besides Brittney Griner in the post, Phoenix have DeWanna Bonner at small forward, Penny Taylor playing some kind of hybrid guard-forward role, and Diana Taurasi playing both guard spots – all are tall and long for their positions. San Antonio have been playing three guards much of the time, which will frequently leave rookie Kayla McBride trying to guard Bonner or Taylor when she’s on the floor. Phoenix should dominate the glass, and if they avoid being dragged into a running-and-gunning shooting match – which admittedly they might win anyway – they can pound the Stars inside.

On the bright side for San Antonio, Becky Hammon has made the trip to the Arizona desert, and is listed as ‘probable’ to play. They might be smaller than the Mercury, but with Hammon, Danielle Robinson and Jia Perkins, they’re quicker and probably smarter. And they should be well prepared for whatever Brondello is going to throw at them.

 

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