This Week in the WNBA
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate Basketball Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Six spots in the WNBA playoffs are still available to be claimed, as the league enters its final month of play before the postseason.
The Mercury clinched a playoff berth last week by extending their franchise record winning streak to 15 with victories over Seattle (89-71), Los Angeles (93-73) and New York (78-63). Phoenix needs to win just three more games in a row to tie the 2001 Sparks' WNBA record of 18 consecutive wins.
"We're just confident in what we have to get done," Mercury point guard Diana Taurasi said. "That goes to Sandy Brondello and the coaching staff. They really do get us really prepared for every game, every tendency of their best players. So we're confident in that and then we go out there and try to play really well."
Although a great deal of Phoenix's success has been attributed to the stellar play of Taurasi and fellow All-Star starter Brittney Griner, Phoenix has received a boost from others such as Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner. Dupree is posting 15.2 ppg and 7.0 rpg, while Bonner showed on Thursday that she can be a major factor with 22 points on 7-of-9 efficiency from the floor and five assists versus Los Angeles.
Minnesota also punched its ticket to the playoffs last week by defeating Atlanta in double-overtime, before downing San Antonio and Connecticut by double-digit margins. The defending champions have won their last seven games and more positive decisions seem to be on the way now that the Lynx are finally at full strength.
Maya Moore really picked up the slack while Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson dealt with injuries before the All-Star break. Moore's 48-point output versus the Dream on Tuesday marked the 10th occasion she scored 30 or more points this year, which ties the WNBA record and she still has eight games left in the regular season. Brunson posted a double-double with 17 points and 12 boards in her season debut on Tuesday after missing the inaugural 23 games of the campaign. Augustus displayed no rust in her return to action on Friday, netting 17 points and six assists in Minnesota's 88-78 triumph over the Stars.
With their 2014 projected starting lineup all in the fold on Sunday, the Lynx shot 48.4 percent and assisted 21 of their 31 made field goals against Connecticut. The Sun were limited to 32.9 percent shooting from the floor, including a 4-of-19 clip from beyond the arc in the 76-65 Minnesota win.
The next team expected to clinch a playoff berth is Atlanta, which sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with a three-game lead over the surging Washington Mystics. Dream coach Michael Cooper has taken a leave from the team since being diagnosed with early stage tongue cancer last Monday. A team representative said Cooper's procedure was successful and that he is expected to rejoin his team in the near future.
Assistant Karleen Thompson has gone 0-3 during her interim stint and Atlanta has lost four in a row overall. To close out this past week, the Dream lost 79-75 to the then last-place Chicago Sky and suffered a 77-67 setback in the nation's capital to the Mystics. Rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel, who stole the show at the All-Star Game with 29 points and eight assists, was held scoreless by Chicago and tallied only four points off the bench against Washington. The Dream's top scorer, Angel McCoughtry, has hit on only 19-of-58 attempts from the field over the span of the last three games.
Atlanta shot only 37.3 percent from the floor and committed 15 turnovers against the Mystics' top rated defense on Sunday.
The win was the fourth-straight for Washington, which is now at the .500 mark and aiming for its first winning season since 2010. Although the Mystics appear to be one of the WNBA's weakest offensive units with an average of 74.9 ppg, they have been unstoppable lately. Washington has scored 82.7 ppg over the span of its last six games and has won six of its last seven.
"We're finally coming together and buying into what we need to do," star guard Ivory Latta said after Washington's crucial win over Atlanta. "It's a great feeling right now, but we can't get complacent."
Latta has been a key component of the Mystics' recent success. The 5-foot-6 North Carolina product is averaging over 20 ppg on 56.4 percent efficiency from the field with better than a three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio since the All-Star break.
Washington still has a ways to go before it can arrive at any level of comfort because of how close to race is in the Eastern Conference. The second-place Mystics and the bottom dwelling Sun are separated by only three games. Chicago, which is just a half-game behind New York for the final playoff spot, will be a different team once the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year Elena Delle Donne is cleared to play. The second-year forward out of Delaware is scoring a team-high 21.2 ppg, but she has played in just nine games this season due to an ongoing struggle with Lyme Disease. The Sky are hopeful Delle Donne can play on Thursday when coach Bill Laimbeer's New York Liberty visits the Windy City.
The playoff picture out West is much clearer at this point with the top two seeds already accounted for. At the moment, San Antonio (12-14) and the Sparks (12-14) occupy the third and fourth seed slots, respectively. The Sparks lost their first two games under new coach Penny Toler, but bounced back on Saturday with a 77-69 victory at Seattle before Monday's 77-73 win over Indiana.
Tulsa trails Los Angeles by three games and the Storm's current five-game losing slide has lowered Seattle to a 9-18 ledger, the worst in the WNBA.
1. Phoenix (21-3)
2. Minnesota (20-6)
3. Atlanta (15-9)
4. Washington (13-13)
5. San Antonio (12-14)
6. Los Angeles (12-14)
7. Indiana (12-14)
8. Chicago (10-15)
9. New York (10-14)
10. Tulsa (9-17)
11. Seattle (9-18)
12. Connecticut (10-16)
THIS WEEK'S KEY MATCHUPS
Tuesday, July 29
Seattle at Tulsa - The early week matchup between the Storm and Shock pits the West's bottom two teams against one another. Seattle's Sue Bird is one of the most respected players in the WNBA, but Tulsa's tenacious backcourt of Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims is capable of outplaying any set of opposing guards. The loser of this contest will fall into a very deep hole in terms of making it to the postseason, which should have both sides motivated to give a playoff-like effort. Tulsa is 6-7 at home in 2014 and 1-1 versus the Storm.
Thursday, July 31
New York at Chicago - The Liberty will have their hands full if Delle Donne is able to return for Thursday's game at Allstate Arena as expected. New York has an elite forward of its own in Tina Charles, who is leading the team with 17.9 ppg and 9.6 rpg. However, the Liberty's supporting cast has been unable to get the job done on a consistent basis. Chicago has a few capable players in Jessica Breland and Epiphanny Prince, but neither are able to completely take over a game in the same fashion as Delle Donne. Prince went 6-of-21 from the floor in Sunday's loss to Tulsa and the Sky made only 2-of-11 shots from beyond the arc.
Phoenix at Minnesota - One of the tremendous winning streaks currently active in the WNBA could come to an end Thursday, as the Mercury visit Minnesota in search of their third win over the Lynx this season. Phoenix had lost 14 games in a row to Minnesota before winning the first two installments of the 2014 season series. The Lynx had no answer for Griner when these squads met on June 18. The 6-8 center out of Baylor registered a monster double-double with 27 points and 18 rebounds while Taurasi added 22 points and 10 boards in the same contest. The good news for Minnesota is Augustus missed the second game versus Phoenix due to injury and Brunson was sidelined for both prior matchups. The Lynx's only loss in 13 games at home came on June 15 to Phoenix.
07/29 07:56:31 ET