GAMEDAY PREVIEW - PHOENIX MERCURY
It's over 100 degrees, but don't forget to bring the Heat.
What this all means is that the Mercs are the hottest team in the league right now, winners of 8 of their last 10, and by substantial point margins (their only losses coming against Seattle and Los Angeles... wait, wha?!?). Diana Taurasi, who in the middle of the season was a bit cool (by her own standards), has rallied her troops behind her, and with the help of Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor (not to mention Tangela Smith), the Mercury have become THE offensive threat of the WNBA.
How much so? The Mercs top five players (Taurasi, Taylor, Pondexter, Smith, and Kelly Miller) average, together, more points than all the Liberty (minus Doron, Bowen, and Weber) combined. But as their loss against Los Angeles proves, the Mercury are not some lumbering behemoth that cannot be circumvented.
The Liberty aren't in the best shape right now, but they could definitely take this game from Phoenix if the Mercs come in with the wrong mind-frame. The Libs took a close from the Mercury back at the beginning of the season, winning 82-81 off a last-minute basket (then foul shot) from Davenport (thank you, Middle-Man), in a game that was probably the most exciting of the season while also solidifying my interest in the team and the league. Their OT-win over the Shock was fantastic, but for my money, the Mercury game showed what this team can do when they put their minds to it.
It also doesn't hurt that, despite their increases on D, the Mercury are still not a solid defensive team. They give up the most points in the league (85.7), the highest 3-point percentage (38.6%), and the most rebounds (by far, almost five more than the next highest). If the Libs are looking for a team to awaken their offense, this the team to do it against.
In essence, the Liberty can adapt to any sort of team that comes their way, if they allow themselves to do so. With a strong system set up by Patty, the Liberty play like some kind of weird, pre-historical mammal, staying in the shadows at first and finding out weaknesses, and when a gigantic meteor smashes into earth (or their opponents begin to slow down), they race in to snap up what is rightfully theirs.
At the best of times, this works when different bits and pieces (a.k.a. the players) that aren't working are substituted for players that work better in that situation. Thorn would come out for Baker (later Willis), or Barbara Farris would play and allow McCarville to let the weight of the Libs off of her shoulders. Defense-first teams (Sacramento, Indiana) would find strong shooters attacking from the outside, while offense-first teams (Phoenix, Detroit) would find taller and faster players blocking lanes and getting key rebounds.
This has fallen by the wayside in recent games as desperation has set in. Patty has stuck to her regulars, despite any evidence that it just wasn't their day, in hopes that circling the wagons and instilling confidence would bring the team back to life. It has worked in some situations, but in others, certain Belles (all of them took their turn at some point) have played for over half the game and registered a net-minus to their worth.
There's a lot riding on this game. The playoffs, the season, dignity, and a chance to break .500 for the season. With a loss, we guarantee we can't finish any better than 17-17. With a loss (and a Mystics win), we drop a game behind in the race. With a loss, we continue our haplessness on the road (5-9 for the season, no back-to-back road wins since half-way through last season). We can't hope to possibly compete with Phoenix on an offensive-basis. Even if all of our starters somehow turn in quality games at the same time (which they have been unable to do up until this point...), the Phoenix offense is just too potent. Stick to the defense, take strong shots, and remember that we beat the same team back in the early season.
- Play strong D. No offense in the world could possibly compare to Phoenix's. But a solid defense has been known to stifle their game.
- Take 3's. The Mercs have the worst long-ball defense in the league.
- Play clean, but play hard. Both Pondexter and Taurasi can let their game go to crap when someone gets under their skin. Fouls on their (and other Mercs') part will lead to easy free-throw points. Uh...
- Hit free-throws. Yeah, these are the easiest points in the game, and Libs can't make 'em (they're second-to-last in the league). Let's change that, ok?
- Listen to each other. Depending on if Patty only plays the regulars or goes deeper to the bench, this will shift or focus. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Thorn open at the top of the arc, waiting to set up a play or shoot, only to have a bad pass or shot lead to an odd-woman rush.
Take it to 'em, ladies. And don't give up.
Storm @ Shock
The Storm are essentially in the playoffs now (and stuck in fourth place), unless there something akin to a house-sized asteroid blows up Seattle but leaves the United States - and the Houston Comets along with it - intact. The Shock (up four games and with two games in hand against the Fever) are essentially going into the post-season as the number one seed, unless the bubonic plague rears its ugly head and takes out three-quarters of the team, thus forcing management to use Detroit Lions cheerleaders in their stead, which would be aesthetically pleasing while also giving those cheerleaders SOMETHING to cheer about, but would also mean significantly less quality basketball.
So, while this game will almost certainly feature all of both teams regulars playing it out, there isn't much on the line for both. The Storm have SLIGHTLY more to prove in this game, as their season is TECHNICALLY in trouble, especially with Lauren Jackson possibly still out and Houston still within screaming distance. But the Detroit are at home, or as it is known in the league, "The Place Where Streaks Go to Die". Just ask the then 5-0 New York Liberty.
Shock by 8.
This is going to be one of the biggest games of late summer (unless the final playoff spot must be decided in the New York/Chicago game at the very end of the season). Sacramento, after stumbling a bit with their defense, has rallied around Brunson, Lawson, and Powell (combined average 35 points, leading the team) and begun to stretch their offensive legs (almost atrophied to the point of uselessness after months of defense-only basketball).
The Silver Stars, after surgig to first in the latter-half of the season, have gone 5-5 in their last ten and lost 3 in their last four, despite securing their first post-season appearance in franchise history. This is helped by the fact that, according to the poster "Rebecca," "Hammon has a sprained foot. Vickie Johnson has a balky Achilles. Sophia Young is playing on a sprained ankle." Really, it's a miracle that the Silver Stars haven't imploded into a dense black-hole of losses, from which nothing, not even light, can escape. San Antonio still have a decent team with all of that going against them, but with the Monarchs finally beginning to fulfill a bit of their promise, I can't pick the Hammon-less Stars without my gut clenching up in a fit of anger and dyspeptic acid. Monarchs by 6.
No one needs to be told that this is a huge game for the Libs to watch. Obviously, we need to take care of our own game first, but it would help if the L.A. Sparks (who, despite all evidence to the contrary, still apparently exist) could take themselves off all of those milk cartons and show up at the Staples Center for the game.
The Mystics are decidely hot, winning 7 of 10 (with wins against San Antonio and twice against Chicago in that span, putting themselves in good late-season position). It's true that most of those games have come against sub-.500 teams (Minnesota, Houston, :::cough:::New York:::cough:::) and those losses have come against the usual suspects (Detroit twice, and Indiana), so it could be argued that they haven't had such a great streak so much as really convenient scheduling. Alana Beard and Monique Currie are still sick, so let's not count them out of this game just yet...
...especially when they're dealing with the Sparks, who have DOA or MIA, depending upon which acronym you prefer. Taj MacWilliams-Franklin is the only Spark to average over 10 points a game (11.5), which shouldn't come as a surprise if anybody realizes that the team has two wins in their last fifteen games, one of which was against the Liberty.
This is almost a sure-bet, the only thing being if the Sparks are going to rally a bit at the end of the season in front of a hometown crowd. With that ace in hole, as well as their propensity to astonish (they have lost by less than three points in five of their losses, while also beating Phoenix), there is no telling what they can do. I'm sticking with my guns, however, and picking Washington to win. I hope that they don't, but the Sparks? How to be polite... um, not so good. Very, very, very not so good. Mystics and their Satan-Worshipping ways by 8.
An article is up on the WNBA's official site about the Lynx. It's pretty much about how there is lot's of young talent on the team (duh) and that there's lots of room to grow (double-duh). It kinda smells like desperation, as in "Please don't abandon this team, Minnesota!" I can understand that. But a better switch would be to put a team in a Western market and shift the Lynx into the East, allowing them to play closer (and more traditional) rivals while cutting down on costs.
Also, these informal rankings are up on the MVP race on the league's site. At this point, I don't see how any player can make a strong case over Lauren Jackson for MVP (except for maybe Becky Hammon), even Nolan or Taurasi. Both are having monster seasons, but if they were to have disappeared before the season started, their respective teams would have made the playoffs. Without Jackson, the Storm would have NOT done so.
This article about Janel McCarville was up a few days ago on Newsday. Enjoy McCarville while you can. She's going to get great for a few years, then be traded for a first round draft pick who will then be benched halfway through the season. McCarville will then spark an MVP-caliber run with the Minnesota Lynx while the Libs struggle to make the... you know, I'm just going to stop there.
A USA Today piece about the season-ends awards, with a little piece about McCarville and Moore, including a quote from Patty. Interesting stuff, with side-by-side comparisons. Honestly, if we don't make the post-season, the awards aren't going to mean much to me.
As a side-note, I requested press credentials for Sunday's game against the Shock. I am almost certainly NOT going to get them, especially if the team thinks that my oaths of love are a bit... (creepy... illegal... stalker-ish...) ...er, much, but as I am going to be out of town for the last two games and would like to finish this season with a bang (both for myself and this blog) I figured "What the hell?" and emailed Casey Sherman (PR for the Libs). I promise to get an interview with a baller should I get them and report it in its entirety here on the site. Wish me luck!
So, how do you guys like the new format? Too wordy? Not funny enough? Not serious enough? Should I go to a meta-format, in which I talk about talking about the WNBA? Should I drop the "Around the League..." section? Should I stop trying to woo Martina Weber by setting traps baited basketballs and spaetzel?
The poster "m3" suggested a few places that I could go to "transload" images so as to side-step hotlinking (major props for the help, by the way), but if you guys like this more content-heavy site, I could stick with it.
See ya, Space Cowboy...