Our New York Liberty find themselves in a sad, sad state. Fifth in the conference? Behind the Mystics? Ahead of only the Sky (technically) and the Dream (thank GOD!)? This isn't the 5-0 start that we saw last year, and hope is ebbing fast for the once proud franchise. Ticket sales are down, the team looks discom... discombob... out of sorts, and no one seems to know what to do.
Enter the Storm.
And now Seattle has come to town to push their lucky start. Well, not lucky at all. The Storm are a formidable opponent. Lauren Jackson is averaging over 18 points a game, while her cohort, Sue Bird, is pushing 13. Swin Cash was a fantastic pick-up in the off-season; she is posting her best numbers since her sophomore season while leading the team in shooting (.535) and, behind only Jackson, rebounds (6.5).
Did someone say RPG?
Sheryl Swoops, while no longer the offensive juggernaut that she once was, adds a nice dose of stability and experience to a sometimes-meandering club. Combined with strong coaching from Brian Agler and sense of revival, and its no wonder that Seattle's gals have started off the season 5-1, behind only the undefeated Minnesota Lynx in the West. It's amazing to think that only a little while ago, people were thinking that this team was going to move to Oklahoma City or simply disband.
Top on the list for the priorities of the Libs tonight? Settle down. It's been a few days since our last game (not Sunday, like the Storm) and we need to refocus. It sucks to be playing the hole, but nobody is going to give us wins like last year. We're going to need everybody to step up their game. And that starts with the... starters.
McCarville is injured... or is she? In any case, she continues to play and post numbers, but its obvious SOMETHING is up. Kraayeveld, meanwhile, is second on the team with points, but is shooting less than 36%. Shameka Christon is posting strong numbers, but her defensive lapses are beginning to shame even Dutch. Loree Moore plays when she wants to and at no other point, while Erin Thorn... well, the less said about Muffin, the better.
To get better, the whole team needs to start playing. Numbers are secondary at this point. Those will come with cohesion. Forcing the ball, passing into coverage, and other bald spots on both the O and the D need to be addressed. Patty should have taken the last few days to instill some fundamentals in the girls. If the Libs come out flat like they have in every game (except the W against Washington), no amount of good ball will break them out again.
One weakness that the Belles have to exploit is Seattle's failure beyond the arc. Despite all of their impressive numbers, the Storm shoot a paltry .261 from the 3. Why? Because they don't need to, as four of their players break 6-3 (compared to just 2 for the Libs... er, 1, as Davenport is still out). That height comes in handy for defense and rebounds, but if the Libs can handle the inside (a tall order) and move the ball swiftly (not as much), then they'll force the Storm to come to them, rather than the other way around.
This isn't going to be an easy game, but it won't be impossible. There's a lot to like about the matchup... IF the Liberty play to their potential. Much like last season, the best comes when the Belles play for it. The potential is there; Christon, Kraayeveld, Thorn, Jackson, Moore, Carson, and Willis all have the ability to produce double-digit points. The excuses need to stop. The time is now.
- Defense. The Liberty rank dead last in the league for rebounds and are third from the bottom in Blocks per game. The Storm rank much, much, much higher in each stat.
- Turnovers. The Libs are getting better, and continue to lead the league in steals (over 10 a game). They still spot their opponents too many chances, and that's what's costing them.
- Control. The Storm aren't some offensive powerhouse. They win by controling the lanes, their opponents shots, and the flow of the game. If the Libs don't show more discipline, the Storm will mop the floor.
Look for me and the lady in the stands tonight. Don't know where we will be sitting. Somewhere. Look for the guy whose eyes glaze over whenever Lauren Jackson steps onto the court... mmmmm...
Los Angeles @ Chicago
San Antonio @ Houston
Washington @ Phoenix
Atlanta is rebounding 31 balls a game... but losing another 43 to their opponents. Is that the key to their miserable season? Hell no. They also suck at point differential (over -17, ten points more than the next worst team), shooting from the field (worst, but closer), and all around defense. Minnesota is leading the league in those first two categories, and a grocery list more. I feel bad for Atlanta. I really do. Especially because this is going to happen at home. But Minnesota couldn't be in better shape. Lynx by 12. And I feel I'm being generous.
Los Angeles relies on Candace Parker, and that dame of a gal is carrying her team to a strong start (3-1 right now). The Sparks need to gel a bit more before I go around shouting their praises like everybody else in this league, but against a team like the Sky - home crowds are a joke, can't catch a break, major defensive lapses - the Sparks shouldn't have to worry. Chicago needs to start playing downtown (both on the court and in the city(. Until they do, they'll always be the bastard love-child of the WNBA. Sparks by 7.
Houston was a point away from breaking their losing streak on Sunday, losing to the Storm in the waning minutes by the tune of 64-63. Much like last year, they're shooting themselves in the foot by losing these close games that'll mean the difference come August. San Antonio hasn't found its footing yet, and Houston MUST like this matchup at home. The key is FG%; the Silver Stars give up the second-worst in the league, while the Comets both defend decently and shoot moderately. If Houston can control the flow around the outside, they'll run the Stars out of town. If they wind up playing San Antonio's game, then it'll be a long night. Houston gets the ups for being at home and needing a win. Comets by 3.
Washington, despite all odds, is now 2-3. I'll give credit where credit is due; they are in 4th place. They are now facing off against the Mercs, who have so far given up the most PPG in the league this year. I have trouble picking DC to win ANYTHING (they even lost their baseball team... twice!), and though my gut is telling me too, my brain is holding me back. The Mystics have the worst point total in the league. The Mercs have the second-highest. If Phoenix can't control DC's anemic offense, then they should start drinking Everclear while looking forward to next year's draft. Mercs by 6.
The W sported 14 sellouts to start off the season, seeing record attendance. This is a bit misleading, as several teams are playing smaller venues than before, or are cutting off sections of their current barns. Of course, the league is still suffering from scheduling problems. Duh.
Quotes from USA Coach Anne Donovan and others about the upcoming prep for the Olympics. Lisa Leslie is still a powerhouse for the team, however, and Donovan is going to need to rely a lot on her, especially with most of the other teams in competition training for months and months ahead of time. Go Shay!
Katie Douglas is once again the East's Player of the Week. Her old time, the Sun, is still atop the Conference, however.
If even Candace Parker, in her return to Chicago, can't get a sellout at the Pavilion, it may be time to shoot the dog that is WNBA in the Windy City.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won last night's game in triple overtime to force Game 6 back in the Burgh. I know that none of you care. Screw it. This is my blog and I'm as happy as a priest at a Cub Scout meeting.
One fun story that has absolutely nothing to do with anything; George Takei (aka Mr. Sulu) is marrying his longtime partner now that California is legalizing gay marriage (or not). His best man? None other than Mister Checkhov... er, Walter Koenig.
Until next time?
See ya, Space Cowboy...