Only dismal, sad Washington is out of it. Even New York has hope, if the Liberty ever get healthy, they could make a move. Chicago is waiting for an Epiphanny, and Atlanta is waiting for the Olympics to be over.
And the two top teams, Connecticut and Indiana, are hoping their aging veterans will last all season, and not fade into the pack come September.
So though the East may look like a done deal, except for Washington, the post-Olympic stretch run could be a lot more interesting than what’s going on now.
Connecticut (13-4, first place): The Sun have three very good players in Tina Charles, Asjha Jones and Kara Lawson. They have a solid coach in Mike Thibault. They have a good organization and a good fan base, and they’re in first place by two games. But you know, I’d be very nervous if I were a Connecticut fan, because Jones will be 32 in August and Lawson is 31 with a history of nagging injuries – and after the big three, the Sun have almost nothing. Renee Montgomery was supposed to be something, and more than something, but since she’s no longer starting, she’s no longer shooting well (33.3% overall) and has more turnovers than assists. Allison Hightower (33.9%) and Kalana Greene (4.1 ppg and 1.6 rpg) both must start, and aside from Mistie Mims, the bench is no help. The 23-year-old Charles, of course, is the focus of the franchise, and justifiably so, but can Lawson continue to a) stay healthy, and b) play at a level she’s never played at before? And can Jones a) stay healthy, and b) be the consistent force she’s never been? It may be a different story after the Olympic break.
Indiana (10-6, second): Aside from Erin Phillips, the Fever’s roster has been remarkably stable so far in 2012, and as is always the case, a healthy team has a great chance to maximize its talent – and Indiana is loaded with talent. That talent, though, is approaching its sell-by date and Katie Douglas, for example, is shooting as poorly as she has in her career. Tamika Catchings isn’t exactly on fire either (though both hit big shots late in the win over New York Tuesday) and neither Briann January or Shavonte Zellous, two young starters, are shooting better than 40%. Add the fact that the Fever are getting outrebounded by 3.7 a game to the team’s 42% shooting (opponents are at 43.3%) and you have to wonder if a +3.1 in turnovers will keep Indiana in second place. In fact, given the age of the team, an injury is more probable than possible, so don’t be misled by that 10-6 record – the Fever are vulnerable.
Chicago (8-7, third): The Sky started falling when Epiphanny Prince got hurt, and without the 22.3-ppg shooting guard, Chicago is back to relying almost solely on Sylva Fowles for offense. That’s not a bad option (19.3 ppg, 64.9% shooting) but when it’s the only option, defenses collapse on Fowles and she’s still not great on passing out of double-teams. There were hopes that Swin Cash could serve as a diversion offensively, but she’s struggled, and though Tamera Young has matured into being a decent scorer, she’s not enough to take the pressure off Fowles. Courtney Vandersloot, like Cash, has been a disappointment (32.2% shooting, 51.7% from the line) and Ruth Riley has finally been demoted from the starting lineup after, among other things, attempting just six free throws in 257 minutes. But Prince is supposed to return before season’s end, and if she’s anywhere near 100%, the Sky will be a factor in postseason.
Atlanta (4-9, fourth place): Angel McCoughtry is, no question, one of the most electrifying players in the league, and when the magic is happening, the Dark Angel of Atlanta can simply take over a game. But yes, there are reasons she’s called the “Dark Angel”, and it’s not just because she has a pout that can reach the farthest corner of the arena – no, it’s that she leads the league in turnovers per game by a wide margin (4.62 a game) and has missed 133 shots in 13 games. Now that latter stat would be less important if Erika de Souza were around to clean up some of the mess, but the 6-5 center won’t be back until after the Olympics. When she arrives, though, the Dream will have the important pieces back from the team that went to the WNBA Finals in 2010 and 2011, and if the Dark Angel moves toward the light, then a return trip is definitely within the realm of possibility.
New York (6-11, fifth place): Only Cappie Pondexter and Leilani Mitchell have started every game for the Liberty, and though Pondexter is one of the league’s best, she’s not having one of her best seasons. Plenette Pierson and Kia Vaughn, penciled in as the starting frontcourt rotation, have missed ten games between them and DeMya Walker’s bad knee kept her out of Tuesday’s game. Essence Carson has had her moments, but she’s not a great shooter (41.6%) and has just a 1.2 A/TO. Put it all together and it spells 6-11, as there was really no one left for the Liberty to pick at No. 7 and Nicole Powell and Kara Braxton are both showing signs of age. It’s possible that when everyone gets healthy, New York can make a run at postseason, but more likely Liberty fans will be working their voodoo dolls to make sure the pingpong balls deliver Brittney Griner or Elena Delle Donne in next spring’s draft.
Washington (3-13, nearly out of sight): There’s really no way to describe just how bad Sheila Johnson’s franchise is. From the ludicrously inflated attendance figures to the incomprehensible coaching hiring and firing to the alienation of what was once a great fan base, Johnson has systematically destroyed a WNBA team. Crystal Langhorne is a very good player, though undersized, and, well, that’s about it for your Washington Mystic highlights. Monique Currie is shooting 36.5% and is not even in the same book, much less on the same page, with coach Trudi Lacey. Matee Ajavon is shooting just 33.6% and even Michelle Snow, who has never been accused of being overly competitive, can’t stand the situation. “Ugly” is too kind; “disaster” is better but still falls short. And to think Brittney Griner or Elena Delle Donne might wind up playing for this dysfunctional franchise – if there were ever a time to fix a lottery, this is that time.
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