You can't predict the WNBA East

Contributor
August 9, 2013 - 9:05am
Over the last month, the Indiana Fever have gone from last place to third place in the WNBA East. (Photo by Jessica Hoffman)

Over the last month, the Indiana Fever have gone from last place to third place in the WNBA East. (Photo by Jessica Hoffman)

The East is mysterious, as even Connecticut has a shot at postseason, and even Washington can take down Minnesota on the road.

But you have to like Chicago and Atlanta -- they have the best records and the most healthy talent, and when the Dream puts all its talent on the floor (which could happen sooner rather than later), they're positioned for another great late-season run.

1. Chicago Sky (13-7)

The Sky are one of my favorite teams to watch, hands down. The starting five: Piph Da Great, Delle Donne, Cash, Vandersloot and Big Syl are as talented as they come, but especially when it comes to the three stars: Epiphanny Prince, Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles.

But when of the stars goes down, Chicago needs to see the other two elevate their game, as well as their effort. Granted any team that loses a bonafide star player is simply not going to be as strong without her. But the effort can be as strong if not stronger physically and mentally. Prime example, a few games back with Delle Donne out, Big Syl (Fowles) did what Big Syl can do - dominate. Gave the Mystics 32 points, 15 rebounds and five ‘Get that *ish out of here!’ plays in a big win. Fantastic, but the caliber of player she is makes you expect that, especially with a star teammate out.

But the very next night in a loss against the defending champ Indiana Fever she had only 10 points. Now sometimes your shot is off, so 10 points is understandable, but my problem is that she only took seven shots. She hit four of those so it’s not even like she wasn’t shooting well. She has to step up and take control on a night like this and put the ball up. The Sky needs at least 12-15 shots from Fowles when they’re shorthanded -- any less and she’s hindering her team rather than helping. If the Sky as a whole, and especially their three stars, understand what needs to be done then they’ll put themselves in a much better position to get that WNBA title that they know is a possibility.

2. Atlanta Dream (13-6)

Atlanta, what happened?! You started out 10-1 and now you can’t beat anybody? OK, that may be a bit extreme but each game lately it seems more and more true. What’s the problem in ATL? Well, first up the superstar needs help 'til the return of one of the game’s best power forwards in Sancho Lyttle and one of the league’s hustlers and defenders in Tiffany Hayes. Alex Bentley gave the team a tremendous boost those first 11 games when opposing teams didn’t expected much out of her, but now after MVP candidate Angel McCoughtry, Bentley is the opposing team’s top  target as shots, especially open ones, have become much more difficult to come by.

McCoughtry continues to play with tremendous effort, stuff the stat sheet and be one heck of a force, yet she could still be even more effective for the Dream. Recently, she's gone one of 14 from beyond the arc in back-to-back games,  so my question is, shooting a paltry 21% from three-point land, why takeseven shots from out there? Do what you do. Slice and dice, stop and pop. They can’t stop you doing that. Spend the offseason to work on three and come back next year and display your long range ability like Jordan and Kobe did when they added that weapon to their arsenal.

With the team winning one of its last six, now’s not the time for it. The Dream and one of the game’s greatest in McCoughtry are still in prime position to have a big year, just a few adjustments would help until the return of some of their big dogs.

3. Indiana Fever (10-11)

WNBA, beware the defending champions. The Fever are getting healthy and by season's end, they’ll literally have a whole squad: players 1-11 experienced, confident and ready to help the team win. Coach Lin Dunn should be applauded for how she’s kept this ship afloat. up to this point, loss to L.A. notwithstanding.

Jeanette Pohlen is the latest to make her return, and she's a great shooter and clutch player who will help them significantly. But when is a great long range shooter not invaluable, right? At hear, though, Indiana is a grind-it-out team, so Pohlen will force defenses to give the Fever more room to grind inside. But the Fever’s true grind comes from what they do on defense.

Tamika Catchings continues to lead a unit that exemplifies teamwork, hustle and desire. Erlana Larkins, Jessica Breland, Briann January and Karima Christmas all do a fantastic job as well neutralizing opponents. You’re going to have to take the Fever’s title if you’re going to win it as they certainly aren’t giving it to you, and there’s still the chance they could decide to keep it for themselves for another year. Beware of the champs.

4. Washington Mystics (10-11)

After losing their first three games of the second half, the Mystics got it back together, capped by a huge win at Minnesota. Still, that one win can't disguise that this is a very crucial stretch for the Mystics and coach Mike Thibault.

What are the Mystics to do? They’ve got to find some interior defense, which was the key against Minnesota -- but then again, the Lynx only post of note, Janel McCarville, missed the game. Of course, it didn't hurt that Matee Ajavon and Mo Currie finally had big games, so .  Thibault can let 20-year-old Emma Meesseman develop naturally instead of forcing her into the starting lineup. Five years from now, she’ll be one of the league’s top players, but in 2013 the Mystics are simply hoping she can help Crystal Langhorne fortify the interior.

Lastly, if Ivory Latta wants to make another All-Star Game, she's going to need to play like she did against Minnesota, and not that forgettable stretch just prior.

5. New York Liberty (9-12) 

Very tough year for coach Bill Laimbeer and the Libertyn but they still have a chance to be in the playoffs while they continue to figure out who they are. They have a lot of issues: perimeter shooting (they were just outscored 30-0 from three-point land recently), they’ve struggled with turnovers, and against the Sun, they were just plain outhustled. That’s the last way you’d ever expect a Bill Laimbeer team to get beat, by effort -- and they didn’t just get beat, they got destroyed.

The team is working to put it all together but there’s certainly been growing pains. But don’t count this them out just yet. One, they have Laimbeer and Cappie Pondexter - enough said. Two, they have players with a winning pedigree: Cappie, Plenette Pierson, Kara Braxton. Lastly, they’ve found some scoring. Braxton has played really well and Kelsey Bone gave a strong effort against the Mystics. If the Liberty can keep their turnovers down and continue to get more players contributing on O, then they have a shot to get that last playoff spot. It will be tough, but they do have a shot.

6. Connecticut Sun (6-13)

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how some pundits picked the Sun to finish at the bottom of the East after having so much success in recent years. Now that the Sun are beginning to get healthy, they’ve confirmed my prospects for their season: Connecticut looks strong.

Allison Hightower continues to be extremely efficient and play the best basketball on the team. But who am I kidding? The straw that stirs the drink is reigning MVP Tina Charles. She’s playing better and also not forcing as many shots though it certainly makes it easier for her when her teammates are hitting jumpers. Renee Montgomery had a big game against the Liberty, which is just what the team needed. She and a healthy Kara Lawson have to score for this team for this team to be elite. Kelsey Griffin also played one of her best games, scoring 16 points, which hopefully gives her more confidence to play at a high level more consistently. Lot of potential for this team. Credit coach Anne Donovan for keeping the players positive and with them becoming healthy, play improving, the playoffs are a very strong possibility.


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