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Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne looks to shoot the ball against two Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm during the third quarter of a WNBA basketball game. Photo by: Terrance Williams for The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Following the Commissioner’s Cup championship game, in which the Las Vegas Aces won the title and the prize money in Chicago, we are back to the final games of the WNBA regular season. There are two weeks left, and five of the eight playoff spots have been secured.
It was incredibly difficult to rank the five teams in the top tier, which includes the Aces, Chicago Sky, Washington Mystics, Seattle Storm and Connecticut Sun. The Aces played the Indiana Fever, which kept their strength of schedule down for the week.
The Storm and Mystics played an uber-competitive back-to-back Saturday and Sunday that included games decided by one or two possessions. It felt like a playoff series.
The Sky and Sun went to overtime, with the defending champions getting the last laugh. Also, how did the Storm fall to the Sun and then beat the Mystics two days later? Case in point: The top tier is super competitive.
So is the middle tier. Six teams continued to compete for those final three playoff spots. The Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty looked focused this week, while the Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream fell apart. And then there are the Dallas Wings, who have been consistently inconsistent.
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Kelsey Mitchell #0 of the Indiana Fever handles the ball during the game during the game against the Las Vegas Aces on July 29, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by: Pepper Robinson/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 0-2
Health Outlook: The Fever’s season took a turn for the worse when the organization announced on Saturday that top scorer Kelsey Mitchell would be out for the rest of the year with a partial plantar fascia tear in her left foot.
Mitchell had been having a career season, putting up 18.4 points and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 40.9 percent from three, all of which are personal bests. Sunday’s game was the first pro game she’s missed in her WNBA career.
Stat of the Week: 2022 No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith racked up her eighth double-double of the season in the Fever’s 94-69 loss on Sunday to the Aces. She scored 14 of the Fever’s final 21 points.
Is There a Bright Side to Mitchell’s Season-Ending Injury? With four games remaining, Indiana has the opportunity to see who they have before thinking about their shots at the Aliyah Boston sweepstakes. Who on this current roster out of the seven rookies do the Fever believe can grow and develop?
Without Kelsey Mitchell having the ball in her hands, who will prove they can score and play make in this league? Expect rookies Destanni Henderson, Lexie Hull and Khayla Pointer to get more run in this final stretch.
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Brittney Sykes #15 of the Los Angeles Sparks passes the ball against the Minnesota Lynx in the first quarter at Crypto.com Arena on July 31, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Record This Week: 0-2
Health Outlook: Sharpshooting guard Lexie Brown has played just two minutes since injuring her ankle against the Dream on July 21. Meanwhile, rookie Rae Burrell is still recovering from knee surgery. I doubt Burrell plays before the end of the regular season.
Also, Kristi Toliver returned to the rotation, only to be pulled out of Sunday’s 84-77 loss to Minnesota after re-injuring her calf in the second quarter.
Stat of the Week: An observation I had of the Sparks this week was how their assist percentage changed post-Liz Cambage. While Cambage was on the roster, the Sparks maintained the league’s third-worst assist percentage (63.8).
In the two games without her, the team’s assist percentage has increased to 66.7, tied for fifth in the league this week. Is that enough of a sample size? I’m not sure, but the change sure is noticeable.
Life Without Liz: While on paper Liz Cambage leaving the Sparks’ frontcourt might be for the best, the team has looked dysfunctional on both sides of the ball following her exit.
In the week without Cambage, the Sparks have had the third-worst offensive (93.5) and defensive ratings (103.6) in the league. On offense, Cambage’s presence would draw the defense, and it allowed LA to get a more open look from the perimeter or on the high post for Nneka Ogwumike.
It’s a tall task for the Sparks to alter their offensive identity without ample practice.
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Head Coach Tanisha Wright of the Atlanta Dream leads huddle during the game against the Dallas Wings on July 30, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. Photo by: Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 0-2
Health Outlook: The Dream’s rotation continues to shorten due to injuries. This week the team announced that mid-season acquisition AD would be out for the rest of the season “in preparation” for surgery they will get on their right hip.
Forwards Nia Coffey (right knee) and Monique Billings (right ankle) were also out this week for Atlanta. On Saturday against the Wings, guard Tiffany Hayes landed awkwardly on her right ankle toward the beginning of the second quarter. She didn’t return to the game but returned to the bench on crutches and a large bag of ice on that ankle.
Head coach Tanisha Wright noted pregame on Saturday that all season long that the Dream have been a “we, we, we over me” type of team, but with potentially four players on the injury report this coming week, there aren’t many more players who can be called on. Moving forward, the Dream will need to function with only eight available players.
Stat of the Week: 2022 No. 1 overall pick Rhyne Howard has continued to demonstrate her scoring prowess, dropping 22 points in the loss to the Wings. While her efficiency (36.4 percent shooting from the field) leaves something to be desired, her 15.6 points per game are good for 12th in the league.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Despite the loss, Rhyne Howard notched her 8th game with at least 20 points this season.
All other rookies have combined for just 6 such games in 2022. pic.twitter.com/GdgxrHeADW
Can the Dream Make the Playoffs? The Dream didn’t compete in their 92-85 loss to the Lynx on Thursday. Two days later, against the Wings, Wright sensed a bit more of a fight in her group, but it wasn’t enough. Atlanta turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 29 Dallas points.
With so few bodies available, Wright had to begin Saturday’s game against the Wings in a zone defense, something she doesn’t prefer to do. The Dream have always had the buy-in this season, but I’m unsure if they have the health to make it into the postseason for the first time since 2018.
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Sylvia Fowles #34 of the Minnesota Lynx shoots the ball over Cheyenne Parker #32 and Naz Hillmon #00 during the game against the Atlanta Dream on July 28, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. Photo by: Chamberlain Smith/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 2-0
Health Outlook: Sylvia Fowles returned to the fold this week and provided the Lynx a huge lift, putting up a combined 28 points and 23 rebounds in Minnesota’s two wins this week.
Jessica Shepard was also listed on the injury report this week with a roughed-up nose, but she played in both games with a protective mask. Also, the Lynx signed point guard Lindsay Allen to her second seven-day contract this week while Damiris Dantas remains on leave for personal reasons and Napheesa Collier is on maternity leave.
Stat of the Week: In Sunday’s win over the Sparks, Fowles became just the fifth player ever in the W to record 2,500 made field goals.
Lynx PR @Lynx_PR
Fowles joins an elite list of shooters that have surpassed 2500 field goals made during their career:
1. Diana Taurasi 3041
2. Candice Dupree 2842
3. Tina Charles 2835
4. Tina Thompson 2630
5. Sylvia Fowles 2500 https://t.co/t3PA7lCHob
The Lynx’s Underrated Bench: When you think of the Lynx, you don’t think about their bench unit. They score the most points per game in the league (26.0), and they have the second-best net rating (1.7).
While the Lynx were outscored by the Spark’s bench unit on Sunday, their production has been vital to how the Lynx have achieved success this season as they continue to claw back into the playoff hunt.
“To know that we got girls that can actually go out there and outplay the starting five some nights, it’s very comforting,” Fowles said.
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Skylar Diggins-Smith #4 of the Phoenix Mercury dribbles the ball during the game against the New York Liberty on July 31, 2022 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York Photo by: Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 1-1
Health Outlook: The Mercury played both games this week without Diamond DeShields (hip), who hasn’t played since July 14 when she fell down awkwardly after taking contact on a drive by Elizabeth Williams against the Mystics. Meanwhile, Kia Nurse is still recovering from a torn ACL following the playoffs last fall. Head coach Vanessa Nygaard noted pregame on Sunday that it’s a “day-to-day” process for both players.
Stat of the Week: There’s a cost to playing small, and for the Mercury, it’s an inability to get on the glass when shots don’t fall. That difficulty to rebound, especially without Brittney Griner in the paint, has haunted them all season but especially this week.
The Mercury allowed an average of 36.5 rebounds to their opponents this week, second worst in the W to Indiana.
‘Please Take Me Out!’ There is more drama in Phoenix Mercury land! With a minute-plus left in the loss to Liberty, Skylar Diggins-Smith, who scored 13 points on 18 shots, shouted, “Please take me out!” following a missed three-point shot at the top of the key.
That wasn’t all that happened Sunday. A fan who was sitting close to the Mercury bench observed that Diggins-Smith was annoyed when she was substituted throughout the game.
“There seemed to be little rhyme or reason for some of the subs,” the fan tweeted. “Seemed like what DT [Diana Taurasi] wanted was dictating some of it.”
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Crystal Dangerfield #3 of the New York Liberty talks to the sideline reporter Jess Sims after the game against the Phoenix Mercury on July 31, 2022 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images
Record this Week: 1-1
Health Outlook: The Liberty’s injury report consists of one: 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney. In practice, Laney has been completing individual workouts and competing in one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three practice simulations with New York’s coaching and basketball operations staff.
Head coach Sandy Brondello told B/R that she expects Laney to begin practicing “five-on-five” this week as the team figures out how they can best use one of their best players, who is coming off an arthroscopic partial meniscectomy on her right knee.
Stat of the Week: Sabrina Ionescu set yet another New York Liberty record, as her 16 assists on Sunday afternoon broke a record initially held by franchise legend Teresa Weatherspoon. Ionescu is tied with current Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot and the now retired Ticha Penicheiro for second-most single-game assists in league history.
Backcourt Defense Stands Out: The Liberty shut down Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi in their win on Sunday at home over the Mercury. Rebecca Allen bothered Taurasi with her 6’5″ wingspan all afternoon, and the 5’5″ Crystal Dangerfield moved through screens so quickly that Diggins-Smith had barely enough space to go downhill or fire off her lethal rainbow threes.
While New York fell to Chicago 89-81 two days earlier, it was also Allen who was mainly responsible for holding Sky sharpshooter Allie Quigley to 4-of-12 shooting.
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Teaira McCowan #7 of the Dallas Wings looks to pass the ball during the game against the Atlanta Dream on July 30, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 1-1
Health Outlook: Forward Satou Sabally missed her sixth straight game after injuring her ankle July 12 against the Storm. It continues to baffle me that Vickie Johnson put her back into that game. But on the bright side for Dallas, second-year player Awak Kuier returned to the rotation after missing two games with an ankle injury. She played 14 minutes, scored five points on 2-of-2 shooting and registered two rebounds and three steals in the Wings’ 81-68 win over the Dream.
Stat of the Week: Against the Mystics on Thursday, Teaira McCowan posted a career high of 27 points on 11 shots in an 87-77 loss. McCowan is shooting 62.9 percent, second in the league to only Sylvia Fowles’ 63.6.
Can the Wings Take Advantage of a More Balanced Offense?
Dallas needs to take advantage of its more balanced inside-outside offense. Since it has established McCowan inside, teams have adjusted and double- and sometimes triple-teamed the 6’7″ center. Dynamic guard Arike Ogunbowale will need to buy in to the fact that getting McCowan a paint touch before she takes a shot could be a vital strategy for the Wings to retain their playoff positioning. Dallas holds the No. 6 seed with only 1.5 games separating it from the first team out of the playoff race, Atlanta, which holds the ninth spot in the standings.
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Breanna Stewart #30, Ezi Magbegor #13, Tina Charles #31, Sue Bird #10 and Gabby Williams #5 look on after the game against the Connecticut Sun on July 28, 2022 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 1-2
Health Outlook: The Storm were only without Mercedes Russell this week. The team had announced the week prior that she underwent surgery to treat low-pressure headaches that have impacted her all season. Against the Mystics on Saturday and Sunday, head coach Noelle Quinn shortened her rotation, and forward Jantel Lavender picked up her second straight DNP.
Stat of the Week: Tina Charles now ranks 12th in league history with 386 blocks.
Seattle Storm PR @SeattleStormPR
Tina Charles with the big block at the 6: 29 mark of the second quarter. It was the 386th of her career, moving her past Tamika Catchings into 12th place on the WNBA’s all-time block list.#TakeCover
Can the Storm Avoid the Mystics in the First Round? The Storm and Mystics split a weekend back-to-back in Washington, D.C. Seattle won the first game 82-77, and the Mystics grabbed the second 78-75. The teams are so evenly matched: Washington has the No. 1 defense with Seattle at No. 2; the Storm have the No. 7 offense, and the Mystics are No. 8; their net ratings are separated by an even slimmer margin with No. 4 Washington (5.0) edging No. 5 Seattle (4.8).
To avoid taking on the Mystics in the first round of the postseason, the Storm will need some big wins. This week, they will play at home against the rising Lynx followed by the offensive juggernaut that is the Aces. These games will be vital before Seattle finishes the season with three road contests.
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Head Coach Curt Miller of the Connecticut Sun looks on during the game against the Chicago Sky on July 31, 2022 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Photo by: Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 1-1
Health Outlook: The Sun announced Wednesday that Bria Hartley had torn her left ACL in last Sunday’s win against the Lynx. The combo guard had just found her footing after tearing her other ACL in 2020. Hartley’s absence forced general manager and head coach Curt Miller to play guard Nia Clouden for some of the longest stretches she’s had during her rookie season. In two games, Clouden recorded 28 minutes, scored six points on two threes and registered two assists, an offensive rebound and a steal.
Stat of the Week: Jonquel Jones became the seventh-fastest player to record 500 offensive rebounds.
Across the Timeline @WBBTimeline
Her 1st OREB today is Jonquel Jones’ 500th in the WNBA. She is the 7th-fastest player to get to 500:
1. Yolanda Griffith: 106 games
2. Natalie Williams: 132
3. Tina Charles: 139
4. Cheryl Ford: 145
5. Sylvia Fowles: 181
6. Taj McWilliams-Franklin: 189
7. Jonquel Jones: 190
Questions About Curt Miller’s Decisions: The Sun have had trouble defeating the defending champion Sky. The two teams met again Sunday for what was a battle in the paint that Chicago won 95-92 in overtime for its third victory in three games this season. Sixth Player of the Year front-runner Brionna Jones scored 13 points on 11 shots but was on the bench in overtime until 28 seconds remained. Miller went with his MVP, Jonquel Jones, who isn’t yet back to herself conditioning-wise following her time in the health and safety protocols. Down one, Connecticut did not foul and allowed Courtney Vandersloot to find Allie Quigley on a backdoor cut with eight seconds to play.
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Myisha Hines-Allen #2 of the Washington Mystics high fives Ariel Atkins #7 of the Washington Mystics during the game against the Dallas Wings on July 28, 2022 at the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 2-1
Health Outlook: Elena Delle Donne didn’t play in the Mystics’ game at the Wings on Thursday as head coach and GM Mike Thibault once again designated the two-time MVP for scheduled rest. Delle Donne played in the back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday against the Storm, and Thibault said he expects her to play at home against the Aces on Tuesday.
Stat of the Week: Natasha Cloud recorded her 1,000th assist on Sunday. It was her sixth game this season with 10-plus dimes.
Jenn Hatfield (she/her) @jennhatfield1
(1/2) Per @WashMystics PR, @T_Cloud4 made history today w/ her 1,000th career assist: She’s the 32nd #WNBA player all-time to do it, & she got there w/ back-to-back double-doubles. No Mystic had had b2b double-doubles on points/assists since Temeka Johnson in 2005. @TheNextHoops
Mystics Figure Out How to Win Without Delle Donne: Washington was impressive in its defeat of the Wings on Thursday. While Dallas went on an 8-1 run early in the fourth quarter, the Mystics held on. Without Delle Donne, they put together one of their most balanced performances of the season. The starting five scored in double digits with Cloud, Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen netting 14 apiece, Alysha Clark putting up 13 and Shakira Austin scoring 12. The bench outscored the Dallas bench 20-5 in the 87-77 victory.
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Kelsey Plum #10 of the Las Vegas Aces drives to the basket during the game against Lexie Hull #10 of the Indiana Fever on June 17, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by: Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 3-0
Health Outlook: The Aces’ injury report looked clean this week, and their box scores didn’t feature as many DNPs as they usually do. Head Coach Becky Hammon used her bench much more than normal once Las Vegas got out to comfortable leads in its two games against Indiana.
Stat of the Week: Kelsey Plum scored a franchise-record 19 points in a quarter Sunday. She has also hit 94 threes this season, which ranks fifth in league history. The only player who has made more threes in a season is Diana Taurasi.
The Bench Got Some Run: After winning the Commissioner’s Cup last Tuesday, the Aces’ bench players got quality minutes against a team that rosters seven rookies. How did they do? In the first game, Riquna Williams led the bench with nine points, and Kiah Stokes had six rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Two days later, Theresa Plaisance broke out with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Kierstan Bell also had two assists in six minutes. It’s a start.
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Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper (2) drives past Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington (21) during a WNBA game between Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun on July 31, 2022, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. Photo by: M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.
Record This Week: 2-1
Health Outlook: The Sky got back point guard Courtney Vandersloot for the Commissioner’s Cup finale last Tuesday, but Candace Parker missed the games against the Liberty and Sun with a non-COVID-19 illness.
A Technical Sent the Sky to Overtime: With her team up 82-81 against the Sun and 28 seconds remaining, Rebekah Gardner got fouled underneath the basket. Sky coach James Wade tried to call a timeout before Gardner’s free throws, but the officials apparently couldn’t hear him. Instead, they saw him outside the coaching box and gave him a technical foul.
After DeWanna Bonner made a free throw and Gardner made two, Connecticut was down only two. Courtney Williams hit a game-tying jumper after Bonner missed a potential go-ahead three, but if the technical hadn’t been called, Chicago could have won the game in regulation.
Chicago needed overtime to beat Connecticut, in large part because head coach James Wade was called for a game-tying tech with 30 seconds left in the 4th– for stepping halfway out the coach’s box trying to call a timeout.
I’ve never seen a tech given for something so normal. pic.twitter.com/KvzZHzuD6u