WNBA power rankings: Connecticut Sun rises to No. 1 after gritty road swing

If you’re reading this, that means you made it through Sunday. Four WNBA games that tipped off at exactly the same time — what was your tactic?

I decided to have all four on my computer and bounce between the four for the first halves (mostly, to see if I could handle such a feat), and then settle in for the one or two that were closest heading into the second half.

Ah, God laughs at our best-made plans, does she not? Because that wasn’t true at the half — and even heading into crunch time, all four of the games were in single-digit territory.

Alas, at halftime, I decided that because my “only close games” plan was tomfoolery I would just pick the two that seemed most compelling — Aces-Wings and Sun-Storm. I was curious how the starter-heavy Aces would fare with Jackie Young out and A’ja Wilson carrying three first-half fouls, making this must-watch television. The Storm were finally at full* strength with Sue Bird, Ezi Magbegor and Mercedes Russell back in the starting lineup, and I wondered how they’d play against Connecticut’s jumbo lineup.

* Post Covid-19 and post-injury full strength, meaning it still will take a few games (or more) to get to true full strength.

By dinner time, my brain had watched a lot of basketball, my pen had taken a lot of notes and I was starting to feel as though, one-third of the way into the season, these teams are starting to show themselves and I am very excited for the next two-thirds. But please, no more quadruple simultaneous start times.

On to this week’s power ranking …

1. Connecticut Sun, 9-3 (3)

The Aces and Sun split two games in Las Vegas last week with Las Vegas winning the first game by eight points and Connecticut taking the second game by seven. I think I speak for many when I say I wouldn’t be disappointed if these are the two teams that end up in the WNBA Finals. Frankly, they’re very much on a 1a and 1b level, but the Sun get the edge as the No. 1 team this week because of the fortitude they showed on their road trip. Connecticut went 3-1 in the last week with wins over Las Vegas, Phoenix and Seattle — without so much as a practice or shootaround for two of those games. Lately, coach Curt Miller has rolled out the Sun’s “jumbo lineup” of Alyssa Thomas, Courtney Williams, DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones, and that is going to present some issues for opponents. At point guard, Alyssa Thomas finished with 12 assists, 11 rebounds and eight points against the Storm, becoming the first WNBA player in history to record such a stat line, per Across The Timeline. “In the past, we weren’t finding those ways to win when other teams were going on runs,” Brionna Jones said about the veteran team’s ability to win on the road, especially when it didn’t look great late against Phoenix and Seattle. “We’ve been able to settle in, and when teams go on that run, we can go on the next run.” The Sun, even with the loss of Jasmine Thomas, are finding themselves and finding ways to win.

2. Las Vegas Aces, 10-2 (1)

There goes Kelsey Plum, making our fantasy league look foolish for letting her fall to the fifth round. With Young out (ankle sprain) and Wilson sidelined with foul trouble, Plum finished with a career-best 32 points and five assists Sunday against the Wings. Plum played all 40 minutes as Becky Hammon tinkered a bit with the starting lineup to account for Young’s absence. “I told Becky, ‘Don’t sub me unless I suck,’” Plum said. Theresa Plaisance got the starting nod, which kicked Dearica Hamby from the four to the three, matching her up against Arike Ogunbowale. Still, with some adversity, the Aces came out with a win over the Wings to cap a 2-1 week. Las Vegas gets an extended recovery this week, but we’ll have a chance to see the Aces in a road-trip swing similar to the Sun’s when they play at Los Angeles, Seattle and Minnesota twice over a seven-day span.

3. Chicago Sky, 7-3 (5)

Coach James Wade attributed the Sky’s recent win over the Mystics and their offensive performance (we’ll get to that) to his team’s chemistry finally coming together. Against Washington, Chicago shot 55 percent from the floor, shot 45 percent on 3-pointers, assisted on 81 percent of its buckets and tallied a season-best 11 steals. The bench accounted for 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, which is big considering the grueling nature of the season that requires avoiding running starters too far into the ground before the playoffs. The Sky bench will receive another boost this week as Julie Allemand, whose season in France ended last week, is expected to join the team by Tuesday. Overall, a 3-0 week moves the Sky up two spots. This will be a trying week for the Sky, though — a three-game road trip against Washington, Connecticut and New York.

4. Washington Mystics, 7-5 (4)

Since the last power ranking, the Mystics went 1-2 with a win over Indiana and losses to New York and Chicago. Elena Delle Donne played against New York, but the Mystics were without Tianna Hawkins and Alysha Clark. Against Chicago, Delle Donne sat while Hawkins and Clark played. The Mystics were expected to have rotations and personnel that would fluctuate, making it difficult to decipher the “real” Mystics team. But given the single-digit losses and the fact that they’ve been without head coach Mike Thibault (who’s in health and safety protocol), I didn’t entertain moving them for the sake of moving them, especially when there wasn’t another team near them in the rankings that deserved to move. With four of their next six at home (giving more time for rest), it’ll be interesting to observe Delle Donne’s availability.

5. Dallas Wings, 6-5 (6)

The Wings went 1-2 over the last week, beating Seattle (without Bird or Magbegor) and losing close games to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Notable about the Wings schedule thus far: They’ve done the majority of their work on the road. Eight of their 11 games have been away from Dallas, and they’ve gone 5-3 in that stretch, including their last five games. (Only Los Angeles has played more road games.) So, I give Dallas some extra credit — especially for close losses — with this schedule, and specifically what that means for body clocks, rehab and prehab and sleep schedules. Seven of their next eight will be at home, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some big wins from the Wings.

Will the Storm jell with more time on the court together? (Abbie Parr / Getty Images)

6. Seattle Storm, 5-5 (2)

Bird and Magbegor are out of health and safety protocols, and Russell is back from her non-basketball-related injury. But don’t expect the Storm to reach their potential immediately. Mistakes happen, miscommunications happen. And they’re far more likely to happen when a team hasn’t been practicing together (or practicing at all). That was very evident late in the loss to Dallas when the Storm had a miscommunication off a screen. Bird thought she was passing to Breanna Stewart, but instead the pass resulted in a turnover when the Storm were facing a four-point deficit. The Storm are sitting at .500 now, but they’re staring down a challenging road: a 10-day road swing starting Friday against Dallas (Dallas twice, then games at Minnesota, Connecticut and New York). Getting in practice time during that stint will be tough, so how Seattle jells over the next two weeks will be important.

7. Atlanta Dream, 7-4 (7)

Five of the Dream’s wins have come against opponents with only three total wins (Indiana three times, Phoenix and Minnesota). Though it has been fun to watch how much better Atlanta plays than last season (especially on defense), its 7-4 record is a bit misleading. Yet this is a team that has shown growth since last season (something that can’t be said for every WNBA team), and even some of the losses, including Friday’s 73-65 loss to the Sky, tell me a lot about where the Dream are going. Against Chicago, Atlanta battled from a 20-point deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead. This is a team that’s learning to scrap and fight together. The toughest parts of Atlanta’s schedule are still ahead as the Dream have yet to play Connecticut or Las Vegas. But just a third of the way into the season, the Dream are just one win away from matching their 2021 win total.

8. Los Angeles Sparks, 5-7 (9)

After Liz Cambage and Nneka Ogwumike dominated inside for a two-point win over Dallas last week (combining for 36 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks), it seemed the Sparks’ momentum would carry into Sunday’s game against Phoenix, especially considering the Mercury were without Tina Charles. Nneka did Nneka things, but no other starter hit double-digits scoring, and the Sparks struggled to slow Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had 29 points. Quite confounding: Cambage, the Sparks’ big offseason acquisition, was pulled from 61-61 game with 7:40 to go and didn’t return. She finished with eight points, six rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes of play.

9. Minnesota Lynx, 3-8 (10)

Minnesota moves up a spot this week partly because of Indiana’s record and partly because of the Lynx picking up a win over New York. (For five minutes in the fourth quarter, as the Liberty mounted a 16-0 run to cut Minnesota’s lead to one, it looked as though the Lynx might be headed for a rankings drop, but the fact that they dug in and eventually found a response deserves some credit.) Aerial Powers put up a season-best 27 points. Powers consistently bringing that kind of performance with her energy could help the Lynx establish some real momentum in the coming weeks. (Sylvia Fowles can do a lot, but even her impact only goes so far.) With Moriah Jefferson sidelined at least another week or so with a quad injury that has held her out all of June, Minnesota continued to look for answers handling the ball, especially against some zone looks that New York threw at the Lynx.

10. New York Liberty, 3-8 (12)

If Connecticut and Las Vegas were 1a and 1b, then consider New York and Phoenix 10a and 10b. Both teams snapped seven-game losing streaks this past week, but the Liberty get the edge here for picking up a win against a better team (Washington vs. Los Angeles). New York beat the Mystics on the road 74-70 (after beating Indiana and before falling to Minnesota) with Sabrina Ionescu hitting five 3s. In the reverse of last season, an early season cut from Minnesota at point guard is proving to be an important part of the Liberty’s potential success as Crystal Dangerfield continues to display her value.

11. Phoenix Mercury, 3-8 (11)

Coach Vanessa Nygaard pulled out a real Tara-ism after the Mercury’s win over Los Angeles, saying, “a hungry lion hunts best.” Should it take seven consecutive losses for a lion to get hungry? One would think not. But the Mercury did pick up a much-needed win, and did so without Charles (who had 21 against the Sparks the first time these two teams played). With six of their next eight on the road, let’s see if that win provides a momentum boost or just a bright spot in a drought.

12. Indiana Fever, 3-10 (8)

The Fever went 0-3 this week, and the stretch ahead doesn’t look that much kinder. Will Aliyah Boston be joining an already young team in Indianapolis next year? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(Top photo of the Sun: Abbie Parr / Getty Images)

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