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During the WNBA’s second full week, there were dramatic moments galore on the court and even on the bench. It began last Tuesday night when Kayla McBride returned to the Lynx to play the Sparks in L.A. a couple of days after she won the Turkish championship overseas. Jetlag? McBride put up 24 points on 8-of-18 shooting in addition to going 4-of-7 from three. The three-time All-Star was responsible for the game-winning score, an and-1 reverse layup with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas on that same evening, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi got into a heated exchange on the bench in the second quarter during the Mercury’s second matchup of the season against the Aces.
And then WNBA Twitter caught a moment from Friday’s Sparks-Storm game that raised eyebrows. Chennedy Carter clearly wasn’t paying attention during a team huddle and Sparks assistant coach Seimone Augustus took notice.
Now back to some on-court spectacle: Candace Parker notched a 16-13-10 triple-double in the Sky’s 82-73 win over the Mystics on Sunday. After 16 more games played, let’s see who made the largest leaps and the most significant downward spirals.
12. New York Liberty (1-4) (↓ 1 Spot)
The Liberty played only one game this week, but it was a nightmare of a performance. New York fell to the Connecticut Sun 92-65 in a game where the Liberty turned the ball over 32 times, one shy of the W’s single-game turnover record. How exactly did the Liberty get trounced by a team that they beat 10 days prior? Their luck hasn’t been great with both Jocelyn Willoughby (left quad tear) and DiDi Richards (right hamstring strain) out with injuries for the foreseeable future. Both players are integral parts of the Liberty’s defensive attack with Richards supposed to be seeing minutes at the point guard spot.
But with one week off after Tuesday’s disastrous loss, head coach Sandy Brondello scenario-planned for the short term, and that meant the Liberty signing point guard Crystal Dangerfield to a hardship contract. Dangerfield will get another crack at revenge against her former team when New York travels to Minnesota for its first game in a week.
11. Minnesota Lynx (1-6) (↑ 1 Spot)
The Lynx won their first game on the road against the Sparks when Kayla McBride lit it up, giving Minnesota some hope to turn this still quite young season around. After playing the Las Vegas Aces pretty evenly in a 93-87 loss in Las Vegas a couple of days later, I thought the Lynx had momentum, and I would have been inclined to rank them a bit higher than 11th. But concern returned on Saturday when the Dallas Wings outrebounded Minnesota 39-24 in a 94-78 win.
Head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve was candid following the loss, explaining that the Lynx’s lack of effort on the boards “told a story.” She felt like the Wings wanted the game more. She expressed that she and her coaching staff are looking for a “collective will” to win from her team, questioning if her 2022 group even has the capacity for one.
10. Indiana Fever (2-6) (↓ 1 Spot)
The Indiana Fever are a much better team with NaLyssa Smith, who leads the league in rebounds per game with 10.0. Indiana has missed her services since she suffered a right ankle injury when the Fever faced the Dream on May 15. In three straight losses without Smith, the Fever have been outrebounded in two of them.
In its second game in a row against the Dream on Tuesday, Indiana had difficulty getting offensive production out of its top scorer, Kelsey Mitchell. In the Fever’s two-game set against the Sun, the leading offensive rebounding team in the W, they got a 23-point game from Mitchell followed by another cold shooting night on Sunday afternoon. Who knows when the Fever will get Smith back, but their next matchup won’t be any easier when they face the defending champions on Tuesday.
9. Los Angeles Sparks (2-5) (↑ 1 Spot)
The Sparks lost their first two games this week, both with a point differential of three in each game. Those games looked a bit encouraging, and playing the Storm with Breanna Stewart is never an easy task. This is why I’ve moved them up a spot.
But on Monday night, they got demolished by the Las Vegas Aces in a 104-76 loss on the road. It’s mystery why a team with post players in Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage had the second-worst rebounding percentage this past week (46.3).
In their first two losses this week, the Sparks’ opponents simply looked like they wanted it more. The Lynx were itching for a win, and the Storm were looking to get on track after a three-game losing streak. Against the Aces, the Sparks looked discombobulated offensively. Their shot selection was poor, especially when Cambage was on the bench due to foul trouble. On Monday night, they didn’t play to the percentages at all, as they took 22 long twos and missed 17 of them.
8. Phoenix Mercury (2-4) (↓ 3 Spots)
The Mercury had a rough week. They lost all three games they played and dealt with two of their stars in Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith publicly arguing on the bench. Following the argument on Tuesday night in Las Vegas, Diggins-Smith has been out for two games with what Phoenix has called a “non-COVID illness.” Diggins-Smith’s absence has impacted the Mercury offensively, as in the past week, Phoenix shot 41.4 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from three-point range, both of which are some of the worst rates in the league over that time span.
When the Mercury played the Aces once again on Saturday afternoon, the ESPN broadcast confirmed that Diggins-Smith had been ill with the same non-COVID sickness that Tina Charles had the week prior. Before Saturday’s game, Taurasi spoke about the difficult travel conditions that W players must endure, noting that in addition to Diggins-Smith and Charles, support staff and coaches have been out as well. “It’s unfortunate that we have to travel this way because it really does take a toll on you physically, and now your health is at risk for you and your family,” she said.
7. Atlanta Dream (4-2) (↓ 1 Spot)
It is still the Rhyne Howard show for Atlanta. With six professional games under her belt, she leads the league in scoring with 20.5 points per game. This week she saw what happens when a two-time All-WNBA defender in Alysha Clark is tasked with shutting her down. In the second half of the Dream’s back-and-forth game against the Mystics on Friday, Clark with some help from 2019 All-WNBA defender Natasha Cloud held Howard to 1-of-9 shooting in the second half.
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Can Howard get revenge against Clark and Cloud on Tuesday when the Dream travel to Washington to face the Mystics? To beat the Mystics, who will be motivated after falling to the Sky on Sunday, Atlanta will have to get some more offensive production from Cheyenne Parker and Erica Wheeler.
6. Seattle Storm (3-3) (↑ 2 Spots)
As predicted, the Storm began winning games once Breanna Stewart returned from being in health and safety protocols. While the Storm won both of their games this past week, each had a small margin. They defeated both Chicago and Los Angeles by three points. While that might not sound all of that impressive on paper, what is impressive is that the Storm still were victorious while having the second-worst true shooting percentage in the league (50.8) this past week. How did they counter this? Via their rebounding percentage and defensive rating, stats where the Storm were ranked fourth for their week’s worth of work. A player to watch out for is Ezi Magbegor, who this past week had a 21-point scoring performance on 9-of-13 shooting against Chicago and combined for 17 rebounds and five blocks in Seattle’s victories.
5. Dallas Wings (4-2) (↑ 2 Spots)
The Wings finished the week 2-1, which is impressive. The key to both of their wins against the struggling Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx was their ability to get on the glass. In their three games played this week, the Wings racked up a rebounding percentage of 52.5, second only to the Connecticut Sun’s percentage.
Another trend from the Wings’ week was their ability to outscore opponents in transition. Even in their 84-68 loss to the Mystics on Tuesday, Dallas scored 19 fast-break points to Washington’s 15. While the Wings played with the third-slowest pace this week, which was always going to be a concern with Teaira McCowan on the roster, they proved that they can still be quite dangerous in transition.
4. Connecticut Sun (4-1) (No Change)
The Sun won each game they played this week, but a reason I’m hesitant to move them up the rankings is their strength of schedule. Connecticut played two teams in the Liberty and the Fever that struggled mightily due to injuries and lack of experience playing together. Something else to watch out for is a status update on Sun five-time All-Defensive point guard Jasmine Thomas, who suffered a knee injury toward the end of the first quarter on Sunday afternoon against the Fever.
When head coach Curt Miller was asked about her status after Connecticut’s 90-72 win over Indiana, he didn’t sound cautiously optimistic. It sounded rather bleak with an MRI to come. “The obvious is we could be down to 10 [total players] for the season, and it’s a really different footprint to play all season with 10,” Miller said.
In the Sun’s most recent injury report, they announced Thomas would be out for their game Tuesday against the Dallas Wings.
3. Chicago Sky (3-2) (No Change)
In only two games played this week, the defending champions had a difficult schedule on the road, and it was impressive that they were able to win one of them. After a close 74-71 loss to the Storm in which Chicago turned the ball over 17 times and got outrebounded, the Sky regrouped in Washington four days later. While 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper was a bit limited in her first game back, putting up 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, it was another Finals MVP in Candace Parker who made history on Sunday.
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Parker led Chicago to an 82-73 victory over the Washington Mystics on a 16-point, 13-rebound and 10-assist triple-double. She became not only the oldest player in WNBA history to record a triple-double, but one of only three players to record multiple triple-doubles in her W career.
2. Washington Mystics (5-2) (↓ 1 Spot)
While the Mystics fell to the Sky on Sunday afternoon due to stagnant play on offense, they still walked away with two quality wins this week, including one in particular where their defense had to step up and eventually won them the game. While Atlanta Dream rookie sensation Rhyne Howard couldn’t miss against the Mystics in the first half on Friday, after halftime, defensive stopper Alysha Clark and two-way point guard Natasha Cloud made sure she missed a whole lot. Howard only made 1-of-9 shots in the second half. Against the Wings a few days earlier, Washington proved its offensive balance. The Mystics had five scorers in double figures, including 2022 third overall pick Shakira Austin, who had 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, eight boards, two assists and two blocks in Washington’s 84-68 win over the Wings.
1. Las Vegas Aces (7-1) (↑ 1 Spot)
While in the early going the Aces have looked like a revelation under new head coach Becky Hammon, their four wins this week came against three teams that are struggling mightily in the Lynx, Mercury and Sparks. It was a nostalgic week for the Aces, as they celebrated former head coach Bill Laimbeer and wished him well in his retirement from coaching. The three-time WNBA champion coach admitted on Saturday to the press that if he had stayed, he might have “inhibited some of” the growth of the Aces.
The way his Aces teams played was predicated on scoring in the paint without modern-style spacing. On Saturday he noted that he has seen the most growth this season from 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Jackie Young. And he’s not wrong. In Las Vegas’ past four games, Young has scored 20.8 points per game, has shot 56.3 percent from three (9-16) and has racked up 16 assists and eight steals. She’s an early front-runner for Most Improved Player.