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WNBA power rankings (week nine)

Date: August 13, 2019

By: Heaven Hill

WNBA Power Rankings

We have returned once again with another edition of WNBA Power Rankings, recapping and highlighting games from August 7- August 12. This edition won’t feature much changes in terms of playoff seeding from the last, since teams have played at most two games since the last article. 

However, this round of the power rankings features a shakeup at the top, as one team is playing better than ever and have inserted themselves into the top-two conversation, while another team has suffered back-to-back losses and has lost their cushion in the loss column over the teams in third and fourth place. 

How have the rankings shifted in the last few days? Will anyone provide a challenge to the new number one team?

1. Washington Mystics, up one spot (17-7)

Highlighted game: W vs Minnesota Lynx, 101-78

The Washington Mystics have reclaimed the top spot in the rankings, a position they haven’t held since mid-July. Currently on a three-game win streak, the Mystics have bludgeoned almost every opponent in their path, to the tune of a plus 9.7-point differential, more than twice as high as the next team. Washington has the best offense in the league with a scorching 111.5 offensive rating, and they showed their scoring ability in the highlighted game of the week.

The ‘Stics were in control from the opening tip and increased their lead with a dominant fourth quarter. The Lynx are still trying to adjust with the loss of Damiris Dantas to a calf injury and the return of Seimone Augustus to the starting lineup, and Washington pounced all over them.

Elena Delle Donne continued her MVP campaign with an easy 23 points and 10 rebounds against the outmatched Minnesota frontcourt. Ariel Atkins had a strong outing as she led the team in plus-minus and added 20 points to hopefully break through a slight sophomore slump. 

But an unheralded player, and possible missing piece to last year’s almost-championship puzzle, Emma Meesseman, dropped an astonishing season-high 25 points off the pine. If she can produce anywhere close to that level of production throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs, very few teams would have the frontcourt depth to deal with the Mystics.

Other results: W vs Fever, 91-78 (Delle Donne 22 pts/eight rebs)

2. Los Angeles Sparks, up one spot (15-8)

Highlighted game: W vs Chicago Sky, 84-81

The Los Angeles Sparks are hotter than fish grease and they’re playing better than ever. They haven’t lost since the All-Star break, and they’ve just swept their four-game homestand which included a gauntlet of tough Western Conference foes before closing it out with perhaps their biggest win of the season, the highlighted game of the week.

Los Angeles came out sluggish to start, as the Sky quickly jumped out to an 18-5 lead and eventually built a 16-point lead. At this point, the Sparks could’ve easily laid down and took the tough loss; a three and one stretch at home isn’t bad and they were still comfortably in possession of a top-four seed in the playoffs, securing a first-round bye.

However, the Sparks battled all the way back and outscored the Sky over the last three quarters by 15 points, and they needed every one in what was a nail biter to the end. Nneka Ogwumike, who’s building quite the MVP case of her own, dropped a 17-point double-double in the heated contest, and her All-Star running mate, Chelsea Gray, added 26 points of her own including seven points in the last 1:25 of the game.

Long story short, this team has an absurd amount of frontcourt depth, with the Ogwumikes, Maria Vadeeva returning from overseas and Candace Parker returning to her usual self. Top-10 pick Kalani Brown is a weapon waiting to be unleashed off the bench for tougher matchups.

Not to mention, their backcourt is just as stacked, with Gray, sharpshooters Sydney Wiese and Marina Mabrey, and microwave scorer Riquna Williams on her way back soon from suspension. Simply put, this team is legit, and first place is in their sights.

Other results: W vs Mercury, 84-74 (Parker 12 pts/11 rebs/six asts)

3. Las Vegas Aces, up one spot (16-9)

Highlighted game: W vs Connecticut Sun, 89-81

The Aces brought their ‘A’ game in their highlighted game of the week, as they defeated the then-first place Connecticut Sun to garner an important win and increase their lead on the fifth seeded Chicago Sky.

The team defense was phenomenal, as the Sun was held to 39.5% from the field. Each starter for Las Vegas scored in double figures; yes, even the backcourt came to play in this one. Liz Cambage was superb on both ends, dropping 21 points and 12 rebounds while playing great defense on Connecticut’s MVP candidate Jonquel Jones.

The highly touted guards, recent number one picks Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, and All-Star Kayla McBride, combined for 47 points and 12 assists in the win. I know I tend to criticize them a tad bit too much for their inconsistent play, but they showed up for this game and secured an important victory for their playoff hopes. 

Other results: L vs Sky, 78-66 (Cambage 28 pts/11 rebs)

4. Connecticut Sun, down three spots (16-8)

Highlighted game: L vs Minnesota Lynx, 89-57

Well, these last two games did not go how the Sun expected them to, to say the least. Connecticut was facing a tough road test ahead of them, facing a litany of Western Conference opponents, and they’ve dropped each game so far, resulting in a two-game losing streak and a steep tumble down the rankings.

In their highlighted game of the week, the Sun came out sluggish from the start, facing a shocking 29-point deficit at halftime. Connecticut was missing their usual stifling defense, as everyone on the Lynx scored with ease from all over the court.

Bria Holmes was the only player on the Sun to score in double figures, with an inefficient 10 points. Jones finished with eight points and six rebounds, and was silent throughout.

This was a whistle-to-whistle beatdown suffered by the Sun, and they have strides to make to get back in the win column and reclaim first place while staving off the Sparks and Aces in hot pursuit.

Other results: L vs Aces, 89-81 (Jones 8 pts/12 rebs)

5. Chicago Sky, up one spot (14-10)

Highlighted game: W vs Las Vegas Aces, 87-84

The Sky’s highlighted game of the week is a big road win over a top-4 team in the standings. Since these teams are so close to each other in terms of record, this win could be crucial for tiebreakers determining who gets the playoff round byes.

The WNBA’s resident dime dropper Courtney Vandersloot stole the show with a masterful performance, as she dropped 16 points and 13 assists in the winning effort. The Twin Towers of Stefanie Dolson and Jantel Lavender combined for 29 points on great efficiency in the frontcourt, and Diamond DeShields added 16 points and seven rebounds in the close victory.

Chicago is one game back in the loss column for a top-four seed, and getting a first-round bye in the playoffs would make their road to the Finals even easier. If their important players contribute in the playoffs like they did against the Aces, the Sky could be a tough out in the playoffs. 

Other results: W vs Liberty, 101-92 (Lavender 20 pts/10 rebs); L vs Sparks, 84-81 (Parker 19 pts/seven rebs)

6. Seattle Storm, up two spots (14-11)

Highlighted game: W vs New York Liberty, 84-69

The Storm ruined the Liberty’s only game played in the Barclay Center this season, with a decisive 15-point victory for their highlighted game of the week.

Jordin Canada, while not contributing much on the offensive end, had Liberty All-Star Kia Nurse in a straitjacket throughout the game, holding her to 1-8 from the field. Natasha Howard, along with Canada, rank first and second in the league in steals per game, and their defensive instincts were prevalent throughout as they pestered New York into 18 turnovers.

Alysha Clark was phenomenal, as she went perfect from the floor to the tune of 21 points. But the X-factor for the Storm, and a potential big piece for a possible championship repeat, is guard Sami Whitcomb, who dropped 18 points and three steals in this outing. 

Whitcomb has been thrust into the starting lineup with the injuries to Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, and Seattle needs production from everyone if they want to make the playoffs comfortably. This was a good road win over a team who has shown great improvement from last season.

Other results: W vs Wings, 69-57 (Howard 23 pts/11 rebs/six stls)

7. Minnesota Lynx, no movement (12-12)

Highlighted game: W vs Connecticut Sun, 89-57

The Minnesota Lynx have split their two games since the last edition of Power Rankings, so they’ve stayed stagnant for now. They were unfortunate to face both of the current top-two teams in the standings, and the results of each game were polar opposites of each other, perhaps exposing the Sun as pretenders or solidifying the Mystics as the real deal.

In their highlighted game of the week, the Lynx absolutely bludgeoned Connecticut, snapping their 7-game win streak to move above .500 at the time. Sylvia Fowles had an easy 17 points and 12 rebounds, all the while locking down the Sun frontcourt racking up three blocks. 

Napheesa Collier had a rough shooting night, but she still managed to tie for the team lead in plus minus and snag eight rebounds and four steals. Dantas returned from injury and scored 11 points, and Stephanie Talbot and Danielle Robinson combined for 28 points off the pine in the blowout victory.

All in all, a dominant win for the Lynx that proved somewhat they could hang with almost any team on any night. Well, except the Mystics, they’re pummeling everyone.

Other results: L vs Mystics, 101-78 (Sims 20 pts/eight asts)

8. Phoenix Mercury, down three spots (11-12)

Highlighted game: L vs Dallas Wings, 80-77

The highlighted game for the Mercury might just be the most important game of all games highlighted in this edition of the Power Rankings. Simply put, events in this game could possibly derail Phoenix’s entire season.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Brittney Griner became entangled in the lane with newly acquired Wings forward Kristine Anigwe and a fight ensued. They were both ejected, along with Diana Taurasi (who didn’t play), Briann January, and Kayla Thornton and Kaela Davis for the Wings.

The Mercury were leading by three points at that point and proceeded to lose by three. Now this game could be the most important game of the season, solely because of the players involved for Phoenix.

If Griner and January are suspended for, say, five games each, Phoenix would be missing a ton of production. This could lead to a big losing streak and a team on the outskirts of the playoff picture like the Liberty or the Fever could close the gap. 

This is not something the Mercury could afford to occur, and time will tell if it affects them greatly. Leilani Mitchell dropped 23 points and DeWanna Bonner added a 12-point double double in the defeat.

Other results: L vs Sparks, 84-74 (Griner 27 pts/six rebs)

9. Indiana Fever, no movement (9-16)

Highlighted game: W vs Atlanta Dream, 87-82

The Fever now have a chance at reaching double digit wins this upcoming week, after picking up another victory over the crestfallen Atlanta Dream in their highlighted game of the week.

The All-Star duo of Candice Dupree and Erica Wheeler came to play in this matchup, after neither scored more than 12 points in the Fever’s last home game against the Lynx. Dupree scored 16 points, adding nine rebounds and three assists along the way, while the All-Star Game MVP Wheeler dropped an efficient 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

Rookie center Teaira McCowan added 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench, and Kelsey Mitchell and Natalie Achonwa also joined them in double figures in what was a solid game for the Fever. 

Other results: L vs Mystics, 91-78 (K. Mitchell 18 pts/six asts)

10. Dallas Wings, up one spot (7-17)

Highlighted game: W vs Phoenix Mercury, 80-77

We’ve already detailed the scuffle between Brittney Griner and multiple Wings players that took place during this game, and while it might possibly derail Phoenix’s entire season, this road win for the Wings over a playoff team couldn’t be ignored for the highlighted game of the week.

Allisha Gray, who hit a big three-point shot before the fight ensued, contributed 11 points and four boards to the win. Arike Ogunbowale added 13 points and six assists for the win over a team with significant playoff experience.

And if there is a bright side to all of this, in the games that Thornton, Davis and Anigwe are possibly suspended for, the Wings can see what they have in second round pick Megan Gustafson, who won almost every major award in college basketball last season before she was inexplicably cut.

This season is a year of development for Dallas, and if Gustafson shows flashes in the minutes she’s given, the possible suspensions could be a blessing in disguise for the Wings.

Other results: L vs Storm, 69-57 (Thornton 14 pts/six rebs)

11. New York Liberty, down one spot (8-15)

Highlighted game: L vs Chicago Sky, 101-92

A current five-game losing streak has the Liberty tumbling out of playoff contention, and in their highlighted game of the week, New York had a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Of course, they subsequently allowed the most points scored in a WNBA quarter ever (42) and suffered another crushing defeat.

Tina Charles had an efficient 24 points, five rebounds and six assists, Reshanda Allen added 21 points off the pine, and rookie Marine Johannes managed to go perfect from the field yet again, contributing 16 points in the defeat.

The promising backcourt of Asia Durr and Kia Nurse disappeared from this one, as they combined for 12 points. Amanda Zahui B. hasn’t been her usual self since returning from Europe. All in all, a tough loss for a team that could’ve used a big victory over a playoff team.

Other results: L vs Storm, 84-69 (Charles 22 pts/eight rebs)

12. Atlanta Dream, no movement (5-19)

Highlighted game: L vs Fever, 87-82

No, you aren’t experiencing deja vu, as the highlighted game for the Dream this week is yet another loss to the Fever, but this one at least wasn’t on a game winner. This latest loss has pushed their losing streak to nine games. 

Tiffany Hayes erupted for 34 points and six rebounds, in an effort that proved she should have been named an All-Star. She was unguardable and gave her all on the court. Brittany Sykes and Jessica Breland joined her in double figures, scoring 15 and 13 points respectively.

Everyone else in the Atlanta rotation didn’t do much in this matchup, and the win slipped away from the Dream. The losing streak seems destined to reach 10 games, with a road matchup against the Aces on the docket. 

At this point, the front office of the Dream should focus on rebuilding their relationship with Angel McCoughtry so she can return next year at her very best, and hire the best scouts they can and send them to every Oregon and Baylor basketball game next season, so they can see which players can be added to the rotation. This team needs all the help they can get.

Other results: N/A

 

Heaven Hill can be reached at heaven.hill@student.shu.edu.

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