The National Women's Hockey League is currently in its offseason following its sixth year of play, but things have been anything but normal over the past few weeks. A lot has transpired recently, and it appears as though this could be the tip of the iceberg.
The WNBA All-Star Game has come and gone. Good times were had by all.
But now the fun begins.
The league's regular season ends in less than two weeks, which means that every game in the condensed schedule is that much more important for the teams regardless of their standing. The squads at the top are fighting to stay there, while the teams near the bottom are in the spoiler role for those on the bubble.
Since my last recap, the first-place Seattle Storm have clinched one of the eight coveted playoff spots, while the Indiana Fever and New York Liberty have both been eliminated from postseason contention. But there's still basketball left to play for everyone.
All 12 teams returned from their midseason break last week, with games starting on Tuesday, July 31. Some of the teams looked refreshed after the time off. Others? Not so much.
Here's what I mean.
12,064: The number of people on hand to see Seattle clinch a playoff spot on Friday.
The sellout crowd at Key Arena for Friday's 85-75 win over Minnesota was the third in a row for the Storm, who are well on their way to clinching a double-bye into the playoff semifinals. What an improvement from a team that finished below .500 and went one-and-done in the postseason last year.
The Storm began this week with a win in a rare Monday game in New York. Despite the 8:00 PM Pacific tipoff time, I'm betting quite a few hometown fans tuned in. And they got a treat from Breanna Stewart, who scored 32 points in the game. The third-year forward is a favorite for MVP this year, but naturally, she's focused more on the team effort.
“To me, MVP is an award you get when you're playing at a high level but your team is doing something great, too. Honestly, the wins are what's most important. Whatever happens from there is gravy.” @breannastewart— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) August 6, 2018
READ ▶️ https://t.co/GvqEzhPXfZ#Stewie4MVP pic.twitter.com/jt5mtp6gkJ
And they say there's no basketball in Seattle.
5,010: The number of career points Candace Parker has after Los Angeles' home win over Phoenix on Sunday.
Parker became the 20th player in WNBA history to surpass the 5,000-point milestone when she hit a free throw in the first half of Sunday's game. She went on to score 14 points along with 14 rebounds and eight assists in what became a very close game for the Sparks. Earlier in the week, Parker scored a game-high 23 points in Los Angeles' blowout victory over the Lynx. She was rewarded for her monster week with her 24th career Player of the Week honor from the WNBA. If Parker and her teammates continue this level of play in these last two weeks and beyond, I expect the Sparks to make a run at another league title.
35: The combined margin of victory for the Atlanta Dream in their last two games following a post-break loss earlier in the week.
One could say it's been a good year for the Dream, and they'd be right. While Atlanta's eight-game win streak came to an end with a loss to Washington (July 31), the team bounced back in a big way the rest of the week. The Dream beat the visiting Chicago Sky by 15 points on Friday (89-74) before they put up a 20-point victory in Minnesota on Sunday (86-66). A big part of Atlanta's success -- this week and otherwise -- has been Tiffany Hayes. The guard finished Sunday's game with a career-high six three-pointers and a season-best 28 points. This combined with nearly 20 points in the Dream's two other games last week led to Hayes getting the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. Atlanta will look to become the second team to clinch a playoff spot with a win against Las Vegas Tuesday night. I expect that to happen -- and more.
2: The number of points Indiana's defense allowed in the fourth quarter of its 68-55 win over New York on Saturday.
The Fever found themselves on the right side of a record during Saturday's game. The two -- yes, just two -- points scored by the Liberty in the final frame were good for the fewest points ever allowed by an Indiana squad in a single quarter. The mark also tied the league record for the second-lowest number of points scored in a frame. The Fever had good offense, too, as Candice Dupree led four players in double figures with a season-high 25 points. Indiana knocked New York out of playoff contention with the win, its second in a row after upsetting Dallas on Thursday. But more importantly, the Fever's two-game win streak is the first time the team has won consecutive games in more than a year (since May 24, 2017). They won't make the playoffs this year, but the future looks bright for Indiana to return to the postseason in years to come.
"I was just trying to be aggressive."— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) August 6, 2018
Candice Dupree breaks down her 25-point performance against the Liberty and talks about the #Fever's improvements this season. #WatchUsWork pic.twitter.com/jVs2tGzI0Q
9: the combined margin of error in Dallas' three losses this week.
Those losses, part of a five-game losing streak for the Wings, all came at or near the end of the game. It started with a 92-91 loss to the Chicago Sky (July 31), during which Dallas was trailing by as many as 24 points. The Wings then lost to last-place Indiana by 6 (August 2) before a heartbreaking last-second loss to the Mystics at home on Sunday (76-74). While this combined margin of error is much lower than 15-point (114-99 Sky, July 20) and 17-point (92-75 Connecticut Sun, July 22) losses before the All-Star Break, the Wings' current struggles are a reminder that every game counts in this condensed season. Dallas currently sits eighth in the standings; the team will have to make sure they don't fall any lower if they want to make the postseason.
4: The number of places Minnesota fell in the standings after a 0-3 week.
The Lynx entered the week after the break ranked third, riding a nice three-game win streak put together before the team hosted the All-Star festivities. That week had Minnesota playing at Los Angeles (August 2) and at Seattle (August 3) before returning home to face Atlanta on Sunday. As previously mentioned, the Lynx lost all three games -- and they weren't pretty. Sylvia Fowles led Minnesota in scoring in those contests, but no one else really stepped up where needed. Maya Moore, fresh off of her third-straight All-Star MVP accolade, continued her scoring struggles. And Rebekkah Brunson is already ruled out for Tuesday's game at Chicago after likely breaking her nose in Sunday's loss. The week has given many Lynx fans a look at the future and a harsh reality check that the team isn't the same as they've been in the past. I still expect them to make the playoffs, but a bye may not come with it. (I also still have faith in Cheryl Reeve, and I would be happy to say why if anyone doesn't.)
And now, the story that's dominated the headlines in and out of the league...
The What the Heck
25+: the number of hours the Las Vegas Aces spent traveling to get to Washington, D.C., for their eventually-canceled game against the Mystics on Friday.
Did you know that WNBA teams and staff travel to and from away games on commercial flights? And did you know that those teams and staff aren't immune to delays and cancellations? Yeah, no charter flights for this league.
In an unbelievable case of "stars, they're just like us," the Aces dealt with several of those travel woes while on their trip to D.C. last week. The players showed the world via Twitter just what they were dealing with – including a nearly 12-hour wait at the Las Vegas airport. The Aces' social media team had a bit of fun with the frustration as well.
🚨INJURY UPDATE🚨@kaymac_2123 😴@Kelseyplum10 😴@_BonnBonn 😴@LA_Cruisen 😴@dearicamarie 😴@CarolynSwords 😴@kelseybone3 😴@jaimenaredd 😴@Niacoff 😴@tyoung11 😴@jisupark_twt 😴@_ajawilson22 😴@OMG_itsizzyb on the temporarily suspended list but probably 😴 too pic.twitter.com/2MBoeJhPiv— Las Vegas Aces ♦️♠️ (@LVAces) August 3, 2018
The game was postponed an hour before it was eventually canceled. It came too late in an already shortened season to try and reschedule. Despite the struggles the Aces players and staff went through to even get to D.C. in the first place, many of their Washington counterparts -- and others online -- thought they should have played anyway.
The Aces squad issued this statement after the cancellation.
Full statement on tonight's canceled game in Washington. 👇 pic.twitter.com/SBCypeCav8— Las Vegas Aces ♦️♠️ (@LVAces) August 4, 2018
I see both sides of the debate, graciously displayed here on ESPNW. I'm also sure that the Aces players did not make their decision lightly. They know what's at stake. But they also know the importance of sleep and taking care of their bodies. There's still no official word on what the canceled game will mean for both Vegas and Washington, but I hope the Aces feel that they made the right decision either way.
...especially because the season won't get any easier from here. Buckle up for the second to last week of play!
The Schedule: Week 12
Tuesday, August 7
- Las Vegas Aces (12-15) at Atlanta Dream (18-10): 7:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Seattle Storm (22-7) at Indiana Fever (5-23): 7:00 PM Eastern
- Minnesota Lynx (15-13) at Chicago Sky (10-18): 8:30 PM Eastern [Twitter]
- Washington Mystics (16-11) at Phoenix Mercury (16-13): 10:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
Wednesday, August 8
- Los Angeles Sparks (17-11) at New York Liberty (7-21): 7:00 PM Eastern
- Connecticut Sun (16-12) at Dallas Wings (14-14): 8:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
Thursday, August 9
- Seattle Storm at Washington Mystics: 11:30 AM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Los Angeles Sparks at Atlanta Dream: 7:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Minnesota Lynx at Las Vegas Aces: 10:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
Friday, August 10
- Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky: 9:00 PM Eastern
- Indiana Fever at Phoenix Mercury: 10:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
Saturday, August 11
- Dallas Wings at Atlanta Dream: 2:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Indiana Fever at Las Vegas Aces: 10:30 PM Eastern
Sunday, August 12
- Atlanta Dream at New York Liberty: 2:30 PM Eastern
- Chicago Sky at Connecticut Sun: 3:00 PM Eastern
- Dallas Wings at Washington Mystics: 3:00 PM Eastern [NBA TV]
- Los Angeles Sparks at Phoenix Mercury: 7:00 PM Eastern [ESPN 2]
- Seattle Storm at Minnesota Lynx: 7:00 PM Eastern [ESPN 3]
Filed under: wnba all-star game; basketball; seattle storm; minnesota lynx; breanna stewart; candace parker; los angeles sparks; phoenix mercury; atlanta dream; chicago sky; indiana fever; ny liberty; dallas wings; candice dupree; washington mystics; sylvia fowles; maya moore; rebekkah brunson; cheryl reeve; las vegas aces
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