On Sunday the curtain closes on the regular season however with three teams nonetheless with an opportunity of taking the eighth and final spot within the WNBA playoffs.
It was going so properly.
The New York Liberty got here out sturdy to start out the season like being free of years of being locked within the purgatory of irrelevance since Bill Laimbeer left in 2017. A pair of rising stars and a few nice veterans meant the children would have the ability to be taught rapidly and compete.
They began this season 5-1 and had been with out Natasha Howard for the primary 4 video games – three of which had been wins, although admittedly two got here in opposition to the woeful Indiana Fever. But greater scalps got here in video games 5 and 6 in opposition to the Chicago Sky and the Dallas Wings, when the middle was proper on the coronary heart of the motion.
Howard performed for the Seattle Storm in earlier seasons and had a profession yr in 2019 with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird out injured. She averaged 18 factors, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and practically two blocks whereas the staff managed an 18-16 file with out their two greatest gamers, so the world is aware of what she is succesful of.
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Fellow former Storm champion Sami Whitcomb joined her so as to add to the staff’s successful mentality.
Sabrina Ionescu hit the dramatic game-winning three with lower than one second to go because the New York Liberty edged out the Indiana Fever
Sabrina Ionescu has proven her skill as a WNBA-ready level guard with averages of 11.7 factors, 5.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists per sport, however Betnijah Laney has an actual New York state of thoughts, turning into the scoring chief on a scrappy staff with heaps of coronary heart. Some of the first-year gamers are exhibiting up, with Michaela Onyenwere trying like a favorite to choose up Rookie of the Year honours and if there was an award for greatest bench cheerleader, DiDi Richards can be successful it.
But throughout the Wings sport early within the season, it was revealed Howard had sprained her MCL and wouldn’t return till August. During that interval, the Liberty went 5-11 and whereas she returned to assist lead New York to a giant win over the Seattle Storm, they misplaced eight straight and couldn’t shake the funk till assembly the Washington Mystics earlier this week.
The Liberty have completed their regular season and as issues stand stay outdoors of the playoff race, however they aren’t lifeless but. The solely hope they’ve is the staff holds a successful file over the LA Sparks and Mystics for the season, giving them the tie-breaker in opposition to each teams.
That means everybody in New York can be tuning in because the Mystics face the Minnesota Lynx free to stream on Sky Sports YouTube and when the LA Sparks take on the Wings dwell on Sky Sports Mix and Action straight after. If LA and Washington lose, New York can be again within the playoffs after 4 lengthy years.
It was anticipated the Washington Mystics can be gradual to start out this season.
They had been with out Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman with hopes the previous MVP and Finals MVP would return in some unspecified time in the future. Despite the latter leaving the door open to the chance of returning to the WNBA after the Olympics, it proved to be waffle from the Belgian. While Delle Donne made a comeback in current weeks, it lasted simply three video games earlier than retreating attributable to a nasty again that had not healed sufficient since her final tour of responsibility in 2019.
For this purpose, a lot of the season has been on the shoulders of one other former MVP in Tina Charles. The multiple-time All-Star has completed precisely what she did throughout her final years with the New York Liberty: ball out.
But in her first yr with the Mystics, her new franchise has completed a lot the identical as her earlier staff: encompass her with a scarcity of depth.
It’s not essentially her fault, or the staff’s – Delle Donne and Meesseman being out doesn’t assist – and all through all of the adversity, they’d Mike Thibault within the teaching seat discovering methods to win in troublesome conditions. He will get extra out of much less as a lot as some other coach within the league and has seen each scenario attainable: from making a number of Finals runs with the Connecticut Sun earlier in his profession to finally successful all of it with the Mystics after consecutive Finals appearances in 2018 and 2019.
The issue they’ve is that Thibault has contracted Covid-19 and won’t be with the staff or capable of establish mismatches and alternatives then to make in-game changes. They will face one of the perfect teams within the league – the Minnesota Lynx – however the man with the plan won’t be there.
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As for the Sparks, being in rebuild mode is troublesome for any staff. LA noticed Chelsea Gray, Riquana Williams, Sydney Wiese and the good Candace Parker depart on the finish of final season in order they pivot in the direction of a youthful group led by level guard Te’a Cooper, Nia Coffey, Arella Guirantes and the still-young Brittney Sykes, there can be teething points.
The plan was Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver and veteran newcomers to the staff Erica Wheeler and Amanda Zahui B may supply management and assist ease the Sparks’ transition from one period to a different. The plan was to stay related.
It didn’t go to plan.
Going into the final sport of the season – tipping off on Sky Sports Mix and Arena at 10pm this Sunday – the Ogwumikes have compiled 24 video games between them, Toliver has solely managed 19 this yr and whereas Zahui B has been current, the others have undoubtedly been missed.
Some of the youthful gamers had constructed up momentum and the Sparks had been 6-7 to start out the yr. But whereas they handled accidents and Covid-19 protocols, the staff introduced in GB Basketball stars Karlie Samuelson and Kristine Anigwe on short-term contracts.
A six-game dropping streak was adopted by 4 wins and one other six losses, so consistency has been a problem. That being stated LA has come down the stretch with some combat, registering a win in opposition to the reigning champion Seattle Storm in dominant style.
Highlights of the regular-season sport between the Seattle Storm and the LA Sparks within the WNBA
None of the three teams which may end because the eighth seed are anticipated to do any harm within the postseason.
The first 4 seeds within the playoffs will robotically advance previous the primary spherical having earned a bye. This means the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury will face whichever sufferer secures the final spot. Brittney Griner is having an MVP-calibre yr, Diana Taurasi is hungry to compete for one other championship as she approaches the age of 40 and Skylar Diggins-Smith is having the perfect season of her profession.
But clawing their method into the playoffs solely to be kicked out after a single-elimination sport can be price one thing to some of these franchises: LA is rebuilding and must see that issues are on the up, if we by no means see Elena Delle Donne or Emma Meesseman within the WNBA ever once more Washington wants one thing to hold its hat on, and New York must know the staff’s gradual return to relevance is working.
If the Mystics and Sparks lose, the Liberty are in. If one of them loses the opposite can be in. If they each win, Washington will advance as they beat LA 2-1 throughout the regular season. So set your timer to look at all three WNBA video games on Sky Sports again to again this Sunday, as a result of it may not imply a lot within the short-term, however this could possibly be the catalyst every staff must change into a contender within the coming years.