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July 12, 2010 at 12:17 PM

Monday dribble: WNBA power rankings, twist & award picks

Storm04.jpgTechnically the second-half of the WNBA season already started with New York defeating Chicago on Sunday. But a few hours away, USA Basketball lost to the Australians in a scrimmage, wrapping up the “All-Star” break that was really training camp for the Americans. Storm deep reserve Abby Bishop finished with 11 points for the Opals, according to media who attended.
With everyone filtered back to their WNBA teams, the real fun in the league begins. There are eight postseason spots up for grabs and only Seattle appears guaranteed a slot. The Storm’s magic number over Los Angeles and Tulsa has dipped to single digits, meaning Seattle could clinch a berth before August.
The team has already started to look East, however, wanting homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. Of course the Storm would have to battle past glitches first. Stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson haven’t advanced beyond the opening round since winning it all in 2004 (pictured right by AP). And it didn’t matter if they had homecourt advantage or not.
So, no matter where the Storm lands, the intriguing races are out East. Can Atlanta surpass its franchise-best 18-wins? Will Indiana sneak up and claim the top spot? How will Connecticut react to injuries? Inquiring minds want to know.
There’s only one way to find out, and that’s with the season resuming on Tuesday.
Here’s the seventh edition of power rankings to get things started:
Team (Record/Last week’s ranking) Comment
1. Seattle (16-2/1): Ah, Jackson had a full week to rest and recover from a concussion suffered July 3. That spells trouble for the rest of the WNBA.
2. Atlanta (14-4/2): Playing with USAB last weekend should further open star Angel McCoughtry’s eyes to her true potential as a leader and player — Another way to spell trouble.
3. Washington (12-5/3): Nice 12-day break in between games will help rest nagging injuries. But hopefully team isn’t rusty, winning eight of 10 headed into break.
4. Indiana (11-6/4): Looking for bench consistency, Fever cut Shay Murphy (wrist injury) and signed Joy Cheek. Indy also needs to keep Tamika Catchings (knees) healthy down the stretch.
5. Chicago (8-11/5): Lost an ugly one to New York on Sunday, but plays upcoming three games at home — two against the Western Conference. Fowles should tear it up.
6. Connecticut (10-8/5): Riding a three-game losing streak with one road game remaining before a long home stand. Still need to learn how to win outside of Mohegan.
7. Phoenix (7-11/8): The battle is on for second place in the Western Conference and the Mercury seem primed to nab the spot.
8. San Antonio (6-10/9): Just when the Silver Stars appear to click with good win against Connecticut, Hammon is out due to injury (hip flexor). Posts, mainly Appel (foot), looking better but health remains an issue.
9. New York (8-9/7): Liberty entering tough stretch against Eastern Conference’s best teams. Loses could mount like trash on city’s streets.
10. Minnesota (6-11/10): Remember when people picked the Lynx to dominate? Second half of season could prove prognosticators right.
11. Los Angeles (4-13/11): Hopefully California will have one of its blackouts during ESPN2 broadcast of Tulsa game Tuesday. Blank screen probably more exciting.
12. Tulsa (3-14/12): Don’t worry Tulsa, football season is starting soon.
AND THE WINNER IS?: I’m not grading the Storm at the break this season. Aside from waiting for rookie Alison Lacey to hit a three-pointer, my bell-curve is shot. Everyone gets at least a B- so that there’s room for improvement.
The lack of need to focus on issues with Seattle has allowed more time to peek across the WNBA to see who can challenge this team. But I don’t see anyone taking two awards away from Seattle — MVP and Coach of the Year.
Storm coach Brian Agler, who’s also director of player personnel, had to move quick during the offseason when he discovered C Janell Burse and F Katie Gearlds were definitely not returning. Then he had to make another quick move when PG Loree Moore suffered a season-ending knee injury.
His additions and long-term plans with Camille Little and Tanisha Wright have formed a magical start that should be honored. He’s also made some good adjustments without Bird (back) and Jackson (concussion) in the lineup that kept the winning flowing effortlessly. For that, he’s my pick for COY.
Jackson is the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year and if you need me to explain this, you haven’t watched her play. She started dedicating herself to defense in 2007 and really improved under Agler. Her talent on both sides of the ball and dedication to improve by her standard — not numbers that say she’s already great — will make her the best player in the world as long as she’s healthy.
I can’t wait to see Connecticut center Tina Charles play Jackson and Little, but the former UConn star is the early pick for Rookie of the Year, regardless. The Sun is slipping due to some injuries, but Charles is holding her own in the paint and the East has some tough centers to defend.
Most Improved and Sixth Woman are tricky picks. Chasity Melvin (Washington), Briann January (Indiana) and maybe even Shavonte Zellous (Indiana) could be in the mix for off the bench play. We’d just have to see how their roles progress in the second half of the season.
I could easily give the MIP award to Monique Currie. But is she really improved or just getting the ball more now that Alana Beard is out? And what about F Camille Little? She’s had a great ascension that’s helped Seattle.
We’ll hold out on those. But the comeback award definitely goes to Swin Cash – although the WNBA doesn’t hand this out. She’s playing like the ACL (2004) and back (2009) surgeries never happened, adding the three-point shot to her game. Yeah, I said I was peeking out elsewhere only to name a bunch of Storm players, but you try arguing with those picks. I’m listening.
LET’S TWIST: Chicago F Mistie Bass’ family had a good time on July 9, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her father’s hit “The Twist” in Philadelphia. Here’s some fun footage of Dad, Chubby Checker, hosting a twist-off with fans:

MORE TRAINING: Bird stated this World Championships beginning in September in Czech Republic is the real transition of the national team. Before, while she joined Diana Taurasi and Catchings to lead the team to Olympic gold, legends like Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson were there to lean on.
The Americans are hopeful there isn’t another crack in the system, where they lost to Russia and had to jump through hoops to get to the Beijing Games. The plan is to win the automatic bid and run through various training camps until the London Games.
But first, coach Geno Auriemma has to find some time to sync with his team. That starts with camps in Connecticut on Sept. 10, USA Basketball announced on Monday. Of course, not everyone will be available due to the WNBA playoffs. But it’s a start.
NBA LOVE: OK, so LeBron James once again overshadowed the WNBA with his free agent hype. (The last time was killing the Cleveland Rockers by entering the NBA and owners wanting to focus on him).
James’ brethren still show plenty of love for the women, however. Draft pick Quincy Pondexter was at the Storm’s game against New York prior to the league-wide break and Marvin Williams has been spotted in the stands. Nate Robinson saw Seattle play Los Angeles in California, regularly telling fans via Twitter that Jackson and Bird are his favorite players.
At the Adonai Hood Classic last weekend, Robinson told reporters, “I follow women’s basketball, of course. Women get overlooked. They get overshadowed because of men’s basketball. They play the game, they play for the love just like we do. And to have a team still in Seattle is definitely a blessing. So of course we support our women’s basketball team. That’s something that everybody thinks to do: to support them a little more.”
POPPING COLLARS: Los Angeles star Candace Parker has the highest selling jersey, according to the WNBA. She’s held the spot since entering the league in 2008. Bird, the leading vote-getter for All-Star balloting, is ninth while Storm gear is fourth overall in top selling team merchandise.
POW: The WNBA named Candice Dupree (Phoenix) and former Storm G Iziane Castro Marques (Atlanta) its Players of the Week for the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.

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