Recapping the East: Week One
Mystics, led by Beard's 17 ppg, lead the East.
Posted Jun 10, 2009

The Washington Mystics are off to a roaring start in their pursuit of redemption, leading the East in the early going with a 2-0 record. At the opposite end of the spectrum, after the Indiana Fever squeaked out a Tuesday night win on the road against Seattle, the Chicago Sky and the New York Liberty share the Eastern Conference basement, each having lost the only game played thus far.

The Washington Mystics, armed with a new GM, a new coach, and plenty of highly touted new young players, among them this year's number two draft pick Marissa Coleman, have pledged to turn around last year's dismal 10-24 performance. They're certainly off to a great start, leading the Eastern Conference as its only remaining undefeated team.

Of course, there's a long row to hoe before we know whether the Mystics will accomplish their lofty objective, and, just two games into the season (three in the case of the Fever) it almost seems to early to be worrying about the standings. But Full Court brings them to our readers weekly over the course of the season, and after last weekend's season opener, lo, the time is at hand.

Here's how the East's teams came out of the gate:

  1. Washington Mystics (2-0): Washington took their season opener on Saturday with an 82-70 road win in Uncasville over rival Connecticut, then followed it up with a 77-71 win at home on Sunday over the visiting Atlanta Dream. Rookie Marissa Coleman's start was nearly as good as her team's: Coleman came off the bench in her rookie debut to lead her team with 16 points in the Connecticut win (adding five boards an assist and a steal). Three other Mystics -- veteran forward Marie Currie (14 points, six boards); newly acquired point guard Lindsey Harding (12 points and seven assists, to just two turnovers); and forward-center Nakia Sanford, a six-year veteran (11 points, seven rebounds and a block)--joined Coleman in double figures.

    The Mystics took to the floor against the Atlanta Dream the following day, and this time it was Alana Beard who carried the water for her team -- with 27 points, five boards, and five steals. Beard is currently Washington's scoring leader. Crystal Langhorne was the only other Mystics' player to crack the double-digit barrier, notching 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. In a balanced effort, however, with the exception of Harding, who didn't score but dished out a game-high seven assists, and Nikki Blue and rookie Jo Owino, who didn't play, the rest of the Mystics' roster all netted between four and nine points apiece.

    Up next for the Mystics:A real test on the road against Detroit, who just took down the Sparks at the Palace (Wed., 7:30 p.m.).

  2. Connecticut Sun (1-1) Connecticut's team leaders played well in their home opener Saturday despite the loss to the Mystics,

    Asjha Jones led the Sun in defeat, with 22 points and five off-the-glass. The Sun's Lindsay Whalen was also in top form with 21 points, six boards, and four assists. Keisha Brown, picked up by the Sun after the Mystics waived her during the final week of training camp, did her part, adding 10 points in the losing cause. But these were the only three Connecticut players in double figures, and apart from Tamika Whitmore, who added nine points, no one else contributed much of anything at all.

    His team may have given him a headache in their home-opening loss to the Washington Mystics, but the Connecticut Sun's coach Mike Thibault got things worked by the following day, when the Sun beat NY.
    Good grief! Mike Thibault, coach of the Connecticut Suns, appears beside himself during this second-half timeout in his team's home-opening loss to the Mystics. Apparently, he'd gotten things worked out by the following day, when the Sun took their road game in New York.

    The Sun redeemed themselves the following day on the road with a 66-57 win over New York. Whalen led the scoring for the Sun with 14 points, plus 12 boards, and this time Erin Phillips (13 points), Whitmore (11 points and eight boards), and Jones (10 points, six rebounds) all pitched in, along with plenty of help from the bench.

    Coming up for the Sun: A week of rest, capped by a home game at 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon (June 14) against the Atlanta Dream, who are also 1-1.

  3. Atlanta Dream (1-1): Here's a piece of trivia for you: The Atlanta Dream have already picked up their first "W," taking their opener on the road against the Indiana Fever Saturday, 87-86, in double overtime. Last year, it took the league's newest expansion team nearly half the season to notch their first win (July 5, 2008, a 91-84 victory over the nearly as tender Chicago Sky), so things are definitely looking brighter in Georgia this year.

    Chamique Holdsclaw, back with the Dream after previously announcing her retirement from basketball (at least in the WNBA) in 2007 when she walked away from the understaffed Sparks five games into the season, told Sports Illustrated recently that she was feeling "like a rookie again," and excited to be back in the game. She may be feeling like a rookie, but she's playing like the talented veteran she is. Holdsclaw led the Dream with 23 points (on 9/22 shooting from the field), seven boards, four assists, three steals and a block (but seven turnovers--so watch out for efficiency before being sucked in by the points, you fantasy fans!). Holdsclaw was joined in double figures by Brazilian Erika Desouza (16 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks, three steals, and an assist -- but five turnovers), and Nikki Teasley (10 points, six boards, four assists, two steals and a block), in a starting line-up that looked like a Sparks alumni reunion.

    Rookie Angel McCoughtry made a statement in her professional debut, coming off the bench to add 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal. And Sancho Lyttle, acquired from the Comets in the dispersal draft, proved her worth, contributing 10 points, six boards, three steals and two assists in relief--which is a lot more than can be said for Michelle Snow, also picked up from the Comets, who started, but in a decidedly disappointing appearance, was held scoreless and hauled down only a single board, while picking up four personals and coughing the ball up three times during her nine-and-a-half-minutes on the floor.

    Though Atlanta dropped their road game at the Mystics the following day, the Dream had four players in double figures. This time, however, Holdsclaw was the only starter to break that mark, with 12 points (but on better distributed 5-10 field goal shooting) and three boards. She also had a better grasp on the basketball, limiting herself to just two turnovers (against a single assist).

    The bench came to the rescue to keep the game from being a complete walk-over. Coco Miller led the charge , with 17 points, five boards, and two assists, in relief of Nikki Teasley, who struggled with foul trouble (five personals in just under eight minutes of playing time) and was scoreless, boardless, and assistless (but managed two turnovers) after her markedly more impressive performance of the previous day. (Iziane Castro Marques also continued to founder -- she was scoreless against the Mystics and notched only a single field goal, on six attempts, in the previous day's game against the Fever.)

    Lyttle came through once again, with 13 points, four boards, four blocks, three assists and two steals, as did McCoughtry, who put up 10 points and dished out six assists (to five turnovers), plus snagging four steals. Expect some reshuffling in the Dream's starting line-up if things continue apace.

    On the schedule for Atlanta: The Dream will still be on the road, this time at Chicago, at 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 12 (televised on NBA TV). They'll be back in action on this extended road trip Sunday, June 14, at 3:00 p.m., against the Sun.

  4. Detroit Shock (1-1): Finishing out the pack tied at one-and-one, the defending champion Detroit Shock lost their season opener on the road in a 78-58 blowout to the Los Angeles Sparks, then returned the compliment at home at the Palace two days later, taking an 81-52 walkover after receiving their rings before a stated crowd of 13,915.

    Despite two physical games and a first-quarter incident in the game at Staples in which Detroit's Plenette Pierson became entangled with the Sparks' Tina Thompson, sending both players to the floor and Pierson to the sidelines with a (possibly season-ending) shoulder injury, players from both teams were on their best behavior (perhaps league president Donna Orender's presence in the stands had something to do with it). Shock coach Bill Laimbeer ventured onto the floor, ostensibly to tend to his injured player, but spent most of his time there pleading with the refs for a technical, arguing that the take-down was intentional on Thompson's part. (From this observer's viewpoint, it appeared to be more of a matter of Thompson attempting to disengage herself after being tied up and fouled by Pierson.) In any event no technicals were awarded: Thompson and Pierson received off-setting double personal fouls, and Detroit was assessed a team violation for delay of game when Laimbeer overstayed his welcome on the floor instead of helping his player off of it.

    One would have thought the injury might have hit the Shock harder, given that they were already without All Stars Cheryl Ford (out for at least two more weeks recovering from off-season ACL surgery), and Kara Braxton (serving a six-game suspension, which has four games to go, after her guilty plea to DUI). But the Shock, which had only two players (Deanna Nolan with 12 points, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin with 12, plus six boards and four assists) in double-figures in L.A. (remarkably, Katie Smith was more useful there as a rebounder--seven boards--than as a shooter--a mere eight points on icy 3-12 field-goal marksmanship), found their stroke on their home floor.

    Nolan again led the charge, shooting the lights out with 27 points on 11-19 from the field; she also added three steals, three boards, two assists and a block. But this time "Tweetie" got some help from Smith, who chalked up 17 points on somewhat improved 6-18 field goal shooting, as well as from back-up center Olayinka Sanni, who notched 12 points and hauled down five boards.

    Rookie Shavonte Zellous has earned a spot in the Shock's starting line-up, and put on a respectable performance in both outings, with eight points, three boards and a block in the road game and six points, three boards and two assists at home. Zellous also contributed some valuable defensive minutes.

    With three out to injuries and/or suspensions, Detroit applied for and received a waiver to bring on Britany Miller (a rookie center out of Florida State) under a replacement contract, but though Miller was on board for the second of the two games against L.A., she played only eight minutes, during which time her stat line was blank other than a steal and a foul.

    Obviously, Laimbeer wanted something more, as the Shock announced their waiver of Miller today, bringing on veteran center Kelly Schumacher under the replacement contract in Miller's place. Schumacher, who had been cut by the Mystics in the last week of training camp in order to bring their roster down to size, has averaged five points and 3.1 boards per game over her eight-year career in the league, and thus is small comfort for the losses of Ford, Braxton, and Pierson.

    Still, the Shock proved Monday that they can play--and win--not just a "man" down, but three players down. Don't write off the team most WNBA GMs picked to finish atop the Eastern Conference quite yet.

    Looking ahead for Detroit: Wednesday's game, at home, against the Mystics (7:30 p.m.), then a long break to rest and heal before seeing action again, a week from Friday (June 19 at home against Indiana. (Were the scheduling gods kind, or was somebody prescient?)

  5. Indiana Fever (1-2): Indiana pulled itself out of the basement with a Tuesday night win (just in time to make our cut-off) over the Seattle Storm, to bring their record to 1-2. But the front office, who have mused publicly about this being the last year for the franchise unless there is a marked improvement in both performance and attendance, couldn't have been pleased with the way things started out.

    First, there was the double-overtime loss (87-86) to Atlanta in last Saturday's home opener before a stated crowd of 8,719. Sure it was close, exciting even, but that was neither the attendance nor the outcome one might have hoped for to kick off a "do-or-die" season.

    On the bright side, however, Katie Douglas looked to be regaining the top form of prior years after last year's subpar season, leading the Fever with 22 points, four assists and four steals (but four turnovers) in the losing effort. Tamika Catchings also had a strong outing, though far from one of her best outings, adding 15 points including three-of-six long-ball attempts on overall 5-18 field-goal shooting, plus nine boards, five steals and four assists, but five turnovers.

    Tully Bevilaqua came off the bench to add 18 points, and Tammy Sutton-Brown (starting at center) had 15, plus five boards, an assist and a block. Rookie Briann January got the starting nod and turned in a creditable debut performance, with 10 points, five assists and a steal.

    But then the Fever lost again, at home, the following night to the Minnesota Lynx, and this time it wasn't anywhere near close. Indeed, the 74-96 final must have had the owner's reaching for their speed dials. Only Douglas, with 16 points, and Yolanda Griffith, who came off the bench for the Fever's one truly outstanding performance with 17 points, seven boards, and a block, cracked the double-digit barrier.

    Catchings, one of my favorite players in the league, was an unmitigated disaster, attempting only two field goals (and making one of them) in a game in which five of her eight total points came from the foul line. She failed to contribute in other capacities, either, offering zero boards, zero steals, and just one assist to offset (in part) her three turnovers.

    Even the good news--Tuesday night's 73-66 road win against Seattle--was tempered with gloom. Douglas led the team once again with 20 points, returning to the game to score five of those points after taking a bruise to her left eye in a fourth-quarter collision with Seattle's Janell Burse in what several players described as a very physical game. Ebony Hoffman pitched in with 18 points (plus six boards, four assists, three steals and a block, versus four turnovers), and Tammy Sutton-Brown got into the act with a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards. Catchings was again showing signs of life with 14 points and seven boards (plus two assists and two steals), but something is clearly wrong with this premiere athlete's shooting thus far this season. She was just two-of-12 (that's 16.6 %) in field-goal accuracy, and one-for-five from long range.

    Overall, the Fever shot just 37.3% from the field and 25% from long distance, and though they have to be happy about the win, there aren't too many teams in this increasingly competitive league you can beat with that kind of shooting. (In this case, the Fever pulled things out at the foul line, where they made 25 of their 32 charity shots, as opposed to 13-of-16 for the Storm. The Fever also slightly, but remarkably, out-boarded the Storm 31-26.)

    The bad news: It came like the sound of timber being felled in the forest, as Griffith went down in the first quarter, with what was initially announced as an injury to her left ankle. Griffith was helped into a wheelchair and did not return to the game. Shortly before press time the Fever announced that Griffith would be out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Surgery is anticipated within the next week.

    That may be all she wrote for the two-time Olympic gold medalist, former league MVP and newcomer of the year, and perennial All-Star, who currently ranks second in WNBA history in rebounds (2,444) and among the league's all-time leaders in points (6th), free-throws (third), steals (fourth) and blocks (eighth), as Griffith had previously announced that the 2009 season was likely to be her last.

    We're so disappointed to lose Yolanda for the season," said Fever coach Lin Dunn in a press release issued by the time. "In a very short period of time, she's already had huge impact on our team, and we can still benefit from her leadership abilities and championship experiences."

    "This league will miss her," added Indiana's GM and Chief Operating Officer Kelly Drauskopf.

    Lynx's Charde Houston drives against Indiana Fever's Yolanda Griffith during Minnesota's blow-out of the struggling franchise.
    Veteran center Yolanda Griffith was one of the few Fever players who a good game against the Minnesota Lynx, who handed Indiana their second loss by an embarrassing 74-96 margin. But Griffith was lost for the season after being wheeled off the floor with a torn Achilles tendon suffered two nights later in the early minutes of the Fever's road win against Seattle. The injury may have spelled the end to Griffith's storied WNBA career. Here, Minnesota's Charde Houston, right, attempts to drive to the basket past Griffith during the first quarter of their game in Indianapolis, on Sunday, June 7, 2009.

    Next for the Fever: A Friday-night (June 12) visit from the Los Angeles Sparks (7:00 p.m.), after which Indiana gets a week off.

  6. Chicago Sky (0-1): For the moment, Chicago holds down the East's basement with New York, but then these two teams have only played (and lost) a single game apiece. It's hard to make too much of such slender returns.

    The Sky's loss, a 102-85 drubbing, came on the road at the hands of Minnesota. Given that Chicago went 1-2 in its preseason series against Detroit and Indiana, one might jump to the conclusion after this debacle of a season opener that Chicago is better suited to playing the guys in the E-League, whom the Sky managed to beat 102-55, than the best of the WNBA.)

    But sorting through the rubble of the shellacking by the Lynx, one can see that Chicago's starting five matched up pretty close to nose-to-nose with Minnesota's starters. In fact, the Sky's Jia Perkins led all scorers with 24 points (plus six boards, two assists, a steal and a block, but four turnovers). Candice Dupree was hot on her heels with 21 points plus four hot dishes, three blocks and two steals. Sylvia Fowles chipped in 15 points, plus four boards (we'll come back to that in a moment), a block and a steal, but threw the ball away five times.

    That stands up just fine to the stat line of Lynx starters Seimone Augustus (23 points), Candice Wiggins (20 points), and Charde Houston (15 points). The Lynx had one more starter in double digits (Nicky Anosike, with 11 points, plus five boards and eight assists), but then again, the Sky got a lot more out of guard Dominique Canty (eight points, six assists, but four turnovers) than the Lynx got from guard Kelly Miller (two points, four boards, zero assists). Stopping with the starters, this game should have been close, or at the very least watchable, not a total blowout.

    The difference, of course, was the bench. The Lynx got significant minutes from their reserves, all of whom scored with the exception of Christi Thomas, who contributed only one assist in her nearly five minutes on the floor. Several of them, including LaToya Pringle (nine points, two boards, and a block) and rookies Renee Montgomery (nine points, four assists) and Quanitra Hollingsworth (six points, four boards, but three turnovers), contributed significantly.

    In contrast, most of the Sky's bench should have been charged for tickets. The Sky's starters played significantly more minutes than did the Lynx' reserves, and when the former got to the floor, they did next to nothing (14 total points off-the bench for the Sky, compared to 31 points off the bench for the Lynx). Sky coach Steve Key either needs to find a way to whip his relievers into shape, or send the GM trolling among the many capable athletes cut from squads last week to make space on the down-sized rosters.

    While he's at it, Key needs to teach his mostly young players how to defend without fouling. Like the Storm against Indiana, the Sky paid a heavy price at the charity stripe, where the Lynx converted on 27 of their 33 trips to the line (as opposed to 19-24 for the Sky). His team needs to get a better handle on the ball (21 turnovers to 14 for the Lynx).

    Above all, he needs to get his bigs banging and blocking out for rebounds. There is simply no excuse for a center with the size (6-6, 200 lbs.) and athleticism of Fowles to finish a game with just four boards, especially against a team with a front court as undersized and immature as that of the Lynx. True, the Sky may be the team that comes closest to the Lynx on those scores, but still, there is no reason that the Lynx should be able to out-rebound the Sky 27-20, overall, or 2-1 (10-5) on the offensive glass. Somebody just isn't hustling.

    Chicago's Next Chance to Redeem Themselves:Friday night (June 12) at home against Atlanta (8:30 p.m., on NBA TV), then again at home at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday (June 14) against the Seattle Storm.

  7. New York Liberty (0-1): Finishing out the East, the New York Liberty dropped the only game they played, last Sunday's home opener, to the Connecticut Sun, 57-66. Again, too early to draw conclusions, though the Liberty also went 1-2 in preseason play against Washington and Connecticut.

    The Liberty could find little to smile about in the midst of the loss, with double-digit performances (barely) coming from only two players -- forward Shameka Christon (13 points, three boards) and center Janel McCarville (10 points, four rebounds, four blocks, two assists and a steal). Forward Cathrine Kraayeveld chipped in eight points, but hauled down seven off the glass, and Leilani Mitchell and Ashley Battley made minor contributions (eight points each). But apart from Battle, and four points fro Sydney Spencer, New York got no help from their bench. No help as in zero, zip, nada.

    A team without a star, as the Liberty seem to be, needs a much more balanced effort from all of its role players to have any hope of success. The fans at Madison Square Garden have to hope these were just opening day jitters and that the rest of the roster will show up to play at some time in the very near future.

    Next for the Liberty: Wednesday, June 10, on the road against Phoenix at 10 p.m., then again on Saturday, also part of this road stand, at San Antonio at 8:00 p.m. (the latter on NBA TV).

All above times Eastern.

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