Saturday, May 25, 2013

WNBA Scores and Standings Day 1






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Indiana Fever 74-69 San Antonio Silver Stars

Connecticut Sun Season Preview

The Connecticut Sun come into the 2013 WNBA season confident they are one of the best teams in the league -- which is entirely understandable after posting a 25-9 record in 2012 and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to Tamika Catchings and the eventual WNBA Champion Indiana Fever. 

Two key components of the 2012 Sun -- the injured Asjha Jones and the departed Head Coach Mike Thibault who resurfaced in Washington with the Mystics -- are no longer with the team, with new Head Coach Anne Donovan and first-round draft pick Kelly Faris out of UConn now in the fold. 

2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles, who led the league in double-doubles and rebounding, is back, along with savvy veteran point guard Kara Lawson and Sixth Woman of the Year Renee Montgomery. Charles, for one, is itching to get back on the court and build on the individual accolade achieved via the MVP Award in 2012 and deliver a championship trophy to the Connecticut Sun in 2013. A former teammate on the U.S. Women's Olympic Team which won an unprecedented fifth straight team gold medal at the London Games in 2012, Tamika Catchings, provided some inspiration to the soft-spoken but intense Charles. 

"Seeing up close how Tamika went about her business last year, I realized what I have to do to get to the next level," said Charles. "I have to be more of a leader, be more assertive, be more vocal. The little things that don't show up in the box score. I'm going to take things personally in 2013, so I can get the Connecticut Sun to the next level." 

Lawson, who is considered prime head coach material herself, according to the 2013 GM Survey, is familiar with Donovan, having played for her while winning an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA in 2008, and is eager to work the Naismith Hall of Famer in getting the Sun into the Finals. 

“I kind of know what to expect from Coach Donovan, and I’m looking forward to working with her,” said Lawson. “We know each other from the Olympics, not just on the court, but off the court ,and I think those relationships can be very valuable. We understand each other, each other’s strengths and tendencies and style. Anne is honest, disciplined and straightforward. There’s not a lot guessing with Anne. She let’s you know what she wants and expects.” 

Donovan, for her part was cautiously optimistic about the acquisition of Faris, who knows a thing or two about winning, having helped UConn to national championship this year. 

"She's a really versatile kind of player," said Donovan. "She can play a bunch of positions. If you're looking for defense, she's a great defender. She's a great complimentary offensive player." 

With a motivated Charles, Lawson, Montgomery, Donovan and Faris on board, the Sun will look to build on last year and take it to the next level in 2013.

Tulsa Shock Season Preview

Last season wasn't easy for Gary Kloppenburg, a first-year WNBA coach tasked with turning the Tulsa Shock franchise around. The good news? The team tripled its win total from 2011. The bad? After a few unexpected setbacks, they still finished with a record of 9-25.
But if history is an indication, all it takes is a high-profile draft pick to make an immediate change in a franchise. And the Shock got just that by drafting Skylar Diggins, a dynamic point guard who can get her teammates fired up just as much as the fans.
"Skylar, obviously is an excellent basketball player," Kloppenburg told reporters this week. "We know that. She's going to be a good one once we get her going. Then, off the court, she's dynamic. I mean, she engages the community. She engages our fans, and she's just brought a burst of energy down here to Tulsa. So it's been exciting so far with her."
The good news doesn't end there, though. After sitting out last season, superstar center Liz Cambage will return to the team this season adding some needed front court depth to the team. "With her progress and development she's had over the past couple of years, she could be the wild card for us in being a really really good team. She's a high-level player that could do a lot for us."
The young franchise will also get some veteran talent thrown into the mix, having signed Candice Wiggins in the offseason from the Minnesota Lynx.
"She's a great shooter and a great defender," Kloppenburg said. "She did a super job for Minnesota and she's at the next point in her career, where she wants to come in and take on a challenge like helping a young team move up the ladder."
With new talent and a new focus changing things up for the Shock, Kloppenburg said that hopes are high in Tulsa.
"We're going to prepare our team to try and win every game," he said. "We're going to make sure our team is playing at a 110 percent level every game. It's going to be a war every night. As far as wins and losses, we want to get into the playoffs. We want to be in that mix. Obviously that's your goal to try and make a run for championship. We're not going to set our sights low, we're going to try every game to win."

Seattle Storm Season Preview

For a team that will be without three players with a combined 15 All-Star appearances and more than 12,000 career points, the Seattle Storm will spend 2013 -- at least the early part of it -- looking for a leader.
Luckily for them the Storm still have a wealth of veterans -- even with Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Ann Wauters not suiting up, for various reasons -- to guide them through a season of uncertainty in the unforgiving Western Conference.
The trio that will step to the forefront will be Tina Thompson, the only player to compete in all 16 WNBA seasons and the league’s all-time leading scorer, Tanisha Wright, who’s played all eight seasons of her career with the Storm and Camille Little, a six-year veteran.
“All three of those people are extreme competitors and they take a lot of pride in who they are and how they play and they take a lot of pride in the type of team they play on,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “So I don’t think there’s any question that they’ll put their stamp on our team and everyone will fall in line surrounding that.”
A team that prides itself on tough defense -- they surrendered a league-best 71.6 points per game last year -- Seattle made the Playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the West in 2012 after compiling a 16-18 record, even with Jackson missing 25 games and Bird missing five. In the Playoffs, they came within a point of ousting the Minnesota Lynx in the first round.
Since Thompson finds herself in the twilight of her career -- she still managed to put up 8.9 points last season -- it appears Wright and Little will be counted on more than ever, especially if you like metaphors.
“I’ve always said that Tanisha, she’s sort of the heart and soul of our team and always has been over the past five years," Agler said. "And Camille, her makeup is sort of part of the fabric of our team, the way she plays and competes.”
Another player that should receive increased opportunities is Shekinna Stricklen, last year’s No. 2 pick in the WNBA Draft. With her production improving as the season went on last year, she finished 2012 averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.
“I think (this season) is obviously a tremendous opportunity for someone like Shekinna Stricklen,” Agler said. “I don’t think there’s any question Shekinna will play a heavier role in terms of her minutes and what we rely on her do to on both ends of the floor.”
In terms of the daunting task of replacing both Bird and Jackson, it will be a total team effort, as no one player can single-handedly produce like those two legends. But two acquisitions may be called upon to attempt this more than others.
First, there’s point guard Temeka Johnson, coming off a year where she averaged a career-high 12.2 points and handed out 4.7 assists per night with Tulsa. She will be penciled in as the starter at the point and she will be expected to be a major contributor.
“Temeka has proven to be one of the better point guards in the league over the past several years so signing her was huge,” Agler said. “And as things have played out, it’s been pretty important that we have somebody like her because she has the same type of mentality we like in players. She’s very competitive, hard-nosed, values the defensive end, but at the same time she’s aggressive and makes players around her better.”
Temeka is added to a stable of perimeter players that also added Noelle Quinn, a player Agler said the team will “rely on heavily”, giving them a capable and diverse group of guards and wings to go with Stricklen and Wright.
In the frontcourt, left thin without Jackson and Wauters, the Storm turned to former Maryland forward Tianna Hawkins with the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft.
Hawkins was a rebounding major in college, finishing her career with 1,086 rebounds, only the third Maryland player to surpass 1,000 rebounds in history. She also shot 57.4 percent from the field at Maryland. If Hawkins can have an immediate impact, that will go a long way in filling the void in the post.
Luckily for Hawkins, as this rookie and this scrambling team inevitably endure some growing pains, there will be plenty of leaders to help steer the ship.

San Antonio Silver Stars Season Preview

The San Antonio Silver Stars enjoyed a solid season last year, highlighted by winning as many as 12 games in a row thanks to the lethal 1-2 punch of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, however, Young suffered an ACL tear playing abroad in the offseason and is out indefinitely, leaving coach Dan Hughes with a huge void to fill.
"When she got hurt, that was substantial," Hughes said. "Sophia was a real staple for us, for what, eight years now. I think what's got to happen is our core of young players have got to step up. Those players have got to get better so that we can absorb Sophia's input."
Young was a solid defender and perimeter player that complemented Hammon's killer crossover and playmaking ability. Hughes said Hammon, whose timetable for return is currently unknown, shouldn't have to shoulder any extra weight for the team in Young's absence.
"I just want Becky to be Becky because daggone, she's been outstanding," Hughes said. "I don't want Becky to be anything other than what she's already been, and that's fantastic."
Instead, Hughes said he wants some of the younger players on the team like Danielle Robinson, Jayne Appel, Danielle Adams and Shenise Johnson to step up their game. In the offseason, the Silver Stars signed forward DeLisha Milton-Jones from the Los Angeles Sparks, a veteran player known for her tough defensive chops. Having her on the team will be key for replacing Young, Hughes said.
"I'm glad we don't have to play against her anymore," Hughes said with a laugh. "She can shoot the 3, yet has great length to create mismatches on defense. She's veteran enough to develop chemistry fast with our players, which is needed now with Sophia being hurt."
As far as how long the team expects Young to be out for, Hughes said Young will be evaluated in August on whether or not she's ready yet to get back on the court.
"She'll be evaluated and we'll see where she's at," Hughes said. "That's the earliest she would be released for contact. But even then, we don't know. It could be nine months, it could be a year. All we can do is wait and see."
Hughes said he feels great about his team's prospects this season and overall about the level of competition fans can expect to see this season.
"I think there's no question the league and teams are going to be better," Hughes said. "I'm really excited for this year. The competition is going to be good as we've ever seen. It's a great year for people to follow their teams and follow the WNBA."

Phoenix Mercury Season Preview

Phoenix Mercury point guard Samantha Prahalis, about to start her second WNBA season, has the right kind of problems.
"It's just tough when you have so many weapons on the court where a lot of people are open," Gaines said in regards to Prahalis' development. "When do you shoot? When do you pass? And it's always tough on a point guard."
That sounds precisely like the kind of "tough" the rest of the league would love to deal with, as the 2013 Mercury resemble more video game roster than WNBA team.
To tell the whole story of this year, however, is to know the story of last season. In what was a, well, troublesomecampaign for the Mercury -- one that saw marquee players Diana Taurasi miss 26 games, Candice Dupree miss 21 and Penny Taylor miss the entire season -- the Mercury (7-27) found themselves in an unfamiliar position at season's end: the Draft Lottery.
Luckily for them, not only did the 2013 WNBA Draft feature three game-changing, potentially generation-defining prospects, but one of those players -- Brittney Griner -- is unlike any talent the women's game has seen. Ever.
And, unless you've been crashing under a rock for the past month, you know how the lottery played out.
So, with the 6-foot-8 Griner entering the fold and Taurasi, Taylor and Dupree again joining forces with DeWanna Bonner, the second leading scorer in the WNBA last season, and Prahalis, who led all rookies in assists in 2012, the Mercury appear to be without weakness.
“There’s a different energy in the city and around the arena,” Taurasi told “It’s exciting and we players can definitely feel it. Now it’s our job to work as hard as we can to justify it.”
If the team performs anything like it looks on paper, they should justify it with ease. Griner's inside presence will turn a normally pedestrian team on the defensive end into a formidable one, and on the offensive end, where Gaines famously likes to push the ball, he will have Griner's rebounding and shot-blocking ability to spark the break.
"My mentor, Paul Westhead, who won a championship with the Lakers and a championship in the WNBA -- the only man to do that. The good thing about his offense and his style is it adjusts to the players you have. Period," Gaines said. "You have a certain kind of player, you adjust to that."
Griner is a one-of-a-kind player. And, in what has been the biggest revelation coming out of Mercury camp thus far, she appears very capable of running the floor with her teammates.
Yes, imagine that. Griner running the break, flanked by Taurasi and Bonner with Taylor trailing.
Which gets you to thinking, who will Prahalis pass to?

Minnesota Lynx Season Preview

If you believe in astrology, bunkered down during the Mayan Apocalypse or just prescribe to the power of patterns, then 2013 could be a good year for the Minnesota Lynx.
Why? After losing to the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals last season, fortunes in Minnesota this year seem prosperous based off a cycle that its star player, Maya Moore, started a decade ago.
“I can go back to 13 years old. I lost in the national championship game with my AAU team in Georgia. The next year we went back to win the national championship,” Maya started.
“My freshman year in high school we lost in the state championship, we went on to win the next three.
My freshman year in college we lost in the Final Four to Stanford, we went on to win the next two, undefeated.
My senior year we lost in the Final Four. Next year we won with the Lynx, my rookie year.
Last year we lost to the Indiana Fever and I went on to go to China and win the whole thing.”
If you haven’t gotten the point yet, let Maya clear it up for you.
“I’ve lost,” Moore said. “But I try not to lose two times in a row.
The rest of the league -- which has been swooned by Phoenix’s marquee additions, has labeled Los Angeles a chic pick to win it all and that has been infused with game-changing talent from this rookie class -- has been put on notice.
Moore, who says she always has a bad taste in her mouth after losing, feels confident that the same-old Lynx can get back to the WNBA Finals. Returning the majority of its core -- minus Candice Wiggins and Taj Mc-Williams Franklin -- the Lynx, which still sport a trio of 2012 U.S. Olympians in Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Moore and that went 27-7 in the regular season last year, look to be as tough as ever.
“I feel so blessed and privileged to be able to come back to a veteran squad,” Moore said. “We have the talent to get back to the Finals and win another championship this season.”
The Lynx key offseason addition was Janel McCarville, who was the first overall selection in the 2005 WNBA Draft and most recently was playing overseas. McCarville, who teamed with Whalen to take an unheralded University of Minnesota team to the Final Four in 2004, will step in and replace the production of Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who retired at the age of 42 this offseason.
“Janel is here and willing to work and wanting to help us any way she can,” Moore said. “She’s going to add some great fluidity to our offense with her passing ability, so I’m really excited about that. She’s definitely someone that is going to add chemistry – she’s not going to hurt chemistry.”
It’s a chemistry that this team has forged over the past several seasons. Minnesota has posted back-to-back 27-win seasons with two trips to the WNBA Finals appearances in the process, winning it all in 2011.
Flanking Moore, the Lynx have Whalen, regarded as one of the top point guards in the league, Augustus, one of the league’s most consistent scorers, and Rebekkah Brunson, one of the league’s unsung heroes in the post.
Still, this amount of talent doesn’t guarantee success.
“Winning in this league is extremely hard and last year showed that,” Moore said. “Every year shows it, but especially last year for us. If you have a little bit that doesn’t go your way and you don’t make it happen, you can come up short to a really great team that you’re playing against.”
But, if history is any indication, Moore won’t let that happen this year.

Los Angeles Sparks Season Preview

In perhaps one of the most emotional moments in the WNBA last season, Candace Parker walked off the court during the Playoffs in tears last October, seeking comfort on the shoulder of her mother.
The Los Angeles Sparks had held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, looking just minutes away from forcing a Game 3. The Lynx closed the gap, but a Parker 3-pointer with 1:31 left put the Sparks up two. They wouldn't score again, however, and Minnesota edged L.A. with an 80-79 win, thus keeping Parker from her first trip to the WNBA Finals -- a gut-wrenching blow for a team that could have conceivably won a WNBA title.
"We're going to take that and let that be a motivational factor as we move into this season," Los Angeles coach Carol Ross said. "Clearly we will use all of our experiences, both good and bad, and try to be a better team moving forward. Those moments break your heart, but you love coaching players that take winning and losing so much to heart."
The Sparks had one of the toughest cores in the league last year with Parker and 2012 Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike dominating inside and with clutch shooter Kristi Toliver burning the nets from the wing. This season, that core is about to get even stronger after the team signed guard Lindsey Harding from the Atlanta Dream. Ross, last year's WNBA Coach of the Year, is no stranger to Harding, having coached her during her time with the Dream before she came to Los Angeles.
"She's going to bring some speed to the floor on both ends," Ross said. "She's going to open up shots and make them easier for all of her teammates. She's extroverted - an energy type player - and typically teammates love playing with those kinds of players."
Ross said adding Harding will give the team some much-needed depth in their backcourt. Harding's speed complements the team's centerpiece offensive strategy of scoring baskets on transition, she said.
"When we're in transition, it's going to be just 'whoever gets the ball, lets go,'" Ross said. "That way we canove faster and have multiple options to kick the play into overdrive."
Expectations are always high in Los Angeles, and the team expects to make a legitimate run for the title once again this season. But the way the landscape will change this season as a result of the influx of megastar draft picks, injuries to key players, and game-changing roster moves makes this season a difficult one to predict, Ross said.
"We've got our fair share of talent, a lot of other teams are excited about their teams as well," Ross said. "It's going to be hard to predict. You couldn't predict last year that Indiana was going to win it but they put a run together at the right time. Every team has talent and it's going to be fun to watch it all play out."