How is each WNBA team faring at the All-Star break?

Photo courtesy of Stewart W. Small

Here are my thoughts:

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Dream, (15-6) - Should be able to easily win this conference. Has one game left against both Minnesota and Phoenix on the road. Six games left against Chicago, New York, Tulsa, and Seattle. Only speed bump is 8 games left on the road. Michael Cooper has done an excellent job keeping Angel on positive course, and getting a team with up to six new players on the roster at a time to gel. Prohibitive favorite to make third straight finals in a conference with no other team playing consistently

Indiana Fever (11-12) - Should end up as second seed in the East. Five of their last eleven games against Chicago and New York. Tamika Catchings has come back playing at an extremely high level. If she had been back two or three weeks earlier, there would be a lot less frustration about her All Star status. Erlana Larkins and Shavonte Zellous have played extremely well, to keep Indiana in the hunt until their star could return. Another team which has done a good job in getting six new teammates to find their places in the mix. Biggest problem this season has been maintaining leads, often due to committing fouls down the stretch.

Washington Mystics (10-13) - The Mystics control their own destiny with five games against Chicago and New York. Only one game with Tulsa at home left against the West. Mike Thibault has committed to his rebuilding through youth and they have responded with energy. Tayler Hill’s return could be the push to assure them of the playoffs. With their speed, they can be a challenge for anyone.

Connecticut Sun (10-14) - Will be hard pressed to finish above .500 with three games left against Atlanta and Minnesota. They will need to solve Washington, who have already beaten them twice, since they meet three more times. There have been fewer complaints about Anne Donovan’s coaching of late on the game threads, but this team could fall out of the postseason picture if she can not keep the best mix of players out on the floor. This is a hard playing team, but injuries and players who have spent most of the season on the bench will probably cost them at the end.

New York Liberty (8-13) - Their postseason chances likely will depend upon the five games against Indiana and Phoenix. Bill Laimbeer has been criticized all season for his use of players, and has had the most volatile roster in the league. Fifteen women have already played in 2014 and Natasha Lacy is a recent addition to the bench this week. Tina Charles has been consistent, but how can a talent like Cappie Pondexter come up scoreless twice in three games? If they miss out on the postseason again in a year in which .500 should make the playoffs, will they change the coach who seems to be very loyal to past-their-prime veterans?

Chicago Sky (8-14) - Can Elena Delle Donne come back in time to get them to the postseason? This team has been ravaged by injuries and disease, as just when Epiphanny Prince and Sylvia Fowles came back, Delle Donne and Courtney Vandersloot went down. Seven road games, including Atlanta and Minnesota, will probably tell the tale.

Western Conference

Phoenix Mercury (18-3) - The juggernaut of 2014. New coach and six new players, including five veteran role players. This is the team everyone was expecting to see last season. The Mercury, I think, is the only team to start the same five as last season. Minnesota might be the only thing standing between them and the first 30-win regular season in WNBA history.

Minnesota Lynx (17-6) - The defending champs have the second best record in the league, and should keep that at the end of the season. Their defense is finally starting to take over games, and should get only better after the break with the returns of Augustus and Brunson. Maya Moore is playing at another level this year. Lindsay Whalen has somehow found a way to elevate her game as well.

San Antonio Stars (11-12) - The home of the three pointer, and a team that passes at a very high level. The return of Jia Perkins is key to their postseason hopes. Becky Hammon had her first double figures scoring game after a series of clunkers. Can she keep it up for the rest of the season? Danielle Adams also had her first decent scoring game after moving into the starting lineup. If she has gotten comfortable in that role, that will also help. Has a tough schedule through the end of the season. Has the feel-good story In Heather Butler, the undrafted 5’5" rookie who has played in about half of their games so far.

Los Angeles Sparks (10-12) - The biggest question mark in the league. Offseason transactions had people thinking of a title in LA. The return of Kristi Toliver from her unexpected mid-season overseas commitments has solidified the guard position, but no one is consistent on defense. Head Coach Carol Ross has taken a lot of heat for her lineups, but others have put the blame on General Manager Penny Toler for creating an unbalanced roster. We are watching to see if the return of Candice Wiggins can put any heart into their defensive play. Five games against Atlanta, Minnesota, and Phoenix could keep them out of the postseason.

Seattle Storm (9-15) - Has the most favorable schedule of all of the teams. Eight home games left versus 2 road games. If they can put together a run, they could knock LA out of the playoffs. Another very strong passing team, but has weak spots on defense. One of the most experienced teams in the league.

Tulsa Shock (8-15) - Has been the hard luck team of the year, with eight of their losses coming up a total of twenty points short. The improvement of Skylar Diggins and Courtney Paris has overcome some of the youth and inexperience on this team. They are very exciting to watch, but tend to get behind early, which adds to the pressure. The defense needs to improve to get to the next level.

Postseason predictions:

For the Eastern Conference, I think it will be Atlanta, Indiana, Washington, New York, in that order.

For the Western Conference, expect Phoenix, Minnesota, San Antonio, Los Angeles to make it into the postseason.

I anticipate an Atlanta-Indiana, and a Phoenix-Minnesota Conference Finals in their respective conferences. But I'm not sure who will win these until we see how Catchings, Brunson, and Augustus perform over the final month.