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Hoops Happening: Who will fill the canyon-sized hole in Phoenix’s defense?

With Sancho Lyttle done for the season because of an ACL injury, the Phoenix Mercury have a giant hole to fill. Plus, an update on the Minnesota Lynx-Papa John’s deal, All-Star Game coaches, recent transactions, links and more! This is today in women’s basketball for Saturday July 14, 2018!

Aerials Of The Grand Canyon
An aerial view of the Phoenix Mercury’s defense (otherwise known as the Grand Canyon).
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A midseason switcheroo between the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun is shaking out nicely for both teams so far. Since the July 9 swap that sent Layshia Clarendon to Connecticut and Alex Bentley to Atlanta, the Dream have secured big wins over the Washington Mystics and the Indiana Fever.

Meanwhile, the Sun dropped a game to the New York Liberty on July 11 but regained their stride behind the return of Alyssa Thomas from injury, defeating the Phoenix Mercury last night at home, 91-87.

But the Sun’s narrow margin of victory is misleading, as this was not a close game and Connecticut resoundingly outplayed Phoenix all night. The Mercury, as championship teams are prone to do, found a way to claw their way back into the game to give themselves a chance to win. But it turned out to be too little too late against a Sun team looking to snap a losing streak and reassert some dominance.

When Chiney Ogwumike fouled out late in the game, the Mercury attempted to seize the opportunity presented by her absence. Diana Taurasi made some big plays that gave Phoenix a chance, but her 28 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal were not enough — not even with Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner also scoring in double figures and Angel Robinson scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds off the bench.

Since Sancho Lyttle went down on June 30 against the Mystics, a game Phoenix won, the Mercury claimed victory on July 5 against a pre-Clarendon-for-Bentley-swap Sun team, in a game that Alyssa Thomas also missed due to injury. But it has been a three-game losing skid ever since, including a July 10 blowout by the Wings in Dallas.

So, since midseason roster moves are showing great benefit to other teams, it is fair to ask what Sandy Brondello and the Phoenix organization have in mind. Lyttle has rightfully been considered a defensive specialist throughout her career and, as Taurasi pointed out in the preseason, Lyttle is known for guarding all five players in a given possession. Without her broad defensive coverage, the Mercury look thin, and vulnerable, with no single player able thus far to fill the gaping defensive hole that appeared the minute Lyttle headed to the locker room on June 30.

Lyttle was no slouch on offense either, though — averaging just shy of 8 points per game during the 2018 season and dropping a season-high 20 points against the LA Sparks in May and a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds) in a win against the Wings on June 12.

In last night’s losing effort, however, Camille Little, who has entered the starting lineup in Lyttle’s absence, scored 4 points and grabbed 3 rebounds and Briann January scored 3 points and dished 2 assists. Leilani Mitchell went scoreless on the night and dished two assists.

With the depth created by Sancho Lyttle’s do-all style of basketball now gone, it seems to be a great time for Brondello to make some moves. Any defensive stalwarts in need of a seven-day deal — or just someone with size?

The Mercury are now second in the standings: one win and two losses behind the Seattle Storm, but with the Mystics, Wings, Sparks and Minnesota Lynx in hot pursuit.

7-day contracts

On July 11, the Sky signed Amber Harris to a seven-day contract and on July 12 the Minnesota Lynx signed Erlana Larkins to a similar deal.

As of July 11, the Atlanta Dream have seconded Alexis Prince’s seven-day contract for another week and the Chicago Sky have done the same for Linnae Harper.

Lynx scratch deal with Papa John’s

After Swish Appeal’s Thursday July 12 article on the Minnesota Lynx’s sponsorship deal with Papa John’s in the wake of the company’s founder using a racial slur during a conference call, the Lynx organization has decided to call a timeout. In a statement to Swish Appeal, the Minnesota Lynx reported that they “have suspended all current promotions with Papa John’s and will continue to evaluate the direction of their company in light of recent events.”

WNBA All-Star coaches will be ...

No drum roll needed: Seattle Storm’s Dan Hughes and Phoenix Mercury’s Sandy Brondello.

Under the revamped rules, this means a player from each of those teams came in first or second in the voting. According to the WNBA press release, “The two All-Stars who receive the highest overall vote totals will serve as team captains and draft their respective rosters from the remaining pool of 20 All-Stars.”

About last night in the league

Two blowouts started the evening, but two tight contests finished. Here’s a recap by Albert Lee.

The Sun-Mercury and Aces-Lynx matchups were thrillers that should have been nationally televised.

Next up in the WNBA ...

In the single WNBA game on Saturday, the Wings take on the Storm in Seattle.

Stay tuned for a preview.

Link lush

Imani McGee-Stafford is all hustle and flow.

Liz Cambage suffers the consequences.

FanDuel offers a week of free play!


How to #WatchThemWork all season

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