Month in Review and Look Ahead to the Playoffs

The WNBA 2015 Regular Season wraps up this Sunday the 13th, and the season is going to end with an exciting group of teams in the playoffs this year. As we look back on the the month of August, as well as the action that has happened thus far in September, we will see just who is ready for the playoffs, and which teams are already looking forward to next season.

First up, let’s talk about the New York Liberty. They have slowly but steadily improved throughout the course of the season, and wrapped up the Eastern Conference #1 playoff seed by defeating the Lynx this past Sunday. Tina Charles is leading the way as a contender for League MVP, while they are getting outstanding guard play from Epiphanny Prince. Where the Liberty are leading is on the boards and on the defensive end. They are ranked 1st in the league in both categories, while they are 7th and 5th respectively in points and assists per game. They lost rookie Brittany Boyd for at least a month with a broken wrist, however another rookie, Kiah Stokes, was named the Rookie of the Month for August. Overall, the Liberty look like the team in the East most ready to contend for the WNBA title this year.

2nd place in the Eastern Conference currently goes to the Chicago Sky being led by MVP candidate Elena Delle Donne, who is averaging 23.3 points per game, is second in rebounds per, 1st in FT %, 4th in block per game, and 10th in FG %. The Sky are also getting great guard play from Cappie Pondexter, averaging 15 points a game,  and Courtney Vandersloot, who is averaging 11.7 points per game as well as leading the league in assists per game. Overall, the Sky are still 1st in points per game, the only team averaging at least 80 per game, while they are 2nd in rebounds per game. Where they have struggled all season long is on defense, where they are currently ranked 11th in points allowed per game. They are going to have to step it up defensively if they want to take on a strong Eastern Conference in the playoffs, and of course if they want to return and contend against anyone in the Finals.

The Indiana Fever are a team that have really turned it around late in the season, and although they have locked the 3rd spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, as well have putting together a 6 game win streak in mid August, they have struggled lately, losing 3 of their last 4 games. They are 3rd in the league points per game, but they are a middle of the road team as they are 8th in rebounds per, 11th in assists, and 6th in points allowed per game. Tamika Catchings has been as solid and dependable as ever, but the Fever are really going to have to improve defensively and in the passing game if they want to make it far in the playoffs this year.

The Washington Mystics, and team that sits 4th in the East and needs a win against the Fever tonight to clinch the last spot in the playoffs, have also struggled lately, losing their last four games. They are 2nd in points allowed per game, but offensively they are really struggling offensively as they sit 10th in points per game, 10th in rebounds per, but are 3rd in assist per game. The Mystics looked really good in the first half of the season, but as the season as worn on, it has taken a toll on their young roster. They are going to have to really improve as a team if they want to make into the Conference Finals.

In the West, the Minnesota Lynx are simply the best team and have been for most of the season. They are led by Maya Moore, who just like last year, is really contending for league MVP honors and averaging 20 points per game. They are also getting outstanding play out of Rebekkah Brunson, mid season addition Sylvia Fowles, and Renee Montgomery. If Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen can come back from their injuries in time for the playoffs, or at least soon after they begin, the Lynx look like the strongest and most prepared team to win the West and contend for another WNBA championship.

2nd in the West are the defending champions, the Phoenix Mercury. Much like the Liberty, the Mercury have improved steadily throughout the season, and are getting it done with a strong trio of Candace Dupree, DeWanna Bonner, and Brittney Griner, each averaging about 15 points per game, with Griner leading the league in blocks as well as FG %. The Mercury are 8th in points per game, but are 4th in points allowed per, as well as dead middle as they sit 6th per game in assists and rebounds. Phoenix had an up and down August, but they are 2-0 in September and hope to close out the regular season with two more wins, as they still have a slim chance of dethroning the Lynx for the top spot in the West.

3rd in the West are the Tulsa Shock, who have to be disappointed with how their season has turned out since Skylar Diggins went out with a torn ACL in a win against Seattle July 28th. Since then, they have endured a 3 game losing streak, followed by 2 wins, and then followed by a horrendous 10 game losing streak from July 15th to August 12th. However, they had a 6 game win streak from August 15th to Sept 3, not losing again until the game against the Sparks on September 6th. The three games remaining on the schedule should prove to the rest of the league how ready they are to compete in the Western Conference playoffs as they have a easily winnable game versus the Stars, followed by two very difficult games against the Sky and Mercury. They are 4th in points per game, 3rd in rebounds per, but are last in assists per game and 7th in points allowed per game. They are going to have to pass more and really improve on defense to compete come playoff time.

4th in the West the the Los Angeles Sparks, who are the weakest team in the playoff field and currently sit at 14-18, the only team who looks likely to make into the playoffs with a losing record. Things have really turned around for the Sparks since they started the season off by losing 7 games straight and then soon after enduring another losing streak of 5 games in early July. They currently sit 1st in assists per game, 7th in rebound per, 5th in points allowed per game, but are only 9th in points per game. They are on a 3 game win streak and are led by Candace Parker’s 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. They are getting great play out of the other stars on the team, including Nneka Ogwumike’s near 17 points per game, and Jantel Lavender’s 14.7 points per game, who is also 4th in rebounds per game. The Sparks are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, and certainly since the All-Star break, where they have posted and 11-4 record, including wins against the Sky, the Lynx, the Mercury, and the Fever, all playoff teams who should be nervous if they meet the Sparks in the playoffs.

The rest of the league is rounded out by Atlanta, San Antonio, Connecticut, and Seattle. Both the Storm and Stars and two young teams with talent, who can look back on 2015 as a season of growth and potential for the future. But the Dream and the Sun are two teams that will look back and regret that they didn’t play as well as they could have, being two teams who faltered as the season progressed. The Atlanta Dream have very slim playoffs hopes alive, and are a team that sits 2nd in points per game, but are dead last in points allowed per game. They are also a middle of road team in assists and rebounds, and will look to improve defensively next season. Even if they make it to the playoffs, they are the exact opposite of the team that would be their 1st round opponent, the Liberty, as they are statistically the weakest defensive team in the league. The Sun looked like one of the best teams in the league early on, but have not rebounded well, sitting 11th per game. They have a lot of young talent, and had a 7 game win streak after losing their season opener to the Mystics. But after that win streak ended, they had a 6 game losing streak, and later endured a 7 game losing streak from mid to late August. And the last two games of the season don’t look like they will instill much confidence going into the off-season, as they are against the Liberty and the Sky. As one of the youngest teams in the league, however, they look to have the talent to compete in seasons to come.

2015 PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:

In the Eastern Conference match-up between the Liberty, and their opponent, whether it is the Mystics or the Dream, looks to be a no brainer, as New York is the clear favorite against either team.

The Sky and the Fever looks to be a much more competitive and exciting billing, but I think in the end, EDD and her MVP caliber play continues to see the Sky in the East finals. Although we can’t count out the experience of veteran former MVP and 10 time All-Star Tamika Catchings, I feel Delle Donne is ready to shine, at least in the first round, of the playoffs.

Where it gets really good is the potential match-up between the Sky and the Liberty. Can the league’s number 1 defense stop the league’s number 1 offense? Do the Sky have any answer for New York’s interior domination, and where do all the rebounds fall for the two best rebounding teams in the league? I think the advantage goes to the Liberty, as the Sky’s real weakness this season has been any real consistency in the front court. But which MVP candidate has the better overall team around them? Both teams have a lot of talent, but it’s almost a toss up between the two. The guard play between Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot could be the deciding factor, as long as Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne are putting up the same kind of numbers they have all season. In the end, I see the Sky’s defensive weaknesses really hurting them, while their offense will struggle against New York’s D. New York is my pick to make it out of the East and into the Finals. But only by the slimmest of margins.

The West, despite being less competitive than the East during the regular season, looks to end up being a bit more competitive than the East in the playoffs. The Lynx will take on the surging Sparks, who by all appearances be much tougher match-up than their 14-18 record would indicate. They only beat the Lynx 1 out of 4 tries during the regular season, but look much stronger than their early season play. The Lynx however, are arguably the best team in the league, and I think in a 3 game series, will end up moving on to the Conference Finals.

The match-up between the Shock and the Mercury is going to come down to defense. Both of these teams have very talented players, but both are middle of the road statistically, and so it’s going to come down whichever team limits the other on the offensive end. This is going to be a grind out affair for both teams, but the Fever seem to have the edge with more players averaging more points thus far. That means for the Mercury, Leilani Mitchell or Monique Currie are going to have to be the players who step it up offensively if they want to move on to the Conference Finals. Ultimately I see Phoenix prevailing with great defense from Griner and a ton of points from Dupree and Bonner.

That leaves us with a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals between the Lynx and the Mercury, and this one is going to be a good one! Minnesota looks like the most well rounded team on both ends of the floor, and this year, if Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen are back in action, I just don’t see Phoenix having enough offensively to compete with Maya Moore and company. Even if the Lynx don’t have Augustus or Whalen back, it’s still going to be very tough for the Mercury to win out and get back to the Finals. Defensively, especially with the addition of Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx look stronger, and offensively they have more weapons. I see Phoenix getting a win, but the Lynx are going back to the Finals this year.

So, the 2015 WNBA Finals comes down to the two best teams this season, the Lynx and the Liberty. I am going to be brief here, and simply state, that even though this is a really good match-up on paper, and the Liberty have a the #1 defense in the league, they do not have the overall talent that Minnesota has, and the depth is going to see the Lynx hoisting their third WNBA Finals trophy 3 games to 2.

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