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Sunday, August 31, 2014

WNBA PLAY OFFS: Minseota Lynx still alive after second game against Phoenix Mercury, the bets of three tied at 1

Moore and Taurasi

  • Basketball / WNBA All-Star Break

  • Moore and Taurasi

    WNBA All-Star Break

    The Phoenix Mercury holding the best record in the WNBA (18-3) at the break will also host the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game on July 19th. The hometown crowd will get to see three Mercury players (the Atlanta Dream and Minnesota Lynx also have three All-Stars each), including starters Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and reserve Candice Dupree. The West comes in loaded and looking to repeat, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, and 2013 All-Star MVP Candace Parker all return on the West team as starters. While, the East with first-year All-Stars Shoni Schimmel and Chiney Ogumike, lost some of their frontcourt prowess from last year’s squad due to injuries. Sylvia Folwes, a double-double machine came back recently from hip surgery and only played eight games in the 2014 season. Teammate and second in All-Star votes, Elena Delle Donne, has also missed eight games and hasn’t played since late June with complications related to Lyme disease.

    2014 WNBA All-Star Game, July 19th, 3:30 pm/12:30 pm, ESPN
    Eastern Conference Starters
    Shoni Schimmel, Atlanta Dream
    Cappie Pondexter, New York Liberty
    Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
    Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream
    Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever

    Reserves- Jessica Breland, Chicago Sky; Tina Charles, New York Liberty; Erika de Souza, Atlanta Dream; Katie Douglas, Connecticut Sun; Briann January, Indiana Fever; Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut Sun

    Western Conference Starters
    Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
    Skylar Diggins, Tulsa Shock
    Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
    Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
    Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

    Reserves- Seimone Augustus, Minnesota Lynx; Candice Dupree, Phoenix Mercury; Glory Johnson, Tulsa Shock; Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks; Danielle Robinson, San Antonio Stars; Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota Lynx

    1st Time All-Stars: East- Shoni Schimmel, Jessica Breland, Briann January, Chiney Ogwumike. West- Skylar Diggins

    First Half Recap
    The league at the moment is looking like a three-team race. Atlanta leading the East, while Phoenix and Minnesota are tops in the West. The three teams hold four of the five “Race to the MVP” spots, including Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry, Diana Taurasi, and leading MVP candidate at the break, Maya Moore. Candace Parker holds the final MVP spot and the Sparks are currently fourth in the West, an unusual eight games out of first place. Starting guard Kristi Toliver took time off during the season to train with the Slovakia National Team to prepare for European and Olympic qualifications Toliver has only started nine of the Sparks 22 games. Second in minutes and third on the team in scoring, Toliver’s absences was a key factor to Los Angeles’ slow start. The final two spots in the Eastern Conference will be heavily contested with four teams separated by one game. The foursome includes the Chicago Sky, the #1 Seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs in 2013 looking to increase the win total with the recent return of Sylvia Fowles and a hopeful recovery from second year star Elena Delle Donne.

    My predictions are looking pretty good at the midway point of the season.  Seven of the eight predicted playoff teams currently in with the one exception the Chicago Sky.  The Sky had to deal with injuries all season and are only a game and a half out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  Candace Parker my MVP pick is playing at a very high level averaging 20 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game.  She’s only behind Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, and Angel McCoughtry for the “Race for the MVP.”  The others have better records, but only Moore is out pacing Parker statistically.

    Standings at the All Star Break

    Atlanta11560.7140.010-610-25-47-3L 1
    Indiana211120.4785.09-75-86-45-5W 1
    Washington310130.4356.06-64-76-65-5W 1
    Connecticut410140.4176.56-97-53-92-8L 1
    New York58130.3817.05-87-51-85-5W 1
    Chicago68140.3647.57-75-73-72-8L 6
    Phoenix11830.8570.012-210-18-210-0W 12
    Minnesota21760.7392.011-410-17-58-2W 4
    San Antonio311120.4788.06-94-67-64-6L 3
    Los Angeles410120.4558.56-83-77-56-4L 1
    Seattle59150.37510.55-105-44-114-6L 2
    Tulsa68150.34811.04-115-73-82-8W 1

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    WNBA PLAYOFFS 2014 - Phoenix Mrcury versus Minesota Lynx , at the best of 3, Phoenix lead 1-0




    5 questions for West finals

    Updated: August 27, 2014, 5:39 PM ET
    By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

    To the surprise of no one, the Western Conference finals will be a showdown between Phoenix and Minnesota. The matchup of the teams with the two best records in the WNBA is something everybody has been expecting for most of the summer.
    It's finally here, after both teams swept their first-round series. San Antonio made the Lynx sweat in both games before the defending champions' talent advantage ultimately prevailed. For Phoenix, though, only one of the games in its series with Los Angeles was close. After the Sparks gave the Mercury a real scare in the opener in Arizona, Game 2 was a Phoenix clinic.
    [+] EnlargeMaya Moore
    Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty ImagesAs Penny Taylor and Brittney Griner show, the Mercury will do everything they can to slow down Lynx superstar Maya Moore.

    Now we have a marquee matchup of two teams that each have won two WNBA titles. And between the Lynx (Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Janel McCarville) and the Mercury (Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner), there are five former No. 1 overall draft picks.

    There also are two players who've been the WNBA's MVP: Moore, who won the award this year, and Taurasi, who did so in 2009. Taurasi was runner-up to Moore this season.
    Last year, these teams met in the West finals, too, but that was a still-developing Phoenix squad that was a pretty clear underdog to eventual champion Minnesota. The Lynx swept that series. However, if anyone is the underdog this year, it's the Lynx, who went 25-9 to the Mercury's 29-5. Phoenix also won the season series 3-1.
    Whichever team wins the West will be the favorite in the WNBA Finals, as both East finalists -- Indiana and Chicago -- had losing records during the regular season. So as we prepare for Game 1 on Friday night in Phoenix, here are five questions to ponder:

    1. How good will Phoenix's Brittney Griner be in this series?

    Griner has had a terrific season in her second year, averaging 15.6 points and 8.0 rebounds while breaking the WNBA single-season record for blocks with 129. She was the WNBA's defensive player of the year for a franchise that, under league coach of the year Sandy Brondello (in her first season guiding Phoenix), made a bigger commitment to defense.
    But Griner is still a young player who sometimes has consistency problems. That was the case in Game 1 of the West semifinals against Los Angeles, when she was 2-of-11 from the field for just six points. Taurasi picked up the slack with 34 points in a too-close-for-comfort 75-72 victory.
    In Game 2, Griner was unstoppable: 9-for-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from the foul line for 21 points in just under 19 minutes. It set the tone for the Mercury's 93-68 crushing of the Sparks.
    In the four games against Minnesota during the regular season, Griner averaged 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. If she comes close to those numbers in this series, it will be hard to stop Phoenix.

    2. How will the Mercury defend Maya Moore?

    The league's leading scorer during the regular season at 23.9 PPG, Moore enjoyed strong outings in Minnesota's two playoff wins (21.0).
    In the second victory over San Antonio on Saturday, it seemed like Moore had a "quiet" game because she started slowly from the field, and teammate Lindsay Whalen was the Lynx's top scorer. Yet when you looked at Moore's numbers at game's end, she still almost had a triple-double: 16 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds.
    Against the Mercury this season, Moore's averages were 25.0 points and 6.3 rebounds. So Phoenix couldn't stop her any better than anyone else. However, the game where they did the best job on Moore was June 15 in Minneapolis, when she was limited to 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
    One thing the Mercury can throw at Moore is a lot of height, both on the perimeter and inside. Phoenix also plays team defense much better than a year ago, anchored by Griner as the rim protector.

    3. Will both teams be on their best behavior?

    Maybe, maybe not. They respect each other, but they don't really like each other. There's the kind of tension that comes from two superb teams trying to show who's really the sheriff in town.
    In Game 1 of the West finals last year, we got the hilarious "kiss" that Taurasi deposited on Augustus' cheek after they'd gone nose-to-nose when Taurasi objected to how she was being guarded late in an 85-62 loss.
    Both later made light of it, with Augustus joking in the postgame news conference, "She just wanted some of my deliciousness."
    The second game of that series was closer -- 72-65 -- but the Lynx won and left the Mercury with a bit of a seething feeling toward Minnesota. Phoenix has taken on Taurasi's personality, and the Mercury aren't going to back down to the physicality the Lynx will try to bring to this series.
    In Minnesota's only victory over Phoenix this year -- 75-67 on July 31 in Minneapolis -- the Mercury grumbled about the "football" nature of play. But they answered that a little over a week later back in Phoenix with an 82-80 victory that was one of the best WNBA games of the season.
    There's almost sure to be some chippy comments/behavior in his series, but both teams also know they can't let it get too far.

    4. Who might be the X factor?

    Other than Phoenix's crowd, that is, as the fans there have long referred to themselves by that name. (By the way, we can guarantee the Mercury fans will come well armed with clever quips to try to get under the skin of Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, who has a bit of Bill Laimbeer in her on the sideline.)

    [+] EnlargeBonner
    Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsDeWanna Bonner, a key perimeter defender who can score if needed, could be an X factor for Phoenix.

    But in terms of which players may be the X factors for their teams, we'll say DeWanna Bonner for Phoenix and Rebekkah Brunson for Minnesota.
    Bonner was the top sixth player in the league during her first three seasons. But then in 2012 she was thrust into the role of not only a starter, but a leading scorer. She averaged 20.6 points that season, a year in which many players were hampered by injuries, including Taurasi.
    That puts into perspective just how good a scorer Bonner can be when needed. The Mercury don't require her to be that now, and she averaged 10.4 points in the regular season. But the Lynx certainly can't sleep on her, because she can burn them. Also, at 6-foot-4, she's a key part of the Mercury's perimeter defense.
    As for Brunson, she's the "muscle" inside for the Lynx, a key part of their 2011 and '13 titles. But she missed the first part of this season with knee issues, returning July 22.
    The biggest thing the Lynx need from Brunson is rebounding; she's averaged at least 8.0 per game for each of the past five seasons. If Brunson can give Minnesota that production on the boards along with six to eight points per game, the Lynx should be happy.

    5. Is this series actually for all the marbles?

    It seems like it, based on the fact that these teams were clearly the two best in the league all season. And Phoenix and Minnesota swept their season series against both Indiana and Chicago, the East finalists.
    So the practical wisdom among observers all season has been that whoever wins the West is "sure" to become WNBA champion. But it's not an absolute certainty: Just look at Indiana's surprise victory over Minnesota in the 2012 WNBA Finals.
    So don't expect that either the Mercury or Lynx are looking at this series as the one that clinches them the title. But if this meeting lives up to expectations -- and there's no reason to think it won't -- it will have the high-caliber play and intensity of a Finals matchup.

    Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.


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    Maya Moore, Courtney Paris and Diana Taurasi Capture 2014 WNBA Peak Performer Honors

    – Moore, Paris, Taurasi All Win Respective Awards for First Time –
    – Taurasi First in WNBA History to Have Led League in Scoring, Assists During Career

    NEW YORK, August 19, 2014 – Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx, Courtney Paris of the Tulsa Shock and Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury have won the 2014 WNBA Peak Performer Awards for scoring, rebounding and assists, respectively, the WNBA announced today.
    The WNBA presents the Peak Performer Awards annually to the players who lead the league in each of those categories during the regular season. Each player will receive a trophy crafted by Tiffany in honor of their accomplishments.
    Moore earned her first scoring title with an average of 23.9 points per contest, finishing ahead of Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins, who ranked second (20.1 ppg). For Moore, the 23.9 ppg is the third-best single-season output in league history behind only the 25.3 ppg and 24.1 ppg from Taurasi in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The fourth-year veteran opened the season by scoring 135 points in her first four outings. That effort – the most prolific four-game scoring stretch in WNBA history – also enabled her to become the first player in league history to post four consecutive games of 30 or more points. She went on to finish the regular season with a league-record 12 such games, topping the previous mark of 10 set by Taurasi in 2008.
    Moore had perhaps her best outing of the season in a 112-108 double-overtime win over the visiting Atlanta Dream on July 22, when she tallied a career-high 48 points – the second-highest single-game total in WNBA history – to go along with 10 boards, four assists, and a pair of steals. Four games later, on Aug. 2 in an 84-75 victory at Tulsa, Moore’s 40-point effort gave her the league mark for 30-point games in a season.
    Paris earned the rebounding crown by averaging 10.2 boards per game, more than double that of her previous career high of 4.1 rpg (in 2013 and as a rookie in 2009). The fifth-year pro edged out three-time rebound leader Tina Charles (2010-12) of the New York Liberty, who finished second with 9.4 rpg. Paris’ 13 double-doubles tied for third in the league with the Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike, behind co-leaders Glory Johnson of Tulsa and Charles.
    Tulsa’s Paris reached double figures in rebounds in 18 games, including five games of 15 or more boards. She set a career high with 16 rebounds against New York on June 10 and equaled that mark again at Washington on July 25.
    Taurasi’s 5.606 assists per game (185 in 33 games) paced the league and earned her the distinction of being the first player in WNBA history to have led the league in both scoring and assists at any point in her career (she led the WNBA in points per game in 2006, 2008-11). This year, Taurasi narrowly edged out three-time assists leader Lindsay Whalen of Minnesota, who finished second with 5.559 apg (189 in 34 games).
    The 11-year pro led Phoenix to a league-best 29-5 record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. In the process, she helped Phoenix carve out a 16-game winning streak, marking the second-longest streak in WNBA history.
    While her career average for assists stands at 4.3 per game, Taurasi’s 6.2 apg a year ago and 5.6 apg this season are the best marks of her career. A University of Connecticut product like Moore, Taurasi dished out five or more assists in 20 games this season, reaching the 10-assist plateau four times, including a season-high 12 vs. Tulsa on June 20.
    2014 WNBA Peak Performers – Final Statistics

    Top Five: Scoring Average
    Player (Team)GFGFTPTSPPG
    1. Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)34 .481 .884 812 23.9
    2. Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock) 34 .423 .842 683 20.1
    3. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)30 .469 .846 583 19.4
    4. Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream) 31 .420 .809 574 18.5
    5. Tina Charles (New York Liberty) 34 .462 .752 590 17.4

    Top Five: Rebounding Average
    1. Courtney Paris (Tulsa Shock) 34 136 4.0 211 6.2 347 10.2
    2. Tina Charles (New York Liberty) 34 89 2.6 231 6.8 320 9.4
    3. Glory Johnson (Tulsa Shock) 33 95 2.9 210 6.4 305 9.2
    4. Erlana Larkins (Indiana Fever) 33 99 3.0 204 6.2 303 9.2
    5. Sancho Lyttle (Atlanta Dream) 34 84 2.5 221 6.5 305 9.0

    Top Five: Assists Average
    Player (Team)GASTAPG
    1. Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) 33 185 5.606
    2. Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) 34 189 5.559
    3. Danielle Robinson (San Antonio Stars) 33 174 5.3
    4. Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock) 34 170 5.0
    5. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) 30 128 4.3

    More »


    Shavonte Zellous Highlights

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    TFC fires head coach Ryan Nelsen; names Greg Vanney as replacement; DISCUSSING OFFER FOR DEFOE

    (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)(The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)
    Just one day after making comments critical of his general manager following a 3-0 home loss to the New England Revolution, Ryan Nelsen has been fired as head coach of Toronto FC.
    Nelsen ripped Reds general manager Tim Bezbatchenko after the GM said the recent run of results "hasn't been good enough."

    "It affected the guys," said Nelsen. "What we do at Toronto FC is we keep it in-house — everything we do, we keep inside the four walls. And the players, coaching staff, everything, stays within the four walls."
    The Reds have 33 points (9-9-6) from 24 games this season which puts them in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and in line for their first playoff appearance in franchise history.
    Nelsen took over at TFC at the start of 2013 and went 15-26-17 in just over a season and a half in charge.
    Toronto FC has shaken up its coaching ranks, dismissing Ryan Nelsen as head coach and naming TFC Academy Director Greg Vanney as his replacement. Watch the news conference LIVE NOW on TSN.ca.
    General manager Tim Bezbatchenko has stated that Vanney will be the head coach moving forward and that the move does not come with an "interim" tag.
    Reports have also surfaced that the team may be on the verge of moving star striker Jermain Defoe back to the Barclays Premier League. Bezbatchenko also commented on those rumours, noting that a player of Defoe's stature would always be in demand to top-flight clubs.
    "We have received an offer [for Defoe] and we have discussed it internally," Bezbatchenko said. "We are in talks. We are speaking with him, but no decision has been made."
    Defoe - who has missed four of the club's last five games is currently not with the club and is receiving treatment for his injured groin.
    Vanney was hired in December, 2013 after serving as part of the Los Angeles Galaxy's Academy staff.
    “Greg is a visionary when it comes to player development. He shares our Club's passion for innovation and is an educator of both players and coaches," Bezbatchenko said upon hiring Vanney in December. "We are pleased to welcome him to Toronto FC,” said Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko.
    Vanney is looking for a homegrown solution to the club's long-term success.
    "I believe in the Canadian player," he said Sunday. "I believe they are integral to our team."
    Nelsen was critical of Bezbatchenko following his team's 3-0 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday.
    Bezbatchenko publicly stressed the importance of the game prior to kick-off, a move that irked Nelsen.
    In post-game comments Nelsen - himself a former New Zealand international - went off on his GM.
    "I've won this league, played in it for four years, been in the (English) Premier League for 10 years, played in a World Cup, Olympics. I've played in some pretty hot pressure games," he said. "One thing that I do know is this was not one of them."
    "It affected the guys," he said of the comments. "What we do at Toronto FC is we keep it in-house - everything we do, we keep inside the four walls. And the players, coaching staff, everything, stays within the four walls."
    As to the timing of the move, Bezbatchenko said it had everything to do with the remaining games on the calendar and not with Nelsen's comments.
    "We have 10 games remaining, so that's 30 points that are out there had we waited any longer," Bezbatchenko said at the news conference.
    The 36-year-old Nelsen was named head coach on Jan. 8, 2013 despite still being an active player for the English Premier League's Queens Park Rangers. He would leave QPR three weeks later to take up his duties with Toronto FC.
    He guided Toronto FC to one of their worst seasons on record in 2013, the team finishing with a 6-17-11 record.
    The team has turned things around in 2014, though, in large part to the additions of high-profile internationals Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley.
    Toronto FC currently sits tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with 33 points through 24 games (9-9-6), on-pace for their first ever MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
    Toronto FC has had eight different head coaches over its seven-plus seasons in Major League Soccer. Nelsen's 58 games as coach are the second-most in club history behind Aron Winter's 64 between 2011 and 2012.

    • LIVE: Toronto FC News Conference
      LIVE: Toronto FC News Conference
      Watch live coverage of Toronto FC's news conference as general manager Tim Bezbatchenko is expected to announce the firing of head coach Ryan Nelsen.

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