WNBA Weekly Rundown | Western powers come out strong

FILE - In this May 26, 2016 file photo, Los Angeles Sparks' Nneka Ogwumike waits for play to resume during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville, Conn. When the Minnesota Lynx visit the Sparks on Tuesday, June 21, it will be just another regular-season game for two teams with championship aspirations. The defending champion Lynx have won their opening 12 games and the Sparks are 11-0, marking the first time that two unbeaten teams from the WNBA, NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL have met with each team having at least 10 wins with no losses and no ties. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

As is the case in most pro sports leagues, the WNBA’s opening week was pretty chaotic. It’s logical to expect some ugly games, given that some players weren’t even in the country in time for their respective teams’ openers. Throw in a few big names switching teams, and you have an all-around chemistry nightmare. There just isn’t enough time in between the end of overseas leagues and the beginning of the WNBA for these rosters to establish cohesion.

And yet, in the midst of this chaos, one thing carried over from 2016: the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx are still very, very good basketball teams.

It’s probably not surprising. These two teams, after all, just gave us a thrilling Finals that was decided in the final seconds — literally: 

Though they were without All-Star forwards Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender for much of the first week’s action, the Sparks continued where they left off, winning both games they played by double figures. MVP Nneka Ogwumike scored 23 points in each, showcasing increased confidence in the 3-point shot she debuted last year. That’s not very good news for the rest of the league.

Not to be outdone, the Lynx started 2017 in similar fashion. The squad of proven veterans just keeps on rolling, winning blowouts and close games alike. They don’t need Maya Moore to shoot well in order to dismantle opponents, especially when Sylvia Fowles is dominating the paint like we’re accustomed to seeing.

But again…we’re used to this. How about something new?

Here’s a fresh story: Seattle guard Jewell Loyd is now a bona fide superstar. The Storm have had to do with a somewhat hampered Breanna Stewart early on, but Loyd has done an admirable job carrying the team, leading the league in scoring at 26 points per game on a ridiculously efficient 70.5 percent true shooting percentage.

To be fair, it was only a matter of time before Loyd became a household name as well. Her rapid development from 2015 to 2016 signaled that she’d be a top 10 player sooner rather than later. Still, at the start of a WNBA season that has featured plenty of high-scoring efforts (six players currently average 20 points per game or better), Loyd’s star shines the brightest. She eclipsed 1,000 career points scored on Sunday, and she’s only getting started.

Rookie Report

Expect the Dallas Wings to be making routine appearances under this subheading. The team currently has five rookies — all 2017 draft picks — on its roster, and head coach Fred Williams has had no issue with throwing them straight into the fire.

Guards/forwards Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray seem up to the task. Teammates who won a championship at South Carolina just two months ago, they’re now at the focal point of the Wings’ rebuilding effort. Davis electrified in her debut, dropping 20 points against Phoenix, while Gray has been the steady hand NCAA fans are used to seeing, scoring in double figures in each of her first two games.

The week’s most impressive single-game rookie performance, however, came from Sydney Wiese. Picked at No. 11 overall by Los Angeles, Wiese has already impressed head coach Brian Agler, who is notoriously stingy with rookies. Wiese rewarded his faith on Friday, shooting 6-10 on 3-pointers in a 22-point performance. It’s not often you see Agler play a rookie 27 minutes — let alone in the second game of a season — so this can mean only good things for the versatile guard.

Other Notes

It didn’t take long for Diana Taurasi to find herself in hot water with league officials. After being assessed a technical foul for taking a swing at Stars forward Dearica Hamby, Taurasi was subsequently given a flagrant 2 after the game, resulting in an automatic one-game suspension. She’ll miss Tuesday’s game against the New York Liberty. You can view the play here.

In further bad news, New York point guard Brittany Boyd will miss the remainder of the 2017 season with a torn Achilles. Boyd, who suffered the injury last Thursday against Minnesota, was primed to have a breakout season, and as she’s the Liberty’s only true distributing guard, head coach Bill Laimbeer will have to change some things systematically while leaning on Bria Hartley and Epiphanny Prince.

Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson recently snared her 3,000th rebound, inching her ever closer to Tamika Catchings’ all-time record of 3,316. Brunson is far and away the WNBA’s most prolific active rebounder; Candice Dupree trails her at just under 2,400 boards.

Guard Erin Phillips, who was recently waived by Dallas and then retired, has returned to the Wings in a front office role. Phillips will serve as the team’s Director of Player and Franchise Development, according to a statement released by the Wings on Monday.

Top Performers

  1. Brittney Griner: 32 points (13-15 FG), 10 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. Indiana
  2. Jewell Loyd: 26 points (10-14 FG, 3-3 3FG), 5 rebounds vs. Washington
  3. Sylvia Fowles: 27 points (8-15 FG, 11-12 FT), 15 rebounds (8 OREB) vs. Dallas
  4. Stefanie Dolson: 23 points (10-13 FG), 8 rebounds, 5 blocks vs. Atlanta
  5. Candace Parker: 18 points (7-10 FG, 2-4 3FG), 8 rebounds, 5 assists vs. Washington

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