Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The WNBA had a very eventful week, as Phoenix's 16-game winning streak came to an end, Elena Delle Donne made her long-awaited return and Minnesota's Maya Moore carved her name in the record books.
The Mercury ended the month of June with five straight wins before reeling off 11 consecutive victories in July to take a firm grasp of first place in the Western Conference race. Phoenix was finally defeated on Thursday, when it suffered a 75-67 setback to the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.
Moore netted 20 points and Seimone Augustus added 19 for the Lynx as they avenged their only previous home loss and improved to 13-1 at the Target Center on Thursday. Brittney Griner paced the Mercury with 18 points on 7-of-9 efficiency from the floor, but Diana Taurasi had an off-night. She hit only 5-of-21 attempts from the field, including an 0-of-7 clip from beyond the arc, for just 10 points. The four Phoenix reserves who saw action in the loss combined to go 0-of-5 from the floor with four turnovers against one assist.
"You won't see Diana shoot like that very often, but she also got a lot of attention," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "Could she have gotten a few more calls? Yes, definitely. Maybe we'll get them next time. But she's a competitor. She'll bounce back."
The Mercury can clearly compete with Minnesota, as they only lost by eight points despite shooting 36.8 percent from the field and being outrebounded 48-33. Phoenix avoided its first string of back-to-back losses this season with a 79-69 triumph over Indiana on Saturday. The Lynx picked up their ninth win in a row on Saturday as Moore poured in 40 points, including 13 over the final five minutes of regulation, in an 84-75 decision at Tulsa. Moore's tremendous offensive performance marked her 11th game with 30 points or more this season, which broke Taurasi's previous WNBA record of 10 set in 2008.
"She is not running around trying to get 40 points and she is not running around just taking bad shots," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of Moore. "She is just really special. She's one of the most special athletes this league has ever seen."
Moore is leading the league in scoring at 24.7 points per game and is adding 8.2 rebounds with 3.5 assists.
Tulsa's second-year sensation Skylar Diggins also made history this past week. Diggins broke Deanne Nolan's franchise record of 559 single-season points, set in 2009, with an 11-point outing on Tuesday and ended the week with 593 points with five games left to play. The 5-foot-9 guard out of Notre Dame is second to only Moore on the WNBA points leaderboard with 20.4 points.
Diggins and the Shock are currently three games behind San Antonio, which currently sits in fourth place in the Western race. Los Angeles edged Connecticut, 70-69, on Sunday, to improve to 3-3 under interim head coach Penny Toler. The Sparks, who are in third place with a half-game lead over San Antonio, can book a trip to the postseason with three more wins over their final six, but still have Atlanta, Minnesota and Phoenix left on the docket.
San Antonio is currently in a slump with only two wins in its past nine games. The Stars have one of the most balanced attacks in the WNBA as four players are averaging 10.8 ppg or more. Becky Hammon announced on Wednesday that she will retire at the end of the 2014 campaign, her 16th as a WNBA player. Hammon is the Stars' all-time leader in assists, points per game and 3-pointers made.
The Eastern Conference is much more open as Atlanta is the only team certain to appear in the playoffs. Michael Cooper returned from a five-game absence after being diagnosed with early-stage tongue cancer on Sunday to coach the Dream in their 83-76 loss to New York. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year is expected to have a limited role until he fully recovers, which means his status for the Dream's upcoming four-game road trip is uncertain. Atlanta rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel has digressed since Cooper's unfortunate news surfaced. After leading all players with 29 points in the All-Star Game, Schimmel has scored in double-figures just once. The rookie out of Louisville has scored just 14 points over her past five games and been held scoreless twice over that span.
New York's victory Sunday was its eighth over the past 12 games. The Liberty are clinging to the fourth seed in the conference standings, just one-half game behind Indiana and Washington. Chicago is just one-half game behind New York for the final playoff spot in the tight bunch.
The Sky appeared to be one of the top teams in the entire WNBA in the early stages of the season, but began to struggle once Delle Donne began to miss action due to her struggle with Lyme disease. The 6-5 forward out of Delaware came back in full force this week to help Chicago to decisions over New York (87-74) and Washington (76-65). Delle Donne contributed 10 points in just over 10 minutes on Thursday before erupting for 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor in 16 minutes on Sunday.
Chicago's top-notch defense was on display versus the Mystics, who committed 19 turnovers and shot only 38.6 percent from the floor. The Sky tallied 15 assists with only eight turnovers even though starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot was still unavailable due to a knee injury that has kept her sidelined since late June.
"We were solid on defense from the beginning," said Sky coach Pokey Chatman. "It was just nice to see a complete game and all the dots connect."
Vandersloot could also rejoin the Sky in the coming weeks, which would make Chicago a very dangerous squad if it manages to earn a playoff berth.
1. Phoenix (23-4)
2. Minnesota (22-6)
3. Atlanta (17-10)
4. Los Angeles (13-15)
5. San Antonio (13-16)
6. Chicago (12-16)
7. Indiana (13-15)
8. Washington (13-15)
9. New York (12-15)
10. Tulsa (10-19)
11. Connecticut (11-18)
12. Seattle (10-20)
THIS WEEK'S KEY MATCHUPS
Tuesday, August 5
Chicago at Connecticut - The Sky have a great chance to gain ground right away this week as they visit the last-place Sun. At the same time, New York will visit the nation's capital to take on the Mystics and Indiana has a tough home game against Minnesota. Even with Delle Donne coming off the bench, Chicago has played with more confidence of late. Connecticut superstar rookie Chiney Ogwumike (15.9 pg, 8.6 rpg) and veteran leader Katie Douglas (12.9 ppg) will not make it easy for Delle Donne and company.
Friday, August 8
Atlanta at Los Angeles - Cooper hopes to be present when his Dream invade the City of Angels, where he made a name for himself as one of the most tenacious defenders while playing for the Lakers. Although Atlanta has already clinched a spot in the playoffs, it would like to regain some momentum before the season's end. The Sparks are in a "must-win" mode, which is sure to yield a strong effort out of Candace Parker. Los Angeles will also require a strong effort out of Nneka Ogwumike, who will have her hands full against Atlanta star center Erika de Souza.
Saturday, August 9
Minnesota at Phoenix - The Mercury will be out for revenge as Minnesota travels to the desert for the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the WNBA's top two squads. The Mercury come into the week with a 12-game home winning streak intact and own a 2-1 lead in their series with Minnesota. It is highly unlikely that Taurasi and Phoenix's bench will be bottled up completely by the Lynx's defense for a second straight game, but the Mercury will also need to figure out a way to prevent Moore from lighting up the scoreboard. If Phoenix prevails, it will be in great position to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.