Vadeeva gets extended 2nd half look
Perhaps the most intriguing development on what was otherwise a forgetful night for the Sparks was the extended run Agler gave to rookie center Maria Vadeeva, who he sent in with 5:20 remaining in the third quarter.
Vadeeva didn’t come out from there, scoring a WNBA career-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. The 6-4 Russian did a good job on setting high ball screens and showed well rolling off and diving at the basket, including a few layups where she caught the ball in mid-dive and turned for a layup in a single motion.
Vadeeva did commit five fouls, with her main matchup defensively was against Griner — a tough assignment for anyone, let alone a 20-year old rookie giving five inches. But Agler pointed out she’s squared off against the 6-9 Griner before in the Russian league, and seemed pleased with what he saw.
“We wanted to give her some opportunity,” Agler said. “She did a good job and hopefully she’ll give us a spark down the stretch.”
When asked about how she felt after the game, Vadeeva said through Google Translate, “I’m always happy to go into games and ready to play 100%. I’m very glad coach gave me the opportunity for more time, and I gave myself to this game completely to try and help the team win.”
With one week left, playoff seeding still wide open
Both Los Angeles and Phoenix had their playoff spot clinched before Sunday’s game, but the Mercury’s win puts them in a pretty solid spot compared to the Sparks, even as they sit a half-game behind them in the standings.
The Mercury have two games left, both at home: against the Atlanta Dream (who will be without Angel McCoughtry) on Friday and the New York Liberty on Sunday. Should the Mercury win both games — and frankly, at this point, they’ll be favorites in both games — they’d finish the season 20-14.
The 20-win mark may end up being the cut-off for the 4th seed, especially with the Washington Mystics becoming the third team to get to 20 wins this season earlier Sunday. Both the Sparks and the Connecticut Sun sit at 18-13, each with three games left this week, including the season finale against each other.
The Sparks have a home game against the Liberty Tuesday before a season-ending East Coast trip to face Washington on Friday and Connecticut on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Sun’s final week is all at home, but against the Dallas Wings on Tuesday and the Minnesota Lynx on Friday before the season-ender against the Sparks.
If either the Sparks or the Sun win all three games, they will finish no lower than fourth and get a first round bye. But both teams can’t win all three, and when asked about how he feels about his team’s ability to control its own destiny by winning out, Agler wasn’t looking for the bright side.
“That’s an optimistic viewpoint, but the reality is we have to do things better on the court,” Agler said. “I just don’t see us, at this moment, doing that on a consistent basis. Whether we find that? I don’t know. Has this core group done it before? Yes they have, but we’ve been inconsistent with that this year.”
And considering the rough month that the Mercury had, which was still ongoing as recently as last Tuesday, Phoenix also can still get to the fourth seed as well. With a tiebreaker advantage over the Sun but not the Sparks, the Mercury’s likely only chance at a first-round bye would require the Sparks to lose both of its East Coast road games, including at Connecticut, who the Mercury would need to lose at least one of its two other games.
But Phoenix’s head coach is more concerned about how the team looks and plays over the final week of the season than what happens around the league.
“The important thing is building momentum and playing the way we know we’re capable of playing for 40 minutes,” Brondello said. “The last few games, we’ve been getting better and better, but it’s just been a bit more consistent. I think we’re playing well, and that’s what matter when it comes down to the playoffs, if we’re playing well.”
Considering that the Mercury have won all four win-or-go-home playoff games they’ve played the last two seasons, including three on the road, you can’t blame Brondello for that mindset.