12 Things: McCowan, Dolson, Arike

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 27: A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces drives to the basket during the game against the Indiana Fever on August 27, 2019 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 27: A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces drives to the basket during the game against the Indiana Fever on August 27, 2019 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /

One final push

We may already know who the eight playoff teams are, but the mad scramble is on as Washington and Connecticut take aim at No. 1. One of the Aces, Sparks and Sky won’t get a single-bye. Two of Seattle, Minnesota and Phoenix will be on the road in round one. Let’s check in with all 12 teams, starting with the rookie center that’s been laying waste to everything in sight.

Word of the week

Precisely one word came to mind watching Teaira McCowan take a seat for the final time on Tuesday’s win over the Aces: satisfaction.

The rookie earned it after having her way with Liz Cambage and the Aces’ front line, outworking them on the glass and bringing more of a focus to establish deep position inside. McCowan played to her strengths exceptionally well—something the Aces have struggled to do consistently all season at a team level.

Seeing her put the ball on the floor for one-dribble finishes has been a fun subplot. Projecting that component was tough because of how easy it was for college opponents to put two or three bodies in her path at all times.

McCowan’s play of late has been a resounding late-season win for the Fever. They can pick up a second by locking in the best lottery odds for the 2020 draft.

Taking the good with the bad 

The Sparks got absolutely throttled by the Mystics. But amid all that pain, there were interesting flashes showing how L.A.’s three stars can chip away at Washington’s defense.

Any quick touch for an on-the-move Chelsea Gray is a big win. Washington has plenty of wings to throw at her. But going right at them might be Gray’s only chance at getting deep into the lane.

Washington’s switching can really eat into her chances to play downhill as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. They also demand so much communication and scrambling if opponents wish to run them off the 3-point line that any possibility to get Gray some touches that won’t be as taxing must be explored fully.

That said, I think the Sparks are going to need Gray to see red anytime a big other than Elena Delle Donne or LaToya Sanders checks into the game.

Gray might be the only guard in these playoffs capable of sowing some doubt in this reliance on switching. Sizing somebody up and attacking hard with a live dribble time after time is a tall task. We’ve seen Gray do plenty of it in crunch time over the years, but these Mystics may require more of that approach across all four quarters for L.A. to come out on top in a series.

L.A. got on the board via a Candace Parker post-up against Natasha Cloud. Looking for the same thing next time down, Sanders scrammed Cloud out of that matchup as Gray found Tierra Ruffin-Pratt for an open triple.

So, Washington can move pretty quickly to discourage that first post-up. If Parker is the first look, they need to find Nneka Ogwumike quickly to take her turn against a smaller player.

Ogwumike is also a prime candidate to slice the Mystics up by slipping screens—diving to the rim immediately to capitalize on a more traditional scheme, miscommunication or anything in between.

And in spite of Sanders’ many strengths, she’s always going to be prone to duck-ins, especially when the opposition spreads it out to keep potential helpers further away.

These moments don’t sugarcoat the 29-point margin. Washington is No. 1 by a mile in the very unofficial ‘Be Hard to Guard’ metric.

The Sparks haven’t been remotely competitive in the minutes Delle Donne actually played against them this season. They won’t get any more reps to iron things out before a potential series meeting.

The team that ended their 2018 season has handed them two more tough losses to chew on. But the Sparks have the pieces to diligently pick them apart, too and may end up one second-round victory away from a date with D.C. in the semis.

Dolson dives 

Chicago’s bigs, even without Jantel Lavender, are a sneaky fun matchup for the Mystics. Astou Ndour and Stefanie Dolson are interchangeable as roll/pop partners. One of them can be left in the game to feed Cheyenne Parker on duck-ins.

Knowing Dolson and Ndour aren’t know for their ability to face up and attack off the bounce, they unleashed a really interesting wrinkle in the third quarter last weekend out of a ‘Horns’ look.

Dolson didn’t pop.

If she did, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough would have had a relatively easy time finding her and closing out in time to prevent an open look. Courtney Vandersloot got the ball out quickly; Dolson did the rest from there.

Make it stop

Who’s asking for these camera angles?

Broadcasts don’t need to spice the presentation up when the ball is in play. Just show us the players on the court! When and why did this come into question for people?

AT, backup PG

The Sun trimmed the rotation down to seven in the second half of last week’s win over the Aces. That meant Alyssa Thomas was the backup point guard in a more traditional sense, leading to some interesting developments when she didn’t have the ball.

Opponents can clog up the lane when their center guards Thomas. This is a big, amorphous group with Bria Holmes also in the game alongside the shooting of Morgan Tuck and Jonquel Jones.

The pass to Tuck was a risky one, but the ways in which Connecticut can arrange the floor are fascinating with this unit.

Both Jones and Tuck can pick and pop or force opposing bigs to run around some screens. Opponents will probably run out of size for both Thomas and Holmes. One of them will have an easier time finding some bully-ball drives to the rim.

Finding a group that makes it easier to dump it down to Jones more consistently is still a concern. Tuck playing well, as she did in that fourth quarter, probably helps them get there.

That final Sunday in Phoenix 

I was all-in on the Mercury heading into the season—far from an original thought. I circled them as a tough matchup for the Aces because of their ability to guard Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson one-on-one.

That much has panned out with Brianna Turner becoming an increasingly vital ingredient to both their frontcourt defense and overall chances at a title.

Plenty may still be on the line for both teams when they face off in the final game of the season. Wilson shot a combined 10-of-38 from the field in their two matchups to date.

DeWanna Bonner gave her trouble in the first meeting with her length. That matchup holding up unlocks even more for their offense. But as seen in the second meeting, Turner can create similar problems with her long arms and quick-leap ability.

Wilson managed nine points on 10 possessions against Turner but shot just 1-of-6 from the field. The ball is now in Wilson’s court for the third matchup. Does she focus even more on overpowering them at the rim? Or does she throw more fakes to get them up in the air?

Piph to Vegas

How’s this for a refresher on Epiphanny Prince?

In 2017 with the Liberty, she was the third-most efficient pick-and-roll guard in the league scoring 0.962 points per possession among players that used at least 60 possessions according to Synergy Sports. She used 160 possessions, the league’s seventh-highest mark behind Erica Wheeler, Jewell Loyd, Jasmine Thomas, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi and Courtney Williams.

Last season was a bit of a lost year for Prince. Concussion symptoms bled into the start of the regular season and a knee injury limited her down the stretch for the lottery-bound Liberty.

Now in her age-31 season, she’s joining the Aces very late in the season coming off a knee scope. Bill Laimbeer made it clear at practice on Thursday that he doesn’t know what her role will be for certain.

But Prince is about as good as it gets as a late addition for a playoff-bound team this late in the season. She’s played for Laimbeer before and can sprinkle in some pull-up shooting.

Laimbeer also noted Thursday that he intends to keep Tamera Young in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game in place of Kelsey Plum for the second consecutive game.

The Aces hold a one-game lead and the tiebreaker over Chicago with three to play. Staying in the top-four secures a single-bye. Vegas will look to put a stop to their three-game losing skid Saturday night in their fourth meeting with their Sparks trailing the season series 2-1.

New season, same but different problem

A team can’t find enough minutes for Brittany Boyd, Tanisha Wright, Bria Hartley, Asia Durr, Marine Johannes, Kia Nurse and Rebecca Allen. It isn’t possible with 40-minute games even with three of them missing significant time due to injury/EuroBasket.

They were loaded with guards/wings last season that probably all expected to play, too.

To their credit, they made room for and welcomed more promising long-term pieces in Durr and Johannes. Nurse had a larger role from day one.

Sadly, Durr’s missed time has kept them from seeing more of her and Nurse together. In selecting Durr at No. 2 overall, they passed on the other scorer (Arike Ogunbowale) with more ball-handling upside or the wing-type (Napheesa Collier) that could have given them more size by pushing Nurse up to the 2.

If both Durr and Nurse pan out as consistent scorers, the big question facing the franchise comes down to what they want in that third perimeter slot. Their point guard play has been a glaring weakness all season. They’ll need some new bites at the apple for next season paired with good health for both Durr and Nurse (and possibly a post-Olympics return for Johannes).

Finally blowing the whistle 

Tiffany Hayes has been an under-discussed barometer for the wildly inconsistent and generally aimless way in which the game has been officiated around the basket this season. Her early-season ankle injury probably had something to do with the drop off from her standard, but she didn’t fundamentally change the way she plays even then.

She attempted 2.9 free throws per game in 18 games before the All-Star break compared to 7.4 in 10 games since. Her eight-year low in free throw rate won’t stick out quite as much as it did a month ago.

But it still circles back to the same questions that somebody at the WNBA needs to be held accountable for: Who made this rogue decision to dramatically shift the way games were called without communicating it with executives, coach and players, and why did they think it was a good idea?

Minny’s other guard 

Danielle Robinson is going to be one of the league’s big wildcards this postseason—at least in the early stages of it. She’s shooting nearly 53 percent from the field in the 11 games since the All-Star break.

The venture out beyond the 3-point line didn’t last long. Sylvia Fowles or Napheesa Collier passing out of double-teams isn’t quite as scary when Robinson is spotting up 15 feet from the rim. The threat of getting an extra point isn’t there, and defenders closing out to her aren’t going to have to travel as far.

Getting more shooting on the floor sounds nice. Potential replacements won’t be as good defensively. We saw just how much being able to lean on Robinson and Odyssey Sims can pay off in their recent win over the Wings as they were able to extend their pressure on Arike Ogunbowale and hold up on- and off-ball as they often brought a second defender into the picture to force her to give it up.

Robinson also gives them some extra oomph when she’s turning the corner in a halfcourt setting. Life gets tougher for Sims when she’s the only source of dribble penetration. And the Robinson midrange spot-ups won’t be the end of the world if she makes enough of them. In the same 11-game sample, she’s 16-of-34 per WNBA.com.

Arike buying time 

There’s real strength in knowing you have somebody that can pull you out of a hole. Arike Ogunbowale did just that Sunday in Dallas against the Dream, rattling off eight points in the final minute of the third.

A 20-point deficit shrunk down to 14. And a stretch like that matters, even for the lottery-bound Wings. It essentially won them an extra 10 minutes. Their young players got some more very real reps in crunch time. Without that stretch, the game may have been headed toward garbage time in a hurry.

The Wings have been able to rally around that shot-making, allowing them to extract more out of these late-season games while proving to their fan base that there’s something on the horizon worth being excited about.

You don’t see that every day 

Does anything seem off about that sequence?

Washington’s bench was livid with the officials, and Mike Thibault got T’d up in a hurry. He was seen on the broadcast reminding the officials that he warned them before the game that something like this would happen.

A jump-ball participant can’t be the first to touch the ball after a tip.

Vandersloot got away with one there, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony for such a glaring violation to be missed in this season of all seasons in a pivotal game between two teams battling to secure single- or double-byes.

Last week's 12 things. Takeaways from two finishes to remember. light

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