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2011 WNBA Playoff Preview – EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boy I wish I was working watching film right now instead of writing this… but, I just have to get better and continue to try to help Pokey, Christie and our players not miss out on the post season in 2012.  I will… you can count on it.

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I thought you might like my overview for the 2011 Eastern Conference Playoffs.

The WNBA Playoffs feature eight tremendous teams.  Playoff time is execution time.  This time of year, every team knows every play, every set and every call you have.  It’s next to impossible to run anything offensively unless you are a tremendous screening and cutting team.  Even then, it’s hard.  The teams that are able to execute the best will be the most successful.  With that said, defense will be a major factor.  Being able to stop the individual play of the superstars involved in these games is a difficult challenge.  September is where great players, great teams and great coaches make their mark.

No predictions here… just some insight on what to look for and what to (try to) stop.

Good luck to all eight teams!

Eastern Conference – First Round:

Indiana Fever vs. New York Liberty

Indiana and New York split the season series.  Many people believe it will be a sweep by the Fever in round one since one of New York’s two wins came with Tamika Catchings not playing.  Don’t count on a sweep.  New York’s “White Line” defense improved every game over the course of the season and is at it’s best right now.  The “White Line” is designed to take away post and paint touches and easy scoring opportunities by completely face guarding the post and providing deep backside help.  It did just that for New York, but what was even more impressive was New York’s ability to hold opponents to just 32% from the 3-point line – best in the league.  With a complete fronting of the post, the skip pass is open, theoretically.  New York did a very good job of recovering to shooters and will have to play great 3-point line defense vs. Indiana, as they are the league’s 2nd best 3-point shooting team. (38%, behind LA’s 39%)  New York finished the season allowing opponents 74 ppg (3rd best in the league) while holding opponents to 43% from the field (tied for 6th best with the Sun.)  New York was one of the most difficult teams to play on their home court the last third of the season.

The one – two punch of Douglas and Catchings is still one of the best in the league.  Both players were visibly tired during the league’s last weeks and Indiana lost 3 of their last 5.  I don’t think that is a concern, they have had a few days of rest now and that should pay huge dividends for the Fever.  Indiana was the second best defender of the 3-point line (34% just behind New York.)  With both teams ability to shoot the ball and defend at a high level, something will have to give in this series.  For the team that is able to impose its will to that end will come the wins needed to capture the series.

Indiana’s “go to” set down the stretch was a slot P&R that caused many teams fits defensively.

Indiana’s ability to move a variety of players into different positions is tremendous.  Tamika Catchings can handle the ball in the pick & roll or be the one who sets the pick.  Katie Douglas will handle the ball coming to her left where she is nearly unstoppable.  Erin Phillips attacks the basket relentlessly out of the P&R, can score herself or find shooters.  Tan Smith will be lifted opposite the ball screen or set the pick, where she knocks them down at a 34% rate.  The corner shooters can be any number of players from Erin Phillips (who has saved the day for the Fever with January going down) to Jeanette Pohlen.  This looks like a simple set, but it is incredibly hard to stop.

New York added a baseline runner set late in the season combined with their “Floppy” action that provided them with many variations and scoring opportunities for Cappie, Nicole Powell, Essence as well as their tough post presence.

Any of the above-mentioned players running off the double baseline screens, and then attacking the basket is very hard to guard.  Especially, with Plenette Pierson and Kia Vaughn setting the screens and flashing to the ball.  Leilani Mitchell shot the three ball at a 36% clip and when she is spotted up opposite the P&R or dribble penetration it is hard to help and give her open looks.  Two players to keep an eye on in this series for New York are rookies Alex Montgomery and Sydney Colson.  Both Montgomery and Colson provided solid minutes for the Liberty all season, but it’s playoff time and neither has been through a playoff series yet.  The intensity is a little higher, the physical nature of the game a little rougher.  Their presence and ability to help provide depth for New York will be key.

Connecticut Sun vs Atlanta Dream

Connecticut and Atlanta also split their season series 2-2.  These two teams played all four games during the last half of the season, so they are both very familiar with each other.  All four games were great battles, with three of the four games in the 90’s and one overtime thriller – this series will be a great one to watch.

Atlanta is the hottest team in the league right now and Angel McCoughtry arguably the league’s best player.  She tied for the scoring lead at 21.2 points per game this season, but averaged 26.4 points per game in September including three 30+ point performances.  Simply put, Angel was incredible.  Unstoppable.  The Dream won nine of their last eleven games including an 11-point victory over the Sun.

Atlanta loved a play we referred to as “DROP 3”, an iso that allowed them to get Angel the ball in a variety of places:  post ups, backdoors, off a screen, in the corner and short corner iso’s.

 

McCoughtry is dangerous is so many ways.  She needs very little space and time to get her shot off and it is impossible to alter because of her high release and height.  She can play any position 2 – 4 and even handle the ball at the point.  She is a range shooter, is good in the P&R and posts up very well.  ­The ability of deSouza and Bales to play off her penetration, as well as the penetration (especially in transition) of Armintie Price is a very volatile combination.

Atlanta’s Achilles Heel and their greatest asset are the same thing… points per game.  The Dream allowed 81 ppg, only behind Tulsa and Phoenix for the most points allowed this season.  BUT, the Dream can put a boatload of points on the board in a hurry… 83 ppg.

Connecticut’s one of the most well balanced squads in the league.  The Sun are very sound defensively, they play offensively with a pace that can adjust to a fast paced running team like Atlanta and Phoenix or a half court execution team like Indiana or Seattle.  They have tremendous veteran leadership in Charles, Jones, Lawson and White.  This team rarely gets rattled.  Connecticut averaged 80 ppg, 4th best around the W, while holding opponents to 77 ppg on 43% shooting.

When the Sun needed a basket they had plenty of options to go to.  One set they like to go to is a great low block duck in for Charles right out of transition.

 

Kara Lawson often handled the ball with Montgomery running over the top of Charles on the baseline, but either is dangerous handling the ball or coming off the baseline screen.  Charles’ defender forced to help or bump the cutter at least a little to take away the potential layup and when they do… BAM… Tina ducks in for an easy seal, basket and often a foul.  Atlanta has to be able to stop Charles without getting in too much foul trouble.  Front court foul trouble for Atlanta will spell a great deal of trouble for the Dream.

This series will go the distance and don’t be at all surprised if we see at least one overtime game.

Stay tuned for my Western Conference preview coming soon!

Let the games begin…

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