WNBA heads to All-Star break after strong start to season

NEW YORK (AP) — The WNBA heads into the All-Star break this week after a strong first few months of play highlighted by tight standings and record-breaking performances.

“This might be the most competitive season I’ve seen in all my years coaching,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “No one is sitting out this year and there are no easy games in this league.”

The Storm currently have the best record in the league at 18-7 and there’s only four losses separating second place Atlanta from ninth-place Las Vegas making this season’s playoff race one of the tightest ever.

The All-Star game is Saturday in Minneapolis and there’s no debating it’s been exciting an exciting regular season, but the statistics show some of it is optics.

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It may seem more games are being decided in the last few seconds based on thrilling buzzer-beaters that Atlanta and New York had to beat Connecticut over the past few weeks, but the percentage of games decided by five-point or less is about the same as last year at about 25 percent. That’s down from the 30 percent in 2014, according to information provided by the league from the Elias Sports Bureau.

Viewers are tuning in to the competitive play with ratings on ESPN2 up 38 percent from last season. It’s the most-watched WNBA regular season since 2012.

Fans have been treated to some memorable individual efforts.

Liz Cambage broke the WNBA individual game scoring record with a 53-point effort against New York. Shekinna Stricklen tied the league’s mark, hitting eight 3-pointers in a game . And those record-setting performances happened in the last week.

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POWER POLL: A look at this week’s WNBA poll which Seattle sits atop for the third straight week:

1. Seattle (18-7): Storm play six of their final nine games on the road.

2. Atlanta (15-9): The Dream are 10-0 this season in games decided by six points or less. Last season they were 4-9 in such games.

3. Los Angeles (15-10): Injury bug has hit the Sparks with Alana Beard out with a groin injury and Nneka Ogwumike missing the last few games with an illness.

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4. Phoenix (15-10): Mercury will not have Diana Taurasi in their final game before the All-Star break for technical foul accumulations after she was hit with her seventh one in a loss to Minnesota that triggers a one-game suspension.

T5. Minnesota (14-10): A victory over New York in the final game before the break would give the Lynx three consecutive wins.

T5. Dallas (14-11): Liz Cambage had a week to remember and the Wings hope to keep riding their Australian center to the postseason.

1. Washington (14-10): It’s been a rough stretch for the Mystics, who have dropped four of their last six games.

2. Connecticut (13-12): The margin between winning and losing for the Sun has been razor thin. They dropped two games in the past two weeks at the buzzer.

3. Las Vegas (12-13): What a difference a change of scenery has made; the Aces already have more wins in Las Vegas than any of the last three years when the franchise couldn’t reach double-digit victories.

4. Chicago (8-17): Courtney Vandersloot had the seventh triple-double in league history in a win over Dallas on Friday.

5. New York (7-17): Barring a 10-game winning streak to close the season, the Liberty will finish under .500 for the first time since 2014. The franchise’s streak of double-digit victories in every season could be jeopardy.

6. Indiana (3-22): The Fever pulled off another road win, beating Los Angeles.



Liz Cambage, Wings. Set the WNBA record for points in a game when she had 53 against New York. She followed that up with a 35-point effort in her next contest against Washington to set the two-game mark as well. She averaged 34 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks to help Dallas go 2-2 this week.



Sue Bird played in her 500th career regular season game Sunday, breaking the WNBA record held by DeLisha Milton-Jones. Bird has spent her entire career in Seattle and has been the team’s starting point guard since her first game on May 30, 2002.



The Wings and Washington Mystics have exchanged backup guards, with Tayler Hill and a second-round pick in next year’s draft going to Dallas for Aerial Powers. The trade announced Monday includes the right for the teams to swap first-round picks in the 2019 WNBA draft.



WNBA All-Star game, Saturday in Minneapolis. It will be Team Delle Donne vs. Team Parker in the league’s All-Star game. The WNBA changed its format this year going with one similar to the NBA by having captains (leading vote-getters) draft the teams.