- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Actually, of course, there are two bosses this WNBA season, and this week they swap spots atop the espnW power rankings. Phoenix had been in the numero-uno slot since June 16. But with Minnesota's 75-67 victory last Thursday snapping the Mercury's 16-game winning streak, the Lynx climb back to No. 1.
The Mercury and the Lynx have one more regular-season meeting, which is this Saturday in Phoenix. Something tells us the Phoenix fans' vocal chords will be well-rested and ready to cheer the Mercury and boo the refs in that one.
Now, here are the week 12 power rankings:
1. Minnesota (22-6; No. 2)
The Lynx are loving life, having both Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus back on the floor, and the team is looking a lot like its 2013 title-winning self. But that duo's return hasn't meant that Maya Moore fades into the woodwork. As if. Saturday, the MVP favorite had 40 points in a victory at Tulsa, and in the process set a WNBA record for most games in a season (11) with 30 or more points. The Lynx have six games left in the regular season.
2. Phoenix (23-4; last week: No. 1)
The Mercury know they didn't play their best at Minnesota last week, as they didn't rebound well and seemed pretty bothered by physical play. But they bounced back with a victory Saturday at home against Indiana, and you can be sure they are looking forward to the rematch with the Lynx this week. First, though, the Mercury will face Atlanta and San Antonio.
3. Atlanta (17-10; No. 3)
The Dream have clinched a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive season, and they have a 4½-game lead in first place in the East. But there are still concerns for Atlanta, which ended a four-game skid with a victory over Connecticut last Tuesday. Sunday, the Dream fell at home to New York, as Atlanta coach Michael Cooper returned to the sidelines after surgery for tongue cancer. The Dream did not defend the way they need to against the Liberty. This week the Dream start a stretch of four straight games on the road, three in the Pacific time zone.
4. Los Angeles (13-15; No. 7)
It's hard to know if what we saw from the Sparks this past week was real progress or just another go-round on the roller coaster. But, to look at it optimistically for Los Angeles, the Sparks did get victories over Indiana and Connecticut, although the latter took a rally in the final 20 seconds against the East's last-place team. The Sparks' 21-point loss to Phoenix, though, suggests that they're still not close to playing up to their talent. Even so, Los Angeles jumped in the power rankings -- although that might say more negative about other teams than positive about the Sparks.
5. Indiana (13-15; No. 6)
The Fever lost twice last week, but considering those games were at Los Angeles and Phoenix, we're not going to penalize them too much. They won at Seattle and continue to be a team that performs best when they get good scoring balance from their starters. This is a big week for the Fever trying to secure second place in the East, as they host Minnesota and Washington and then go on the road to New York. Incidentally, the Fever and Liberty still have three games against each other this regular season.
6. New York (12-15; No. 8)
The Liberty went 2-1 last week, with the loss coming at Chicago in Elena Delle Donne's return to the Sky. Sunday, New York won at Atlanta in a game that showed the Liberty can stand up to the East's top team. This week, New York can make a strong move -- which it needs to do -- to secure a playoff spot, as the Liberty face Washington, Connecticut and Indiana. The latter two games are at Madison Square Garden.
7. Chicago (12-16; No. 11)
It's not as if there was any doubt about Elena Delle Donne's importance to the Sky. Just the same, she reinforced her value with her return last week after sitting out with the effects of Lyme disease. Chicago lost at San Antonio without her, then beat New York and Washington with her. EDD had 10 points in just more than 10 minutes against the Liberty, then 21 in 16 minutes versus the Mystics. And just like that, the Sky are back in the playoff picture. Will that optimism last with games this week at Connecticut, at Minnesota and home against Atlanta?
8. Washington (13-15; No. 4)
The Mystics' four-game winning streak ended, and back-to-back losses to New York and Chicago just made the confusing Eastern Conference playoff picture more confusing. Washington's postseason fate, though, is very much in the Mystics' control, as all six of their remaining games are against Eastern Conference foes.
10. Tulsa (10-19; No. 10)
Three games out of fourth place with five games left on their schedule, the Shock know their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. Four of those five games are on the road, with their final home appearance this Friday against San Antonio. Once again, the Shock might have to measure their progress with something other than the playoffs as the gauge.
10. Seattle (10-20; No. 9)
Just when you thought the Storm's season was going to end in a depressingly long losing streak, Seattle was able to exploit San Antonio's post weaknesses and get to a double-digit win total this season. Sunday's defeat of the Stars snapped a seven-game skid and at least started August on a bright note. Seattle has four games left, three of them at home.
11. San Antonio (13-16; No. 5)
The Stars probably have their playoff spot secure ... or do they? The problem is they are really not playing very well right now. Last week, San Antonio beat Chicago before Elena Delle Donne's return, but then had two discouraging losses to Connecticut and Seattle. And the rest of the Stars' schedule is very tough. This week, they have Phoenix and Los Angeles at home and travel to Tulsa.
12. Connecticut (11-18; No. 12)
Has the sun set on the Sun? We might have thought so, but they did get a win over San Antonio last week and nearly beat Los Angeles as well. Especially with four of their five remaining games at home, Connecticut still has a pulse.
20dBonnie D. Ford