The 2018 WNBA All-Star Game has come and gone, and it's time to start the second half of the season. Well, in terms of games played, we're well past the halfway mark because of the condensed schedule (to accommodate the FIBA Women's World Cup), but let's just roll with it.
The All-Star Weekend was a major success. First of all, shoutout to Minneapolis. There was really no doubt that the fans would show out, given all the support they've given the Lynx over the past few years, but the Target Center went crazy. Nearly 16,000 fans showed up, making it the best-attended WNBA All-Star Game since 2007.
As for the game itself, it's an All-Star Game, you know? There were fun moments, like neither team knowing which hoop they were supposed to shoot on right away, Liz Cambage running point, then dunking to close the game out, Kristi Toliver dropping seven 3-pointers, Chelsea Gray throwing fancy passes and Maya Moore winning her third consecutive All-Star Game MVP. But mostly it was 22 talented women goofing around out on the court. It was fun.
But the highlight of the weekend, by far, was Allie Quigley's performance in the 3-point shootout. Twice she rattled off perfect money-ball racks on her way to going back-to-back. It wasn't without some drama though, as Kayla McBride hit her last shot in the championship round to force an overtime. In that extra period, Quigley put on an absolute show, going for 29 points, the most ever in a 3-point contest -- NBA or WNBA.
Instead of moving teams up and down even though most only played one game this week, we'll take a look at one burning question for each team in the second half.
1. Seattle Storm (19-7)
Can they finish strong and claim a top-two seed?
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Storm are 19-7, with a 3.5 game lead over the third-place Lynx. Now, the No. 1 overall seed would be nice, but the Storm's main goal is to have one of the top two seeds when the season comes to a close. Having such a spectacular start to the season, only to wind up having to play a single-elimination game again would be heartbreaking. The Storm need to take care of business here.
2. Atlanta Dream (16-9)
Will their offense keep this up?
The Dream have had the league's best defense pretty much all season long. But for much of the first half, they also owned the league's worst offense. Over their current eight-game winning streak, however, their offensive rating is 107.9, good for second in the league in that span. If this offensive turnaround is for real, the Dream are going to be a title contender. But if it was just some hot shooting coupled with playing some bad defensive teams, well not so much.
3. Minnesota Lynx (15-10)
Is getting a top-two seed worth it?
For most teams in the league, the answer is obviously yes, because reward of getting a bye past the single-elimination games and into the semifinals is just so great. With the Lynx, however, it might not be so obvious. Given their aging core and not so trustworthy bench, they absolutely need to be 100 percent healthy and well-rested heading into the playoffs if they want to defend their title. Is it worth potentially sacrificing those things in order to chase a top-two seed? Maybe not. It will be interesting to see how Coach Cheryl Reeve plays this.
4. Los Angeles Sparks (15-11)
Can they get healthy?
The Sparks have had some puzzling performances this season, including a recent loss to the last-place Fever. The big reason for that defeat, were the absences of Nneka Ogwumike and Alana Beard. Ogwumike, the 2016 WNBA MVP, hasn't played since July 15, and is just one of many Sparks players who have dealt with injuries this season. With the talent in the league at an all-time high, the Sparks -- especially Ogwumike -- are going to need to get healthy if they want to make a third straight Finals.
5. Phoenix Mercury (15-11)
Is their Big Three enough?
Much has been made of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner all finally being healthy this season, and it's showed. The Mercury have at times looked like a team capable of making a run to the Finals. But will those three be enough? They currently rely on that trio for nearly 68 percent of their total offense, and have lost the most important member of their supporting cast, Sancho Lyttle, for the season with a knee injury. The Mercury's playoff run will really test the viability of putting everything on your star's shoulders.
6. Dallas Wings (14-11)
Will they ever find consistency?
This entire season has been a roller coaster ride for the Wings. One game Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith are looking like the best 1-2 punch in the league, and the next they're getting crushed by the Sky. The Wings have the top-tier talent, there's no question, but if the team can't figure out a way to put everything together on a consistent basis, their hopes for a long playoff run will be short-lived.
7. Washington Mystics (14-11)
Do they have what it takes on defense?
The Mystics are an incredible offensive team. With Elena Delle Donne leading the way and Kristi Toliver providing long-range support, they boast the fourth-best offensive rating in the league at 105.7. Often, simply outscoring people is enough to get them wins in the regular season. However, if they want to make it past the semi-finals this season, they'll need to find a way to get some stops on the defensive end. Coming out of the break, they're the fourth-worst defense in the league and own the worst defense of any team currently in the playoff picture.
8. Connecticut Sun (14-12)
Can they find themselves again?
The Sun burst onto the scene last season ahead of schedule, finishing fourth in the league. They lost a heartbreaker in the second-round of the playoffs, but bounced back this season with another flying start, and looked ready to take the next step. Then Alyssa Thomas got hurt, they had some locker room drama and everything seemed to fall apart. A rough stretch sent them tumbling down the standings, where they're now clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot. Their last two games, however, have given reason to believe they might be back on track. Can they prove this resurgence is for real?
9. Las Vegas Aces (12-13)
Do they have a playoff push in them?
Everyone knew the Aces would be better this season, but no one expected them to be challenging for a playoff spot. Yet as we come out of the All-Star break, they're in ninth place, 1.5 games behind the Sun for eighth, and only three games behind the third-place Lynx in the crowded standings. They have their work cut out for them with a wicked hard schedule down the stretch, so if they're able to get in, they will have truly earned it.
10. Chicago Sky (9-17)
What assists records will Courtney Vandersloot break?
Last season, Vandersloot set a new WNBA record by averaging 8.1 assists per game. Now, after three straight games of double-digit assists, including the first triple-double in Sky history, Vandersloot is up to 8.2 assists per game. Additionally, Vandersloot needs only 56 assists over the Sky's seven remaining games to set a new single-season record for total assists.
11. New York Liberty (7-18)
Who are the key members of this team going forward?
It's been a miserable season for the Liberty. First, they were kicked out of their longtime home, Madison Square Garden, and forced to play in a dingy civic center. Then they dealt with some injuries and are going to have to make a strong push down the stretch to avoid registering the worst record in franchise history. As they close out this season, it will be important for their new head coach, Katie Smith, to figure out the key members of this team going forward. There are 11 players on the team currently averaging at least 12 minutes per game; Smith needs to lock in on neater rotation of players she can count on for next season.
12. Indiana Fever (3-23)
Can Kelsey Mitchell regain her efficiency?
The rookie got off to an incredible start and was in the 3-point contest. There's no question she can shoot. Lately, however, she hasn't been proving that on the court. She's been dropped from the starting lineup, and in July is shooting just 29.9 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from the 3-point line. Neither of those marks, obviously, are good enough. Hopefully Mitchell can find her form again and close out a dreadful season for the Fever on a high note.