WNBA first half: The good, the bad

Minnesota Defense

Right now, there is no WNBA team flying higher than Phoenix, which has the best record in the league and is host to the All-Star Game on Saturday (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET). Now there's some serendipity.

When the 2014 season began, defending champion Minnesota appeared to be the favorite, and the Lynx are still a threat to win it all. But they need to get healthier, and they know that the Mercury's confidence is brimming.

Phoenix and Minnesota also have Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore leading the MVP race, along with Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry. The Dream are atop the East but are thinking bigger than that. After coming away empty-handed from three trips to the WNBA Finals, Atlanta -- with Michael Cooper now as its coach -- wants to get past that ceiling.

In terms of the schedule, we are actually already past the midway point of the season. Seattle, in fact, has just 10 games left. But it's still a good time to assess where every team is and  hand out some grades. Considering most of the league is around or below .500, it stands to reason that there's a pretty big gap between those earning A's and everyone else.

Nobody flunked, but a few teams are close to having their season get away from them entirely. We'll see if any ships get righted -- or whether a few are totally sunk -- in the next month.

Western Conference

Phoenix: A

The Mercury are on an 11-game winning streak with one contest left -- Thursday night against Connecticut -- before they host the party this weekend. The Mercury's one-point loss at Connecticut on June 12 appeared to be the little kick in the pants that Phoenix needed to play better defense and not have mental letdowns based on the opponent.

Taurasi has been even more of a playmaker this season, while still scoring at a high level. Brittney Griner's confidence and her understanding of the pro game are improved her second year. Candice Dupree is having an all-star season. Penny Taylor is back healthy. Guard Erin Phillips, who won a championship with Indiana in 2012, has joined the fun. Coach Sandy Brondello, in her first season in Phoenix, has insisted the Mercury be a better team on both ends of the floor -- and they've done that.

Chemistry is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. And it's very evident with the Mercury this year.

Minnesota: A-

In their run to the WNBA Finals the last three years, the Lynx had great luck in regard to injuries. This season, that hasn't been the case. Rebekkah Brunson, their most powerful interior player, has yet to compete in 2014 as she recovers from a knee injury. All-Star Seimone Augustus has been limited to 15 games because of bursitis in her knee and won't be playing this weekend in Phoenix.

However, Moore has been fabulous, leading the WNBA in scoring (24.1 PPG), boosting her rebounding average (8.3) by more than two a game from last year and taking on even more of the leadership mantle at age 25.

Point guard Lindsay Whalen is an All-Star again. Damiris Dantas, a 21-year-old rookie from Brazil, is providing help to Janel McCarville inside. Only the Mercury's excellence is keeping the Lynx from still being generally regarded as the favorite to win the title again. But they are still very much in the hunt for another championship, especially if they get healthy.

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