Sports

Sun battle their way into playoff position without Jones

With all-star center Jonquel Jones cheering from her home base in Holmes Rock, Grand Bahama, the Connecticut Sun have crept back in the playoff picture in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

It wasn’t looking too good for them at the beginning of the season as they dropped five in a row right out of the gate without Jones – twice to the Minnesota Lynx, and once each to the defending champions Washington Mystics, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Seattle Storm.

Jones opted to sit out this season over concerns of the novel coronavirus which is crippling world economies and causing deaths worldwide. Her teammates and the organization supported her decision.

Like the National Basketball Association (NBA), the WNBA is playing all of its games in a bubble with no fans this year, to combat the COVID-19 pandemic which is rampant all over the United States.

However, Jones was taking no chances. She is a bonafide star in the league, having finished third in Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting a season ago, and leading her team to within a game of winning what would have been its first WNBA title. Jones and the Sun dropped a tough game five to league MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics in the WNBA Finals last year.

Jones was a rebounding machine for the Sun last year, leading the league in that department for the second time in her four-year career. She finished the season averaging 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, career-high numbers in blocks and steals and was instrumental in the playoffs in leading her team to the finals. She also led the league in blocks in 2019.

There’s no doubt that the Sun has missed Jones in the middle of their lineup this shortened season. Additionally, they were without defensive-minded guard Briann January for a significant portion of the season and they struggled to find any rhythm and team chemistry. January was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July. She has since recovered and has joined the team, looking to get integrated with her new team after coming over in a three-team trade with Phoenix and Atlanta in February.

Since dropping five in a row to start the season, the Sun won four of their next five games and now have a 6-8 win/loss record. They are second in the Eastern Conference of the WNBA and seventh overall. Just the top eight will make it to the playoffs.

In the absence of Jones, DeWanna Bonner is leading the Sun in scoring, averaging 18 points per game this season. Alyssa Thomas is right behind her at 14.7.

The Sun are coming off an impressive 82-65 win over the New York Liberty on Saturday and will play a Phoenix Mercury team without Brittney Griner tonight. Phoenix all-star center Griner has left the WNBA’s bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for undisclosed personal reasons. She is the Mercury’s leading scorer and rebounder this season, and her absence comes as the team is positioning itself for a playoff run. The Mercury is just a game ahead of the Sun in the standings, sixth overall with a 7-7 record.

Griner, who finished second in MVP voting behind Delle Donne a season ago, and just ahead of Jones, would have to go through medical protocol that would include quarantining for seven days on her return to the IMG Academy.

After their poor start to the season, the Sun are very much in contention for a playoff spot, and although she remains unavailable for comment, there is no doubt that their biggest cheerleader Jones is showing full support from Grand Bahama.

In their final eight regular season games, the Sun play the Mercury twice, and the Mystics, Sparks, Liberty, Las Vegas Aces, Indiana Fever and Atlanta Dream one time each.

They are just a half-game ahead of the eighth-place Fever, one game ahead of the ninth-place Dallas Wings and one and a half games ahead of the defending champions Mystics in the standings.

The Sun have a favorable schedule down the stretch and could very well hold on for a playoff spot in what has become a very competitive 2020 regular season in the WNBA.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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