Sun have to play on without Jasmine Thomas for foreseeable future

Connecticut Sun guard Alex Bentley brings the ball up against the Washington Mystics in a WNBA game on July 8 at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Alex Bentley brings the ball up against the Washington Mystics in a WNBA game on July 8 at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — Jess Cohen started her new job Monday as the Connecticut Sun head athletic trainer, taking over for longtime fixture Jeremy Norman, who has moved.

All-Star point guard Jasmine Thomas injured her ankle on Norman’s last day on the job (Friday), and reserve post Lynetta Kizer has a bad back.

Welcome to the job, Jess.

“Good way for the new trainer to start, right,” Sun head coach Curt Miller quipped.

Connecticut has dealt with injuries months before this WNBA season began and will be without Thomas and Kizer indefinitely. It’s not what the Sun need as they inch closer to the playoffs.

Connecticut plays host to Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and the Seattle Storm on Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena (7 p.m., Twitter).

“It’s the injury she’s dealt with most of her career,” Miller said. “It’s a good ankle injury, I mean she (injured) it good. She’s rehabbing. She’s excited that the swelling is down, so we’re optimistic to get her back quickly."

Thomas’ injury significantly impacts the Sun (15-9). She’s their leader, their second-leading scorer (14.7 ppg), and a player they can rely on in tough times.

Alex Bentley, who was the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons, returns to the starting lineup. She had started in 89 of 93 games the past three seasons.

“Obviously our depth is stretched,” Miller said, “but not many teams have the luxury to bring in a player that has been the leading scorer on the team, and now insert her back into the starting lineup like we have. We feel really confident.

“Foul trouble becomes more of an issue. Minutes get extended. So you worry about that.”

Bentley started the first seven games of this season before taking a leave of absence to play for Belarus at the FIBA EuroBasket Women's tournament.

The Sun took off with Courtney Williams playing at off-guard, so Bentley became a valuable reserve once she returned.

“After my trip to Belarus, my team got hot, started playing well and we're still playing well,” Bentley said.

“It’s definitely been a roller coaster ride, but it's basketball. It happens. … You have highs and lows, but, like I said, our team is doing great. We’ve had so much success this year, and we’re going to try and finish the season strong.”

Thomas injury also impacts Connecticut's defense as she is its best defensive guard (she was a 2016 WNBA All-Defensive Second Team). Bentley has been a good defender her entire career, however second-year guards Rachel Banham and  Williams still have much to learn.

“The unintended consequence is that Rachel gets extended minutes,” Miller said. “She’s earned them. I’ve had a short lease with her. I haven’t had to play her extended minutes because Jas has been playing so well.”

Connecticut is in third place in the WNBA standings with 10 games left. The top eight teams qualifying for the playoffs, regardless of their conference. The top two seeds get a bye to the semifinals. The third and fourth seeds get a first-round bye. The first two rounds are one-game playoffs, followed by best-of-five in the semis and final.

The Storm (10-15) have been the WNBA’s most enigmatic team because they’ve struggled despite having three star players in Jewell Loyd, Bird and Stewart.

Stewart has scored 20-or-more points the last 12 games, tying Diana Taurasi's single-season record (2006). Stewart (20.6 ppg) and Loyd (17.4 ppg) are the league’s second and ninth-leading scorers, and the Storm rank near the top in shooting categories.

Seattle is a great example of how narrow the talent gap has been in the league this season. It’s averaged 82 points a game, sixth in the league. It’s given up 83 points per game, however.

Sunday provided more examples of this season’s competiveness. For starters, the league-leading Minnesota Lynx (20-3) lost to the staggering Indiana Fever, 84-82.

Minnesota is without Olympian point guard Lindsay Whalen indefinitely after she injured her hand in Thursday's game against the Atlanta Dream. The Lynx still have three other Olympians — Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore.

Indiana (9-17) had lost its last five games and 10 of its last 11.

The seventh-place Dallas Wings also beat the world champion Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, 85-79. The Wings (13-14) are the only team to beat the Sparks (18-7) twice this season.

The Storm are tied with the Atlanta Dream for eighth in the overall standings. Just six games separate the Sun from the 10th-place Chicago Sky (10-16). Chicago and Indiana are also the only teams to beat Los Angeles and Minnesota.

“There’s a really fine line in this league,” Miller said. “There’s so little separation with under 10 games to go for most teams.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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