WNBA Playoffs Second Round Preview

On Wednesday, the Seattle Storm and Chicago Sky took care of business against the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury, advancing to the next stage of the WNBA Playoffs. In the second and final single-elimination round, the Storm is headed to Los Angeles to take on the No. 3 seed Sparks, while Chicago will play at the No. 4 seed Las Vegas Aces.

Both games are set for Sunday, with the Storm and Sparks tipping at 3 p.m. EST on ESPN, and the Sky and Aces scheduled to begin their matchup at 5 p.m. EST on ESPN2.

Let’s look forward to Sunday’s action with an emphasis on the storylines and what we can expect to see on the court:

6 Seattle Storm at 3 Los Angeles Sparks

Season Series

June 21 – Los Angeles 62, Seattle 84 (1-0, SEA)

Aug. 4 – Seattle 75, Los Angeles 83 (1-1)

Sept. 5 – Seattle 68, Los Angeles 102 (2-1, LAS)

Breakdown

Seattle didn’t look particularly impressive in its 84-74 victory over Minnesota in the first round. Despite controlling the pace of play throughout the game, the Storm still allowed the Lynx to hang around, even with Minnesota quite literally throwing the ball away to Seattle on numerous occasions. The team’s depth remained largely on the sideline with the five starters eating up more than 25 minutes each and guard Jordin Canada playing almost 33 minutes.

The Storm defended well and are one of the best defensive teams in the league, leading the WNBA in opponent points per game in the regular season at 75.1. The guards were the brightest spot, though, offensively and defensively. Canada and Jewell Loyd combined for 48 points and controlled the game from start to finish, especially with their perimeter defense.

“She’s disruptive. She had my vote” Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said of Canada, referring to her selection on the WNBA All-Defensive First Team, after Wednesday’s game. “I told her that when I saw her earlier today. What she did enabled them to get through their difficult situation in losing a great player like Sue Bird.

“For Jordin to be able to take over the team and play both ends as well as she has, she’s just grown throughout the season. Her trajectory is upwards. We knew she would impact (the game). We prepared for it, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.”

If Seattle is to advance to the semifinals, Canada and Loyd will again have to take over the game, especially if the rest of the cast (outside of center Mercedes Russell, who had a good night Wednesday) doesn’t show up again.

On the other side, Los Angeles will open up its 2019 postseason riding a three-game winning streak from the end of the regular season. The Sparks have seen a better balance in their offensive and defensive productions this season compared to Seattle, which has struggled mightily to score the ball at times. Los Angeles was third in the WNBA this season in opponent points per game at 77.2 and in steals at 8.2, and with players like Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker, there are plenty of offensive weapons in head coach Derek Fisher’s arsenal.

Injuries hit this team hard this season, but the team has had its full roster for a few weeks now and the results show it, dropping only four games since July 23. The biggest issue the Sparks are expected to face in this postseason is dealing with road environments. They went 15-2 at home in the regular season, but managed only a 7-10 record away from their friendly confines. However, with the better seed, this will only affect the team in the later rounds. It will be Seattle, which matched its opponent’s 7-10 road mark, that will have to deal with a hostile workplace come Sunday.

5 Chicago Sky at 4 Las Vegas Aces

Season Series

July 2 – Chicago 82, Las Vegas 90 (1-0 LVA)

Aug. 9 – Chicago 87, Las Vegas 84 (1-1)

Aug. 18 – Las Vegas 100, Chicago 85 (2-1, LVA)

Breakdown

Chicago looked like a serious dark horse to make a deep run this postseason in its 105-76 clobbering of Phoenix in the first round. Brittney Griner’s injury in the second quarter and Diana Taurasi sitting on the sideline with an injury of her own certainly helped, but the Sky were dominant in the second half in their own right. They applied heavy pressure to the ball to force steals, and in the case of live-ball turnovers, there was always someone leaking out for the outlet and an easy bucket on the other end.

No one did this better than Diamond DeShields, who is looking like one of the league’s budding stars. Her aggression is uncanny. She will never not go up strong. She is constantly around the ball. She is precisely the kind of player you want on your team, and she showed it Wednesday with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting. She didn’t do it all herself, though, as the entire Chicago starting lineup put on a shooting clinic. During the regular season, the team shot 44.8 percent from the field, good for third in the WNBA, and it continued on a similar pace in its first postseason showdown. If Las Vegas allows the Sky to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor like they did against the Mercury, it won’t be a contest.

The Aces led the WNBA in opponent field goal percentage during the regular season, though, holding adversaries to a measly 39.9 percent. Chicago isn’t particularly deadly from deep as a team, and it tries to push in transition for easy points, which can correlate to a friendly shooting percentage. Even if Las Vegas locks down Chicago in the half-court, it will need to manage turnovers and other situations that can lead to fastbreak opportunities, like long rebounds, to keep the Sky and DeShields in check.

The issue is, you never really know what you’re going to get with Las Vegas. At times, the team has looked unstoppable, like when it dropped 100 on the Sky in the team’s third and final regular season meeting in the middle of last month. On other occasions, the Aces appear to forget how to play basketball, with shots hitting nothing but iron and the cohesiveness missing. They closed the regular season out losing four of their last six games, but they had a four-game winning streak right before. In a single-elimination situation, it will be fascinating to see which Las Vegas team shows up. All it takes right now is one stinker, and the season is dead.

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