WNBA East Week 8 Preview

The Chicago Sky look to send a message to the league, and the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics fight for the second spot in the East.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

After a busy Week 7 of WNBA games, it is a relatively light schedule for the Eastern Conference this week. This week’s games feature a 2021 Finals rematch, the first clash between New York and Los Angeles and the Indiana Fever and Seattle Storm, and could potentially result in some major changes in Eastern Conference standings.

A Chance to end June with a Win: Dream vs. Liberty 

Atlanta Dream vs. New York Liberty – Thursday, June 30 at 7:00 p.m. ET (Twitter)

The Atlanta Dream are only one spot behind the New York Liberty in Eastern Conference standings, making this an important game for both teams. 

The teams last played one another on June 24, when the New York Liberty came away with a comfortable 89–77 win. The Liberty scored 33 points in the first quarter of that matchup, so the Atlanta Dream defense will need to lock down the New York Liberty early if they want to stand a chance against them in this matchup.

Three-pointers will also be a key part in determining who is victorious on Thursday night. New York has averaged 14.5 made three-pointers over their last two games, while  Atlanta has only averaged 5 made three-pointers in the same time period.

The Atlanta Dream have lost 8 of their 11 games in June, and will be looking to end the month on a positive note. For the Liberty, a win on Thursday would give them their 8th win in June and would continue their winning streak.

The player to watch in this game is Sabrina Ionescu. The last time these two teams played, Ionescu finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, so the league might want to be on triple-double watch for this rematch. However, Ionescu did struggle earlier this season when she had to be the primary ball handler before the arrival of Crystal Dangerfield, and since Dangerfield is presently not listed on the Liberty roster, Ionescu might find herself having to adjust her game to ensure that their offense is still flowing well.

Rookies against Veterans: Fever vs. Storm

Indiana Fever vs. Seattle Storm – Friday, July 1 at 10:00 p.m. ET (Facebook)

The Indiana Fever have been an unpredictable team this season. While they have struggled to find their rhythm for the most part, they have also shown flashes of brilliance, something that was most recently on display when they erased a 13-point deficit and upset the Chicago Sky two weeks ago. 

The Seattle Storm and Indiana Fever have not played each other yet this season, and since the roster of Indiana is essentially brand new this year, and with the addition of Tina Charles to the Seattle squad, the teams’ previously established scouting reports for each other might need some significant adjustments. The Storm are 7–3 in their last 10 games, coming off of a big win against the Las Vegas Aces, and the Indiana Fever are 2–8, so on paper, this game looks like it is heavily tilted in favor of Seattle. However, this is the WNBA, so anything could happen.

The player to watch this game is Kelsey Mitchell. Mitchell is currently averaging 19.2 points per game, and many were surprised when she wasn’t named an all-star this year. The Seattle Storm have plenty of scorers on their squad, and Indiana will need a big game from Mitchell to compete with Seattle’s offensive power. A second player to watch on the Fever squad is NaLyssa Smith. Smith was the difference-maker in the Fever’s win over the Chicago Sky, so if Indiana wants to stun the league again, they will need both of these players to have big games.

Finals Rematch: Phoenix Mercury vs. Chicago Sky

Phoenix Mercury vs. Chicago Sky – Saturday, July 2 at 1:00 p.m. ET (ESPN, Sportsnet NOW – Canada)

It is safe to say that the players of the Phoenix Mercury have all of their matches against the Chicago Sky circled on their calendars. After losing the WNBA title to the Sky last year, the Mercury have been looking to get their revenge this season, but were unable to do so when the teams first met on May 31.

In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Sky narrowly came away with a 3-point win. Phoenix star Diana Taurasi was ejected with 3:43 left in the second quarter for arguing a no-call with an official. The Mercury were trailing 31–21 at the time of the ejection but had a big third quarter that helped them get back into the game. 

Both teams are currently on winning streaks. Chicago just had a dominant win over the Connecticut Sun where they shot 83.3% from the field in the first half of the game. The Mercury just beat the Indiana Fever for a second time this week and had seven of their players finish the game scoring in double-figures.

The player to watch in this game is Diana Taurasi. Taurasi has had trouble keeping her cool against the Chicago Sky (most fans remember the door incident in last year’s finals), and her team will need her to stay out of foul trouble on Saturday. Taurasi thinks that she should have been an all-star this season, and this game will be a chance for her to prove herself among Chicago’s all-stars. With how well Chicago has been shooting the ball recently, the Mercury will really need her to be an offensive spark. Conversely, if the Sky want to walk away with another win against the Mercury, they are going to need to shut down Diana Taurasi right from the tip.

A Chance to Shake-Up Eastern Conference Standings: Mystics vs. Sun

Washington Mystics vs. Connecticut Sun – Sunday, July 3 at 1:00 p.m. ET (ESPN, Sportsnet NOW – Canada)

This will be the teams’ third time facing each other this season, and it is a chance for the Mystics to inch closer to the second-place spot in the Eastern Conference or for the Sun to try to work their way back into first. 

The Connecticut Sun defeated the Washington Mystics 79–71 on May 28 when they first met this season, but the Washington Mystics responded with a 71–63 win on June 19.

The Sun are coming off of a loss against the Chicago Sky where they struggled offensively in the first half of the game and couldn’t contain Chicago’s offense, so they will be looking to get off to a better start against the Mystics. The Mystics have won their last two games (including a game against the Aces) and have been particularly successful when they have had strong starts to their games, so they’ll be looking to keep that momentum rolling.

The player to watch in this game is Natasha Cloud. Cloud has been playing with a chip on her shoulder since she found out that she was not selected as an all star, and shot an astounding 85.7% from the field in the Mystics’ win against the Atlanta Dream earlier this week. Cloud has proven that she can pass the ball well and score from everywhere on the floor, so the Connecticut Sun will have to find a way to contain her. Cloud isn’t the only star on the Mystics though, so the Sun will need to ensure that they are not leaving the likes of Elena Delle Donne open while they concentrate their defensive efforts on Cloud.

A Test for Rhyne Howard: Storm vs. Dream 

Seattle Storm vs. Atlanta Dream – Sunday, July 3 at 3:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

These two organizations are in completely different places. The Storm are hoping to battle for a championship in Sue Bird’s last season with the team, and the Dream are looking to find ways to help their young stars shine as they continue to rebuild their franchise. The Atlanta Dream and Seattle Storm have only played each other once this season, and the Atlanta Dream lost that matchup 72–60. 

In their previous meeting, Atlanta had low-scoring first and third quarters, and they will need to have better starts to both halves of the game this time around. Again, the three-point line will be key to whether Atlanta has a good game, as the Seattle Storm have several players who can let it fly from deep. 

The player to watch in this game is Rhyne Howard. Seattle has plenty of scorers on their team, but Atlanta’s offense struggles when Howard is not in rhythm. Howard has scored 12 or more points in all of Atlanta’s wins this season, and only had 11 the last time that these two teams met. The Dream will need Howard to have a big game, and this is Howard’s chance to prove herself worthy of her all-star selection as she takes on some of the league’s best players.

Battle of the Stars: Liberty vs. Sparks

New York Liberty vs. Los Angeles Sparks – Sunday, July 3 at 6:00 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

This will be the first time these two teams face each other this season, and it should be an exciting matchup. The New York Liberty have moved up from 9th to 6th in this week’s WNBA Power Rankings, and the LA Sparks have moved up from 10th into 7th. The Liberty will be looking to start off the month of July on a good note, as the LA Sparks will try to climb back into the top four in Western Conference standings.

Stef Dolson can expect to see some extra minutes as the Liberty will be looking to shut down Liz Cambage under the basket, and both teams will be looking for big games from their leading scorers — Nneka Ogwumike and Sabrina Ionescu. The teams are pretty much evenly matched in every statistical category, so the game is anyone’s to steal. 

The player to watch in this game is Marine Johannès. The LA Sparks will be giving a lot of attention to Sabrina Ionescu, and Johannès will likely find herself with some room to create opportunities for herself and for her teammates to score. Johannès has been instrumental in helping the New York Liberty turn their season around (it is no coincidence that they started winning after she arrived in June), and they will need her three-point shooting ability to keep up with a Sparks team that has been averaging over 81 points per game.

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