The Lynx try to tap a run of form as Seattle has a chance to take over #1 in a tight Western conference with no playoff berths sealed yet.
By Laura Fay
With just one game separating the bottom four teams in the Western division, each game starts feeling crucial in shaping the playoff race. The Lynx have shot into shape with the return of Sylvia Fowles and still have a fighting chance at making the finals with inconsistent results from those above them. Meanwhile, the Aces look to put an end to talks of their vulnerability and Seattle catches a break after a hard week.
Fighting for a Foothold: Sparks vs. Wings
Los Angeles Sparks vs. Dallas Wings – Friday, July 1st at 8 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Two playoff hopefuls battle it out in a crowded Western conference Friday night, with a lot on the line for each side. The Sparks sit just one game off the bottom, having been overtaken by the Mercury, and desperately need a victory to stay above the surging Lynx. Dallas meanwhile, has suffered two straight disappointing losses and are rapidly losing touch with top teams. While neither team has been spectacular this season, we’d give a slight edge to the Wings. Dallas has much more consistent production from their starters, with Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray punishing defenses on the daily. The Sparks can be brilliant, but the only player you can truly count on is Nneka Ogwumike. While Ogwumike has carried LA over the line multiple times this year, she can’t do it every night.
Allisha Gray will come into this game with fire in her belly after being snubbed in All-Star voting. Gray has far and away been Dallas’s most consistent player this season, having scored double-digits in all but one appearance, and recorded a 20pt/12reb double-double when these teams met earlier in the month. If she can channel her frustration into production, she will be very dangerous this weekend.
Upstart Challengers: Lynx vs Aces (x2)
Minnesota Lynx vs. Las Vegas Aces – Friday, July 1st at 8 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Minnesota Lynx vs. Las Vegas Aces – Sunday, July 3rd at 7 p.m. ET (Amazon)
The last time we previewed a Lynx/Aces match, a projected blow-out turned into a 1-point game. This time, with Minnesota trending upwards while Vegas has looked shaky, we won’t make that same mistake. The Lynx grabbed a dominant 92–64 win over Dallas on Tuesday, throwing down the gauntlet in a crowded Western conference where no team can truly be counted out. Moriah Jefferson, waived by the Wings earlier this year, had a 13pt/10reb/10ast triple-double, but it was truly a team performance. The Aces, meanwhile, have struggled—they’ve dropped three of their last four games and have looked vulnerable when a starter has an off night. With Minnesota playing themselves into form, these two games should be tantalizing contests between two offense-heavy teams.
With Jefferson’s star performance against the Wings, she is undoubtedly the player to watch in this game. Jefferson was similarly electric the last time the Lynx and Aces met, tallying 23 points and 7 assists, but rebounding will be vital for a team lacking defensive prowess. If Jefferson can get close to her 10 rebounds against Dallas, she puts her team in a good position to capitalize on a vulnerable Aces side.
A Momentum Builder: Fever vs. Storm
Seattle Storm vs. Indiana Fever – Friday, July 1st at 10 p.m. ET (Facebook)
You can never count teams out, but Seattle will be grateful to be playing the Fever after a brutal week of matchups. The Storm have had an up and down season—they’re sitting second in the West, but have had issues with giving up late leads and a lack of bench production. Additionally, they’re trying to find team chemistry after the blockbuster addition of Tina Charles leaves them with six starter-caliber players. While their win over the Aces is certainly an encouraging sign, the Storm will need to rack up wins here to have a chance of catching the #1 seed. Additionally, if Seattle can get an edge early it could give them time to play around with their lineup and find the strongest combinations.
A bonafide most improved player contender, Ezi Magbegor is the player to watch in this game. Magbegor has recorded career-high numbers in both points and blocks this season, but her minutes are under threat of being cut with Charles playing the same position as her. Magbegor’s play is certainly good enough to earn her the starting spot, and she’ll be out to prove that on Friday.
Finals Rematch: Mercury vs. Sky
Phoenix Mercury vs. Chicago Sky – Saturday, July 2nd at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
It’s a finals rematch on Friday night, with Phoenix and Chicago squaring off for the second time this season. Phoenix, having lost their last matchup and the championship ring, will have something to prove while the Sky are riding high at the top of the Eastern conference. The Mercury have had to dig deep in the last week, with Tina Charles’ contract buyout leaving the team without a star center and reliant on masterful performances from other starters. Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi have so far proved suited to the task, but Chicago is certainly the biggest test since Charles’s departure.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Diamond DeShields, who moved from Chicago to Phoenix in the offseason, making her a definite player to watch. DeShields lost her starting position against Dallas earlier this week and responded with a 16pt/10reb double-double off the bench. The Mercury will need to rely on her more than ever in Charles’ absence, and her performance will prove crucial to their chances of victory.
Current and Future Stars: Storm vs. Dream
Seattle Storm vs. Atlanta Dream – Sunday, July 3rd at 3p.m. ET (NBA TV)
It’s one rookie-led team to another for the Storm, who will go from playing the Fever to the Dream on Sunday. #1 draft pick Rhyne Howard, selected All-Star in her rookie season, has been at times inconsistent but when on, she’s brilliant. Surrounded by veteran presences in the starting lineup, Howard has been developing nicely and is an offensive threat whenever she plays. Atlanta also has Naz Hillmon, a fellow 2022 draft pick, and AD Durr, the #2 pick in 2019, who were the top two scorers against the Mystics on Tuesday. Durr in particular has been a revelation for the Dream. After two seasons in New York were derailed by long Covid, Durr has played brilliantly since moving south. While Seattle’s roster certainly appears stronger, the X factor of these young players shouldn’t be discounted.
The player to watch in this game (and, let’s be honest, every game she plays) is Breanna Stewart. Stewart certainly knows the feeling of being the #1 pick tasked with turning around a franchise, and, as her list of accolades would suggest, has been one of the best players in the W since her rookie year. Stewart has taken on an even more outsized share of Storm scoring this year. On days when her teammates are off, she carries the offensive load to keep them in games that would otherwise become blowouts. The league leader in points per game, Stewart is always a joy to watch and someone the Dream rookies will certainly learn from playing against.
Evenly Matched: Liberty vs. Sparks
Los Angeles Sparks vs. New York Liberty – Sunday, July 3rd at 6 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
All signs point to an entertaining contest on Sunday, with the Liberty and Sparks matching up in a battle of two middling teams. Despite their position in the standings, both teams have shown flashes of brilliance this season—New York with an electric victory over the Sun, and LA in a strong performance against Seattle. With no team out of the playoff race yet, each game becomes more vital. For the Liberty, with Atlanta nipping at their heels but a gulf between them and the third place Mystics, holding the fourth seed is especially crucial. With stars on both sides of the court, this game is shaping up to be a riveting contest.
Katie Lou Samuelson perfectly encapsulates the Sparks’ season—stellar performances, followed by lackluster ones. Samuelson was great against her former team, Seattle, last week, but then registered just three points against the Aces. Samuelson can be a dagger from deep, and when she’s rolling she punishes defenders who opt to double-team Nneka Ogwumike over guarding her. If she can carry a significant scoring burden, the Sparks are in a good position. If not, Lexie Brown and Liz Cambage will need strong performances to make up the difference.