WNBA West Week 10 Preview

With some finals teams already locked in, every game counts in the West.

By Laura Fay

As the season winds down, some teams are in prime playoff position while others still need to earn their spots. With no team eliminated in the West, taking games off of each other becomes vital. With several intra-division matchups (including the last GOAT battle) on the agenda, it should be an exciting weekend.

Battle for the Finals: Sparks vs. Dream

Los Angeles Sparks vs. Atlanta Dream – Thursday, July 21st at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

With the season winding down, every match is vital—and especially for teams on the verge of a playoff berth. With both Los Angeles and Atlanta on the verge of snagging a spot, beating out fellow competitors is more important than ever. 

The last time these two teams met was over two months ago, where Atlanta just snagged a win, 77–75. While both sides were imprecise from the floor, the Dream’s precise three-point shooting pulled them over the line. They will be looking to replicate that on Thursday, even with one of the league’s best pure shooters on the other side of the court. 

Lexie Brown, having a career season with 44% accuracy beyond the arc, is the player to watch in this match. While she was quiet in LA’s last meeting with the Dream, she has been the ace up the Sparks’s sleeve multiple times this season. The Sparks will need to get her the ball as often as possible, with her lethal accuracy making her a perfect candidate for a third offensive threat behind Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage. 

Top and Bottom: Aces vs. Fever

Las Vegas Aces vs. Indiana Fever – Thursday, July 21st at 10 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

The last time we predicted an Aces massacre, they barely snuck out a 1-point win over a dejected Lynx side. Nonetheless, we feel pretty confident in saying Vegas will run away with this one. 

While Vegas has struggled when facing top teams—and were tripped up by Atlanta earlier this week—they have cruised against lower ranked ones. Specifically, what has hurt Vegas is strong three point shooting by their opponents. When they went 13–2 to start the season, teams shot 40% from behind the arc just twice. Since then, it has happened seven times and the Aces have gone 5–6. However, with just one Fever starter averaging over 40% from three, it seems unlikely they can hurt the Aces this way. 

Additionally, Vegas’s defense seems to have improved in the past fortnight. Coming into this weekend, the Aces had allowed 100+ points in three of their last four matches, and they clearly recognized their weakness. While they limited the Liberty and Sun to under 85 points, they dug themselves into too large of a hole against the Dream. It will certainly be interesting to see which version of the Aces’ defense comes out to this game. 

One of Vegas’s defensive keys, A’ja Wilson will be the player to watch in this match. Wilson has always been spectacular but has recently taken her rebounding game to new levels. She is nearly averaging a double-double per game, numbers that improve even on her 2020 MVP season. Her defensive presence will be important for Vegas moving forward, and certainly against an Indiana side with many players eager to play the role of playoff spoiler. 

Uphill Climb: Lynx v Sun (x2)

Minnesota Lynx vs. Connecticut Sun – Friday, July 22nd at 8 p.m. ET (NBA TV) and Sunday, July 24th at 7 p.m. ET (Amazon)

Minnesota and Connecticut will meet for the first time this weekend, as the Lynx’s playoff hopes continue to hang by a thread. 

Minnesota hasn’t had the post-All Star week they hoped. While they notched a win over 12th placed Indiana, the Lynx fell short against fellow contenders Dallas and Washington. Their squandered opportunities leave them still in the cellar of the Western conference, though losses around them put them just one game back from Phoenix. Minnesota desperately needs a win to turn around their season’s fortunes and prove they can stand with the best of the competition. The Lynx have had upset wins before—over the Aces and Sky—though an in-form Sun may be the toughest of them all. 

Minnesota will need veteran leadership to steer them through this rough patch, meaning the player to watch must be Sylvia Fowles. Fowles has been individually stellar since the All-Star break. She’s averaging a double-double since then, and is pulling down season-high rebounding numbers on a consistent basis. But she can’t do it alone. Aerial Powers and Moriah Jefferson have shown tremendous promise throughout the season, but failed to do so consistently. Hopefully the drive of a retirement ring for their veteran star can push them to unlock that hidden potential. 

A Chance to Prove Themselves: Sky vs. Wings

Chicago Sky vs. Dallas Wings – Friday, July 22nd at 8 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

After an 8-point defeat at Chicago’s hands just last week, the Wings will be eager for a rematch. 

Awak Kuier helps up Ariel Ogunbowale during their game against the Lynx last week. (Photo courtesy of the Dallas Wings)

While Dallas kept the game close through three quarters, huge performances by Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman allowed Chicago to close it out on the road. Now, with the game on Chicago’s home turf and Courtney Vandersloot (concussion protocol) likely to return, it will be an uphill climb for Dallas. 

With such a deep and productive Sky bench, the Wings will need star performances from their reserves. One such player is Isabelle Harrison. Harrison has a fairly high ceiling and looked ready to make this year stellar, posting three double-digit performances in the first four games of the season. While she’s been streaky since, her bench contributions have been important for a team with relatively shallow reserves. With players like Azura Stevens and Rebekah Gardner lurking for the Sky, Harrison will need a good game to negate their contributions. 

GOAT Battle: Mercury vs. Storm

Phoenix Mercury vs. Seattle Storm – Friday, July 22nd at 10 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

There will be bittersweet scenes in Phoenix on Saturday, with longtime teammates-turned friends-turned league rivals Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi facing each other for the last time. Since the pair’s time at UConn first overlapped from 2000-2002, they have had one of the most interesting dynamics in women’s basketball—and one that has only grown more compelling with the longevity and success of their careers. 

Sue Bird brings up the ball in Seattle’s win over Dallas. (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm)

Part of that dynamic has been forged by meeting up in high-pressure clashes. In 2018, the Storm knocked Phoenix out of the playoffs on the back of an incredible Bird-led fourth quarter. Three years later, Taurasi’s Mercury repaid the favor with a gritty overtime win to reach the semifinals. 

Seattle certainly seems to have the upper hand this year. With Brittney Griner’s detention and Tina Charles’s departure, Phoenix is lacking a star center. With both Charles and Ezi Magbegor on the Storm’s roster, they will have a clear advantage in that position to capitalize on. While the Mercury did beat Seattle twice earlier this year, those wins came with Breanna Stewart out in COVID protocols. Considering Phoenix’s shaky 2022 record, this seems like a game Seattle should win. 

The player to watch in this game has to be Sue Bird. Bird has historically played some of her best basketball against the Mercury, especially when emotions are running high. Facing Taurasi for the last time (barring a playoff meeting) will surely bring out the best in her. 

Battle of the Three Pointers: Aces vs. Sparks

Las Vegas Aces vs. Los Angeles Sparks – Saturday, July 23rd at 10 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

While their record suggests the Aces have this one, the Sparks are known for catching fire easily. 

When these teams last matched up, Vegas came away with a routine 89–72 victory—barely breaking a sweat, despite missing star guard Jackie Young. Back then, the Aces were riding high at 7–1 and looked uncatchable in the West. While they still lead the conference, their 5–6 record in the last couple of weeks suggests there is much room to improve. 

Vegas’s Achilles heel the past fortnight has been three-point shooting. As defenses can do little about it, it has become a way to avoid the intense pressure and rebounding the Aces boast inside the paint. Unfortunately for Las Vegas, the Sparks have some of the best three-point shooters in the league. 

As such, the player to watch in this game is Katie Lou Samuelson. Samuelson has blossomed since moving to the Sparks this past offseason. Her minutes per game have skyrocketed, and with them so has her three-point shooting percentage. She’s averaging 42% from deep, a 7% increase on last year. While her shooting has come in clutch for LA on many occasions, she was held to just three points against the Aces last month. Samuelson can certainly do better than that—and she will have to if the Sparks are to have a chance of winning. 

Katie Lou Samuelson smiles on the bench after the Sparks’ game against the Fever. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Sparks

Playing Spoiler: Fever vs. Wings

Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings – Sunday, July 24th at 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

Just in case you’ve somehow missed it—the Indiana Fever have not been very good this season. But, with absolutely zero playoff pressure on their shoulders, they can now focus on one of the most lethal roles in sports—the spoiler. 

With Dallas in a tight contest for a playoff berth, it’s the perfect time for the Fever to capitalize. And Indiana isn’t hopeless—they pushed Los Angeles through three quarters this past weekend and were only silenced by a Nneka Ogwumike masterclass. For a team as inconsistent as Dallas has been all season, it’s not inconceivable to see the Fever squeak out a shocker here. 

If the Wings want to avoid that scenario (as they certainly do), they must look to Arike Ogunbowale. The team’s leader in points, rebounds, and steals, Dallas’ offense runs through Ogunbowale. While she’s had some off games this year, if Ogunbowale can get over 20 points on the board Indiana will be hard pressed to keep up with her. 

Unlike Dallas, the Fever have very few consistent performers. With a team full of rookies and veteran journeywomen, players are either stellar or subpar based on the day. Against a team like Dallas, that isn’t going to cut it. Strong performances from Kelsey Mitchell and NaLyssa Smith will be crucial for Indiana to stifle Ogunbowale’s influence. 

A Potential Upset: Storm vs. Dream

Seattle Storm vs. Atlanta Dream – Sunday, July 24th at 6 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

If there’s one team that embodies the spoiler role even more than Indiana, it’s the Dream. After knocking off Seattle just two weeks ago, Atlanta backed it up in a shock upset of the Aces on Tuesday. Of course, they lost three of four matches in between those two games, but the point stands—the Dream are a threat. 

In both of Atlanta’s upset wins, the key has been defense. Against Seattle, Monique Billings and Cheyenne Parker combined for 19 rebounds and set a rapid pace that never truly allowed the Storm to settle. They used the same playbook against Vegas. While A’ja Wilson continued her great rebounding year, the other Aces couldn’t keep pace. Rookie Naz Hillmon pulled down 10 boards, while Parker had 9. As Seattle knows Atlanta’s game plan now, they will surely need to move some pieces around to counteract it.

As such, the player to watch for Seattle is Tina Charles. Charles is a rebounding machine—she ranks second of all time in rebounds, and will need every one of them this weekend. When these teams last played, Charles had just joined Seattle after playing half the season with the Mercury. Clearly unfamiliar with the plays, she had just 2pts/2reb. Since settling, Charles has scored double-digits in her last five games with Seattle, and having her come off the bench provides incredible depth for the Storm. With Charles fully fit and acclimated, expect Seattle’s gameplan to look very different than the last time they met the Dream. 

Share this story:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *