WNBA East Week 11 Preview

New York tries to save its playoff dreams while Atlanta attempts to hang on to the eighth seed.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

Since the Commissioner’s Cup finals took place on Tuesday night, we’ve got a bit of a later start to this week’s WNBA games. Unfortunately for the Eastern Conference, a team from the West walked away with the Commissioner’s Cup title for the second year in a row. Then again, the reigning WNBA champions are the Chicago Sky, so it hasn’t been all bad for the East. 

While the Indiana Fever have been eliminated from the playoffs and the Chicago Sky have already secured their spot in the postseason, every other team in the Conference has its work cut out for them this week. Let’s take a look at which teams stand in the way of the Liberty, Dream, Mystics, and Sun’s hopes of competing for a title.

One Team Will End Their Losing Streak: Lynx vs. Dream

Minnesota Lynx vs. Atlanta Dream – Thursday, July 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET (Twitter, NBA TV Canada)

With the WNBA playoffs approaching rapidly, the Atlanta Dream are currently sitting at eighth in league standings. They need this win against Minnesota to try to open up some space between them and the next team (the Phoenix Mercury) on the WNBA leaderboard. 

Both teams are entering this game on losing streaks. The Lynx have lost their previous three games, and the Dream have lost their previous two.

Atlanta and Minnesota have only played each other once this season and the Dream came away with an 84–76 victory in that meeting. Rhyne Howard was the leading scorer in the matchup, finishing the contest with 22 points. 

Atlanta’s key to success in this game is to start the game off fast. The Dream tend to do well when they have a strong first quarter, and this was true during these two teams’ last meeting; Atlanta won the first 10 minutes of the game 26–17.

Rhyne Howard looks to drive past a member of the Indiana Fever (via CBC)

The player to watch in this game is Rhyne Howard. Atlanta’s last win came against the Aces when Rhyne Howard finished the game with 24 points and made 6 three-pointers. This Lynx team likes to score from behind the arc, and the Dream are going to need Howard to have an efficient shooting night both to keep up with Minnesota and to force the Lynx to change up their defense.

Since the Lynx and Dream are equally desperate for a win, this game should be an exciting one to take in.

The Sun Look to Complete the Sweep: Storm vs. Sun

Seattle Storm vs. Connecticut Sun – Thursday, July 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV, Sportsnet NOW – Canada)

The Connecticut Sun are one of the few teams that can boast that they have beaten the Seattle Storm twice this season. They have a chance to sweep the Storm on Thursday, but with the addition of Tina Charles to the Seattle roster, they are going to have to make some adjustments to their game plan.

During their first meeting this season, Connecticut defeated Seattle 93–86. Jonquel Jones’ 25 points and Brionna Jones’ 21 points off the bench helped the team come back from a 13-point deficit. In their next meeting on June 17, Connecticut defeated the Sun 82–71. Jonquel and Brionna Jones combined for 36 points in that victory.

With Jonquel having recently returned from a bout with COVID-19, our player to watch for this game is Brionna Jones. Jones has had big games against the Storm this season, and coach Curt Miller is going to need her to be a spark for the Sun regardless of where she is in the lineup. The team is also going to need Jones to be a disruptor in the paint to try to prevent Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart from getting easy shots up from under the rim.

Connecticut is currently on a three-game winning streak. They will be looking to lock in a spot in the playoffs with a series of wins this week.

Can Washington Get it Done without Delle Donne? Mystics vs. Wings

Washington Mystics vs. Dallas Wings – Thursday, July 28 at 8:00 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

We’ve got another tiebreaker on our hands. The Mystics played the Wings twice at the beginning of this season, losing the first contest 94–86 and winning the next one 84–68. The key to Washington’s victory in the second game was their bench. Shakira Austin finished the game with 20 points and 8 rebounds on 9 of 11 shooting, and two other players who came off the bench finished the game with double-digit scoring.

Shakira Austin reacts after scoring a basket (Domenic Allegra via The Next Hoops)

Mystics coach Mike Thibault has already said that Elena Delle Donne is unlikely to play in this game as the team is saving her for their matchups against Seattle. Since Delle Donne has been Washington’s leading scorer in their last two wins, the Mystics will need big performances from their other players to keep up with the Dallas offense. That is why our player to watch in this game is Shakira Austin. With Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Alysha Clark likely being caught up in difficult matchups against Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, and Allisha Gray, someone like Austin could prove to be the x-factor in this matchup. Austin had a stellar performance against Dallas earlier this season, and if she has another one on Thursday, Washington might find itself being one game closer to locking down a spot in the playoffs.

A Well-Rested Indiana Looks for its Sixth Win: Aces vs. Fever

Las Vegas Aces vs. Indiana Fever – Friday, July 29 at 7:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV/NBA TV Canada, Indiana Fever Facebook Page)

The Indiana Fever are coming into this game with an advantage. They played their last game on Sunday, while the Aces are fresh off of a Tuesday night Commissioner’s Cup duel against the Chicago Sky. Yes, a few extra days may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but we’re at the point of the WNBA season where travel fatigue is really settling in (shoutout to the airline industry and the fact that players have to fly commercial which makes this a million times worse). If the Fever are willing to run full-court presses on defense and try to move the ball quickly in transition on offense, they might just be able to use the Aces’ fatigue to their advantage.

These teams last faced each other last Thursday when Las Vegas defeated Indiana 90–77. Indiana started off the game 5–0 and won the last quarter of the game, but the Aces were in control throughout the majority of the 40-minute contest. The final score didn’t look great, but if the Fever are able to keep the Aces close through the first three quarters of this rematch, they’ve already proven that they can have an explosive fourth quarter to close out the game. 

NaLyssa Smith drives to the basket (PSE/Matt Kryger)

The player to watch in this matchup is NaLyssa Smith. We named Smith as our player to watch in last week’s contest, and she ended up playing one of her best games of the season. Smith led her team with 24 points, shooting an impressive 5 of 7 from three-point range. The team will need her to have another big game not only to keep up with A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, and Chelsea Gray’s scoring, but also to provide for Kelsey Mitchell to have another explosive game.

The Indiana Fever are one win away from matching their goal of finishing this season with at least six wins, and it would be pretty impressive if they picked up their sixth win against a team like the Aces.

Chicago Doesn’t Want to Let This One Slip Away: Liberty vs. Sky

New York Liberty vs. Chicago Sky – Friday, July 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

After Sabrina Ionescu took last week’s game away from Chicago with 9 seconds left on the clock, the Sky will be looking to make a statement against New York in this rematch. Again, since the Sky are playing in the Commissioner’s Cup final on Tuesday, the Liberty are coming into this game with the advantage of being more rested. 

Chicago carried a 39–37 lead at the halftime mark of last week’s game, but their fatigue really started to show in the third quarter when they were outscored 24–16. Still, the team rallied in the fourth and went on a 13–2 run to regain the lead with 3:11 left to play in the game. The New York Liberty then locked in offensively and managed to come away with the win on their home court.

Candace Parker looks for an open teammate (Chicago Sky Twitter)

The player to watch in this game is Candace Parker. Parker finished the last contest with 21 points and 11 rebounds but was disappointed after she missed a layup that would have given Chicago the lead with under 5 seconds left in the game. When Parker has a good game she gets her teammates involved, and that will be the key to Chicago coming away with a win on Friday night.

Chicago has already clinched its spot in the playoffs, so this game means a great deal more to the Liberty who are currently two spots out of the eighth seed.

USA Basketball Reunion: Storm vs. Mystics

Seattle Storm vs. Washington Mystics – Saturday, July 30 at 12:00 p.m. ET (ESPN, TSN)

When Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi sat down to reflect on the best Olympic squad they ever played on, they both said “2016” without any hesitation. Elena Delle Donne was on that gold medal-winning Olympic team, and now the former USA Basketball teammates will have a chance to battle it out on the court during Saturday’s matchup. 

Elena Delle Donne blocks a shot by Sylvia Fowles (WNBA Twitter)

The Washington Mystics made sure that Elena Delle Donne was well rested by opting to not have her in their lineup against Dallas, so she is our player to watch for this game. In these teams’ one and only meeting this season, the Storm defeated the Mystics 85–71. Delle Donne led her team with 20 points, but her teammates really struggled to compete with the Storm’s offense. They were outscored in all four quarters of the game. Interestingly, Washington had more assists and rebounds than Seattle, but they just couldn’t get their shots to fall. If the Mystics want to come away with the win this time, they are going to need to make quicker in-game adjustments in the event that they are not hitting their three-pointers. Layups may not look as pretty, but making a layup is better than missing 21 shots from behind the arc.

Atlanta Looks to Recreate the Magic of its First Game: Dream vs. Wings

Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream – Saturday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV/NBA TV Canada)

We’ve come a long way since May 7 when the Atlanta Dream defeated the Dallas Wings in their first game of the 2022 WNBA season. Rhyne Howard had 16 points in her professional basketball debut, and it looked like Atlanta might be destined for a special season. While the season certainly hasn’t been all uphill for the Dream, they look like they could make their way into the playoffs if they pick up a few more wins in these next few weeks.

This game is the third and final regular-season meeting between these two teams, and a win for Atlanta will not only push them closer to securing a spot in the playoffs, but it will give them a 3–0 record against Dallas this season.

The Dream won their first game against Dallas by 7 points and the next one by 5. Atlanta scored 29 points in the first quarter of both matchups and their strong starts were key to their success. 

The player to watch in this game is Cheyenne Parker. Parker has averaged 12 points against the Wings this season, and with her teammate Howard drawing a lot of attention from the Dallas defense, Parker has an opportunity to step up and have a big game for her team.

Clash of the Eastern Conference Powerhouses: Sky vs. Sun

Chicago Sky vs. Connecticut Sun – Sunday, July 31 at 1:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV, TSN)

The last time these two teams met for an afternoon game, the Chicago Sky set the WNBA record for the highest field goal percentage in a half (a mindblowing 83.3%). Chicago has won both of their meetings against the Connecticut Sun this season, and the Sun need this win if they want to eventually tie up their season series against the Sky.

Alyssa Thomas is the player to watch in this matchup. Thomas had 23 points in these teams’ last meeting and almost helped Connecticut complete a comeback against the Sky, despite Chicago’s astounding first half of scoring. The Sun will also need Thomas to be active on the glass to stop the Sky from getting second-chance baskets.

Alyssa Thomas shoots over a defender on route to her first career triple-double (ESPN Stats & Info Twitter)

Brondello Faces Off Against Her Old Team: Mercury vs. Liberty

Phoenix Mercury vs. New York Liberty – Sunday, July 31 at 2:00 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

It’s always exciting when a coach gets to face their old team. Either the players look like they’re trying to prove that they’re better off without their old coach, the coach looks like they’re trying to prove that they still know how to shut down their old team, or there’s a little bit of both.

Phoenix defeated the New York Liberty when the teams met on July 7, so Sandy Brondello will be looking to help her new team defeat her old team when these two meet again on Sunday. 

The Liberty lost their first matchup against the Mercury because of how they started the contest. They just could not get themselves back into the game after Phoenix went up 29–18. Brondello will need to find ways to get her offense going right from the first whistle while also making sure that Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Sophie Cunningham don’t overwhelm her defense.

Since Phoenix has been featuring a smaller lineup in their recent games, the player to watch in this game is Natasha Howard. Howard can be dominant in the paint and will likely find herself in situations where she is being guarded by smaller players. If Howard takes advantage of the mismatches and is active in the paint, it will create more chances on the offensive end of the floor for the Liberty while also making it harder for Phoenix to score.

There’s a lot at stake with this game as both of these teams are currently outside of the top eight seeds in the WNBA.

Final Meeting of the Season: Aces vs. Fever

Las Vegas Aces vs. Indiana Fever – Sunday, July 31 at 3:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV/NBA TV Canada)

Sunday’s game will be the third and final time that these two teams meet this season. Again, while the Aces are certainly the better team on paper, this is the WNBA, so anything could happen during this matchup.

The Las Vegas Aces haven’t lost many games this season, but there is a clear pattern in the contests that haven’t gone their way. With the exception of their game against the Liberty, the Aces have suffered losses this season because of their performances in the second half of games. 

To compete with the firepower of Las Vegas, Indiana will need big performances from several players. Since NaLyssa Smith was our player to watch for Friday’s game, it’s only fair to focus on the Fever’s leading scorer for this one. Kelsey Mitchell had the game of her life when she had an explosive 34-point performance last weekend, and it’ll likely take a similar performance to take down the Aces this weekend.

Second Game of the Weekend Series: Storm vs. Mystics

Seattle Storm vs. Washington Mystics – Sunday, July 31 at 3:00 p.m. ET (Amazon Prime, Fox 13+)

This isn’t a typo. The Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics play each other on Saturday and Sunday. Is this … baseball? Despite the fact that Washington has fallen into third place in the Eastern Conference a few times this season while Seattle has consistently been a top two team in the West, these two teams have very similar season records. 

Natasha Cloud is the player to watch in this matchup. When your point guard is having a good game, the rest of the team is usually having a good game. The Mystics will need Cloud to be keeping the ball moving on offense but also for her to be locking down players like Jewell Loyd on the defensive end of the court. Plus, it’s always fun to watch point guards battle it out on the court, and this final meeting between Cloud (who currently leads the league in assists per game), and Sue Bird (who holds the record for all-time assists in the WNBA) should be a good one. 

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