WNBA West Week 11 Preview
The Storm weather a tough run home while middle teams look to separate themselves.
By Laura Fay
With less than a month left in the season and wins harder to come by than ever, it truly is crunch time in the WNBA. Every team is still in the race, but Minnesota desperately needs to grit out some wins to keep the hopes of a last championship for Sylvia Fowles alive. Meanwhile, Seattle has three tough match-ups as they fight to catch Las Vegas as #1 in the West.
Last-Ditch Effort: Lynx vs. Dream
Minnesota Lynx vs. Atlanta Dream – Thursday, July 28th at 7 p.m. ET (Twitter)
With their playoff hopes hanging on by a thread, Minnesota will need strong showings all weekend to make the cut: starting now.
The Lynx, who have lost three of their last four games, have been unable to fully capitalize on their promise this year. While derailed by an injury-ridden start to the season, Minnesota has notched major upsets and disappointing losses in equal fashion. Facing an Atlanta side in a promising rebuild should be an exciting contest for both teams.
The Dream took the last game between these two sides, bolstered by Rhyne Howard’s 22 points and a career-high 18 for Kristy Wallace. To negate them, the Lynx must have some breakout performances off the bench. Minnesota’s bench, like the team in general, has been inconsistent this season. While relievers have saved games with career-high performances, when they’re cold, it’s icy.
Therefore, this game’s player to watch has to be Nikolina Milic. Milic has been a somewhat regular player for Minnesota this season, bouncing between hardship and seven-day contracts before finally being rewarded with a rest-of-season one. While her minutes have fluctuated, she has improved when given more time and put up a solid 14 points against the Sun earlier this week.
It’s uncertain what her minutes will look like this week—she started in place of the injured Sylvia Fowles last game, and Fowles’s return timetable is unclear. Nonetheless, Milic has been one of the most consistent reserves Minnesota has and, given the hot-and-cold nature of other players, it would be smart to give her time to develop.
Battle for Playoff Seeding: Storm vs. Sun
Seattle Storm vs. Connecticut Sun – Thursday, July 28th at 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
It will be a battle for seeding Thursday night, with Seattle traveling east to try and snatch the #3 spot from Connecticut. Sitting one game behind the Sun, Seattle would equal their record with a win.
A victory becomes all the more crucial given these teams’ history this season. The Storm have fallen short against Connecticut in both their previous match-ups, meaning that if their records are tied come playoff time, the Sun get the higher seed. If Seattle wants to take that advantage away from them, they’ll need a better record outright. Stealing a game from Connecticut would be a great way to jumpstart that.
To get a win, the Storm desperately need to contain reigning MVP Jonquel Jones. Jones is having another great season but has been particularly lethal against Seattle. She flirted with a triple-double in their first match-up and had a similarly impressive 17pt/13reb outing in the second.
To limit the star center, Seattle will need Tina Charles to show out. Having replaced Ezi Magbegor as the starting center for the Storm’s last two contests, Charles looks set to keep her spot after a stellar 27pt/15reb performance against Atlanta. Charles has looked deadly in the last fortnight and will be seeking a third straight double-double on Thursday. If she can perform, Seattle will be a serious threat.
Fighting For a Foothold: Mystics vs. Wings
Washington Mystics vs. Dallas Wings – Thursday, July 28th at 8 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
Sitting in the precarious 8th place, Dallas needs to take advantage of their home court this weekend.
The Wings snapped a two-game losing streak against the Fever, but to be fair—it’s the Fever. Dallas has consistently fallen short against top teams this year, with losses to the Sky and Storm just in the last fortnight. With six teams all vying for the last three playoff spots, the Wings are going to need to find form fast to stay above the Lynx and Mercury.
With the regular-season series tied 1–1, it seems Dallas does have the potential to knock off Washington. They’re helped by the potential absence of Elena Delle Donne after coach Mike Thibault suggested she wouldn’t travel to stay fresh for DC’s two-game series versus Seattle. Delle Donne has had a fantastic month, and her loss is one that the Wings can certainly take advantage of.
Dallas’s player to watch in this match-up has to be Allisha Gray. Gray, one of the biggest All-Star snubs this season, is in the middle of a career year. Her 13.8ppg have been crucial in getting her team over the line in close contests, and she will be looking to prove herself after a poor 2-point showing against Chicago last week. Gray had 21 points when the Wings upset Washington earlier this season, and will have to replicate that production again on Thursday.
Close Contest: Sparks vs. Mercury
Los Angeles Sparks vs. Phoenix Mercury – Thursday, July 28th at 10 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
With a tied series and 12 wins a piece, it should be a riveting showdown in Phoenix on Thursday night.
Though the Mercury have had an up-and-down season both on and off the court, when they catch fire they’re blazing. An emphatic fourth-quarter performance completely ran Seattle off the court last week, and that energy is hard to stop. Particularly, the insertion of Sophie Cunningham into the starting lineup has given Phoenix a third serious scoring threat since the departure of Tina Charles.
The loss of a disgruntled All-Star center is a feeling Los Angeles has gotten a taste of this week. Liz Cambage, the team’s major offseason acquisition, agreed to a contract buyout on Tuesday after allegedly being unhappy with the club’s culture. Cambage hasn’t had the best year, but her rebounding and skill off the glass will certainly be missed going forward.
Tasked with plugging the hole Cambage has left, this game’s player to watch is Chiney Ogwumike. Ogwumike has mostly acted as a backup center this season but showed a lot of promise when she does get minutes. Over the three games she started last week, Ogwumike averaged 12 pts and 10 rebounds. If she can replicate that level of offense, the Sparks will be in pretty decent shape down the stretch.
Blowouts Waiting to Happen: Aces vs. Fever (x2)
Las Vegas Aces vs. Indiana Fever – Friday, July 29th at 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Las Vegas Aces vs. Indiana Fever – Sunday, July 31st at 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Look, Las Vegas isn’t invulnerable. Nonetheless, if you put money on Indiana this weekend we’d encourage you to reconsider.
Fresh off a Commissioner’s Cup victory over Chicago, the Aces look dangerously good heading towards this postseason and aren’t likely to be phased by a group of rookie-led cellar dwellers. They certainly didn’t have any trouble last week, dispatching a feisty Indiana side 90–77. With their team loaded with All-Stars and MVP candidates, it would truly be the shock of the season if the Aces can’t get it done this weekend.
For Indiana to have any shot, they’re going to need a prayer and a quiet night from A’ja Wilson. Everyone knows Wilson is a star, but this past month she’s been dynamite. Last night’s Commissioners Cup may have broken her seven-game streak of 20+ points, but she more than compensated with a 17pt/17reb/6blk outing. A true master of the game in all areas, you’d be hard pressed to find a more dangerous and versatile player. Needless to say, Indiana’s going to need a lot of luck to pull this one off.
Top Tier Clash: Storm v Mystics (x2)
Seattle Storm vs. Washington Mystics – Saturday, July 30th at 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Seattle Storm vs. Washington Mystics – Sunday, July 31st at 3 p.m. ET (Amazon)
Seattle’s weekend isn’t getting any easier, with two top-level clashes against the Mystics rounding out their road trip. Sitting two games behind the Aces, every win matters if they want to push for the top spot in the West.
With Elena Delle Donne rested to prepare for this matchup, the Storm must be on high alert. Delle Donne had 20 points when these two teams last met, while former-Storm Alysha Clark had 11. The Storm were able to win that game off monster performances from Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor, but they’re on the Mystics’ home turf now.
As a player who comes alive in clutch moments, Loyd is certainly the player to watch in this match. While Loyd can typically be counted on for a solid 15 points, it’s her clutch gene that earned her the nickname Gold Mamba. Her OT buzzer-beater over Dallas and career-high 37 points versus Phoenix come to mind. The business end of the season is rapidly approaching, but there’s no doubt: this is when Jewell Loyd shines.
Down but Not Out: Wings vs. Dream
Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream – Saturday, July 30th at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Tied on 12 wins and holding the last two playoff berths, it’s crunch time for Dallas and Atlanta.
The Dream have held the trump card in this matchup so far, winning both previous match-ups, though by small margins. Atlanta has been more adept at finding space and setting the tempo, as evidenced by a three-point shooting percentage that was nearly double Dallas’ in their last showdown. Outside of Allisha Gray and Arike Ogunbowale, the Wings have had difficulty penetrating Atlanta’s defense, and even Ogunbowale was more limited than usual. However, lineups have shifted in the month between games, and Dallas seems to be finding their footing.
One major piece to solving the Wings’ offensive problems is Teaira McCowan. Traded to Dallas in the offseason, McCowan had very few minutes and points to her name to start the season. Since mid-June however, her efficient production began getting rewarded with starts. She has now recorded double-digit hauls in five of her last seven games, while her rebounding has also taken a step up. With Marina Mabrey’s production declining after a hot start to the season, McCowan has stepped up and carved out a vital role for herself that will be on full display this weekend.
Electric Potential: Mercury vs. Liberty
Phoenix Mercury vs. New York Liberty – Sunday, July 31st at 2 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
This season has been a disappointing one for both Phoenix and New York. The Mercury looked to be onto something after reaching the finals last year, but raw star power hasn’t been enough to carry them so far. New York looks to repeat after sneaking into the postseason last year, but their hopes are hanging by a thread. That doesn’t mean they can’t put on a good show though.
While raw star power might not make a #1 team, those stars certainly are exciting. As such, Phoenix’s game versus Seattle last week was the perfect encapsulation of their season—a bit cobbled together, but a frenzied home crowd atmosphere and standout performances sealed the win.
On the Liberty’s side, Sabrina Ionescu is rapidly growing into the player we hoped she would become. The young player has already equaled Candace Parker’s record for triple-doubles and can be counted on to stuff the stats sheet and put on a show every time she’s on court.
Having led her team to a tight 84–81 victory when these teams last met, Sophie Cunningham is this game’s player to watch. Cunningham is well on her way to making herself a star in the W, with a series of impressive performances after joining Phoenix’s starting lineup. When she last faced the Liberty, she led the squad with 23 points on an incredibly efficient 10–15 shooting. Cunningham’s potential is always threatening to break loose, and we can’t wait to see what she does this weekend.
Fighting to Stay in It: Lynx vs. Sparks
Minnesota Lynx vs. Los Angeles Sparks – Sunday, July 31st at 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV)
Two games out of the last playoff berth, Minnesota desperately needs a win to keep their season (and Sylvia Fowles’ hopes of a send-off ring) alive.
The Lynx have really struggled since the All-Star break, going a paltry 2–4 while teams around them have stepped up. Aside from Fowles’ consistency, the rest of the starting lineup is either terrific or terrible based on the day. The good news for Minnesota is that Los Angeles hasn’t been much better. The Sparks are 2–3 since the break, though their losses are all against top of the table sides. Still, as the window of opportunity gets slimmer, both sides will be desperate for something to boost their playoff chances.
With so much at stake, the player to watch in this match has to be Sylvia Fowles. Fowles may be retiring, but her stats are just as solid as ever—she’s nearly averaging a double-double this season, and has been both an anchor and guiding force for a young Lynx team this season. Their improvement as a side almost exactly parallels her return from injury. With the Sparks having just lost their #1 center, the stage is set for Fowles to come in clutch once again.