WNBA West Week 12 Preview

With playoff spots on the line, Dallas makes a move as the Aces and Storm meet in a heavyweight clash.

By Laura Fay

It’s crunch time, and four teams are ready to do whatever it takes to snag one of the last playoff spots. Dallas is hot after an upset win over #1 Chicago, but Los Angeles and Phoenix need to course correct after a series of disappointing losses. Meanwhile, Sylvia Fowles’s Lynx need to put their foot on the gas if they want to have a run in September. 

Rematch: Mercury vs. Sun

Phoenix Mercury vs. Connecticut Sun – Thursday, August 4th at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

If this weekend’s loss versus New York was a warning sign for Phoenix, alarm bells must have been going off on Tuesday against Connecticut. Since the All-Star break, the dynamic backcourt of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi had been nearly single-handedly keeping the Mercury afloat. With both limited in their last two games, Phoenix recorded two 20+ point losses.

To make matters worse, Taurasi was forced to exit Tuesday’s game against the Sun with a thigh injury after just one quarter. With her absence, the Mercury must find new ways of scoring—and fast. Even if Taurasi can return on Thursday, she was held scoreless in the 11 minutes she did play against the Sun. With Alyssa Thomas recording her second triple-double in the contest, Phoenix was beaten up and down the court. 

As they try to turn their fortunes around, the player to watch will undoubtedly be Skylar Diggins-Smith. While Diggins-Smith has been limited to the mid-teens for the last couple games, her play since the All-Star break has earned her a real shot at MVP. With Taurasi questionable, Diamond DeShields still out, and very little in the way of bench production, Diggins-Smith will be more vital than ever if Phoenix want to pull off an upset. 

Interesting Matchup: Aces vs. Wings

Las Vegas Aces vs. Dallas Wings – Thursday, August 4th at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

With just six games left in the season, Dallas needs to rack up some wins to hold onto their playoff spot. Having been one of the first teams to clinch, the Aces are still one elusive game back from Chicago—and this weekend provides a perfect opportunity to catch them. 

While Dallas has been consistently inconsistent all season, they have pulled off a few upsets—including just this Tuesday against the Sky while missing Arike Ogunbowale. To be fair, they’ve also fallen to Seattle, Chicago, and D.C since the All-Star break, but they’re certainly not a write off.

With games against the Fever and Liberty still to play for the Wings, their run home looks favorable. Still, if they can’t knock off the Aces, it’s unlikely anyone will be talking about them as title contenders this year. 

Teaira McCowan looks to pass the ball in Dallas’s win over Atlanta (via the Dallas Wings Instagram)

For Vegas, the real stake here is the #1 overall seed. The Sky has an incredibly tough run home—four straight games against top 5 seeds—two of which take place this weekend. If the Aces can capitalize on their draw, the #1 seed could be within their grasp soon. 

The player to watch in this matchup is Teaira McCowan. McCowan has been extremely impressive since being elevated to the starting lineup, and recorded a 20pt/12reb double-double in Dallas’ win over Chicago on Tuesday. It should be interesting to see how McCowan deals with being matched against one of the league’s most dominant centers in A’ja Wilson. 

Playoff Hunting: Sparks vs. Dream

Los Angeles Sparks vs. Atlanta Dream – Friday, August 5th at 7:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

With the series tied 1–1, Los Angeles desperately needs a win to end a four-game skid and stay in playoff contention. 

The Sparks have had their fair share of contentious moments this season, with the midseason firing of coach Derek Fisher and contract divorce of Liz Cambage being prime talking points. Los Angeles hasn’t won a game since Cambage left the team. 

While Cambage’s absence has certainly messed with LA’s rotations, they have won without her before. In fact. Cambage was on the bench during the Sparks’ last matchup with Atlanta, which they won. That match also had four starters in double figures and a strong rebounding game from Chiney Ogwumike, both things that LA will need with their depleted bench. 

Speaking of the bench, this game’s player to watch is Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Nelson-Ododa has had relatively limited minutes so far this season, but both her time and production have increased since Cambage left the team. Against the Liberty, she recorded a career-high 12 points on 6–7 shooting and pulled down 4 rebounds. If she can become a more consistent offensive threat, Nelson-Ododa can leverage her height and become a force to reckon with off the glass. 

Need to Capitalize: Fever vs. Wings

Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings – Saturday, August 6th at 8 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

No team wants to be the one Indiana finally breaks their 14-game losing streak against, but least of all the Dallas Wings. 

The Wings have a relatively easy run home compared to their peers, and certainly don’t want to squander a game against a squad that has gone 5–27. It’s not that Indiana doesn’t have some weapons—NaLyssa Smith is a rookie of the year contender while Destanni Henderson has put together a nice run of games—but those weapons are hardly potent enough to cut down other teams. Barring a huge upset, we’d bet on the Wings to have this one in the bag. 

Dallas impressed this week, withstanding a valiant fourth-quarter Sky comeback to walk away victors, a feat all the more impressive in the absence of Arike Ogunbowale. As such, Marina Mabrey is our player to watch in this game. Mabrey has had a tough fortnight, having been held to under 10 points for four games straight before meeting Chicago. But, as if sensing what her team needed, she was electric from start to finish against the Sky and and ended with a hard-fought 26 points. 

Even if Ogunbowale returns, this level of production from Mabrey is what the Wings need if they want to cement themselves as true championship contenders. As Chicago proved last year, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. If Dallas finishes well, no top seed is going to want to meet them in the first round. 

Jockeying for a Position: Liberty vs. Mercury

New York Liberty vs. Phoenix Mercury – Saturday, August 6th at  10 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

Sitting in the seventh and eighth playoff spots, the Liberty and Mercury know they need to get wins now to have a chance at a run in September. The pair has split the series so far, with Phoenix drawing first blood in a tight contest but getting blown out just last week. 

While their play styles are different, both teams share an explosiveness that can either blow opponents off the court or go dormant on a seemingly arbitrary basis. Last week was the Liberty’s turn to show out, crushing Phoenix under an offensive onslaught spearheaded by Natasha Howard and reinforced by Sabrina Ionescu’s 16 assists. Howard now has five straight double-doubles and Ionescu is a constant triple-double threat. Any way the Mercury can limit the dynamic duo will be a step up from last week’s performance.

To win, Phoenix needs to find some explosiveness of their own, and Sophie Cunningham is a perfect candidate. Since being elevated to the starting lineup, Cunningham has leveraged her ability to sharpshoot from deep to tremendous effect. With veteran Diana Taurasi questionable after sustaining a thigh injury versus the Sun, Cunningham will need to be on offensively to match New York’s dynamism. 

Top Tier Clash: Aces vs. Storm

Las Vegas Aces vs. Seattle Storm – Sunday, August 7th at 3 p.m. ET (ABC)

With pride and playoff positioning on the line, expect Las Vegas and Seattle to go at it in the battle of two MVP frontrunners. 

Last time these two met, Seattle’s Big Three pulled the team over the line, with Jewell Loyd’s 24 points leading all scorers as Sue Bird set a new WNBA wins record. Despite that, Vegas’s A’ja Wilson was still highly effective, recording a 17pt/16reb double-double. Wilson’s rebounding has been rock solid all year, and the Storm must limit her to give themselves some cushion in this match. 

Breanna Stewart high-fives teammates after a Storm win over the Fever last month.  (via the Seattle Storm Instagram)

But more than just limiting Wilson, Seattle’s going to need some X factor in this one—and there’s no one better at the high stakes clutch factor than Breanna Stewart. A 2x Finals MVP (with one of those being earned against the Aces), Stewart has made her mark on the competition in the toughest moments. With her team sitting in fifth and fighting for a home playoff spot in Sue Bird’s last year, Stewart has everything to play for. With a home crowd and finals atmosphere, all the pieces line up for Stewart to show out. 

Washington’s Time is Now: Sparks vs. Mystics

Los Angeles Sparks vs. Washington Mystics – Sunday, August 7th at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

With a two-game series against #3 Connecticut to close out the regular season, the Sparks will be looking to pick up an important road win over the Mystics. The way D.C. is playing, that looks like a tough test. 

The Mystics have won five of their last six games, including back-to-back wins over title contenders Seattle and Las Vegas, and look in roaring form. With Elena Delle Donne unlikely to rest many more games before the postseason, the Sparks come face to face with a full-strength Mystics that have been routinely cutting down some of the league’s best talent. Even with Delle Donne having a bad shooting night against the Aces, Natasha Cloud and Shakira Austin picked up the slack with ease. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking Austin, a rookie center out of Ole Miss, has been in the league for years. Her rebounding has been on point all season, and improved offensive production in the last week has been a problem for everyone matched onto her. 

To keep their playoff hopes alive, Chiney Ogwumike will need to have a night out. Ogwumike has taken over Cambage’s spot as LA’s starting center, but has not brought the same aggressive off the glass production as her. She’s been limited to single digits in both points and rebounds for the Sparks’ last three games—all losses. Since Cambage was acquired in the offseason, Los Angeles’ game plan has been built around a strong center. Ogwumike will need to step up if her team is to make the playoffs this year. 

Last Roll of the Dice: Dream vs. Lynx

Atlanta Dream vs. Minnesota Lynx – Sunday, August 7th at 7 p.m. ET (Amazon)

Despite a valiant playoff push after a terrible start to the season, the Minnesota Lynx have so far failed to get off the bottom of the ladder. It’s almost cruel—four teams, including the Dream, have 12 wins to their name, and they’re currently sitting with a playoff berth. With four games left, Minnesota needs to put their foot on the gas if they want a fairytale finish for Sylvia Fowles. 

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles (34) is fouled as she shoots by Indiana Fever guard Victoria Vivians (35) in the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Friday, July 15, 2022. The Lynx defeated the Fever 87-77. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The Lynx can certainly pull this off—they beat Atlanta just last week. Especially considering the Dream’s injury toll (Tiffany Hayes and AD Durr having been added to an already substantial list), Minnesota has the pieces if they can put them together. 

With everything on the line, Minnesota will look once again to Sylvia Fowles. The last holdover from the legendary Lynx dynasty that ruled the 2010s, Fowles knows how to win in crunch time. Her experience was vital the last time these teams played, recording a 12pt/14reb to carry the Lynx over the line. With everything on the line, expect Fowles to come up big once again in her farewell season.

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