WNBA East Week 12 Preview

The Dream and Liberty look to book their tickets to the playoffs.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

As the WNBA regular season is winding down, every game counts. The Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, and Washington Mystics are all competing to secure home court advantage for the playoffs, while the Liberty and Dream are still trying to keep their postseason dreams alive. Let’s take a look at what each team has to do to make this happen. 

Final Playoff Push: Sparks vs. Dream

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

What do the Atlanta Dream, New York Liberty, and Phoenix Mercury have in common? They all have 13 wins and 18 losses on the season. The teams are ranked 7–9 in the WNBA standings, but with 12 wins and 19 losses, the Los Angeles Sparks are right on their heels. All that to say, with there being a lot on the line for both teams, Friday’s matchup should be an exciting one. 

Momentum is certainly in Atlanta’s favor, as they defeated the Indiana Fever on Wednesday, while the Sparks lost their fifth consecutive game on the same day. 

Rhyne Howard pulls up for a shot (WNBA Twitter)

Atlanta struggles in games where they lose the first quarter, so it is critical that they get off to a good start against Los Angeles. The Dream also almost gave up their lead against the Fever during the third quarter on Wednesday, and the team cannot afford to have sloppy periods of play against the more-experienced Sparks roster.

The player to watch in this game is Rhyne Howard. Howard had a fantastic start to Atlanta’s game against Indiana but really struggled during stretches of the second half of the matchup. It was during that period that the Dream saw its lead fade away. It was only when Howard came up with a big block and hit a jumper in transition that momentum shifted back to Atlanta. If the franchise wants to make the playoffs this year, they need another big game from their superstar rookie.

The Sky Look to Get Back on Track: Mystics vs. Sky

Washington Mystics vs. Chicago Sky – Friday, August 5 at 8:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV/NBA TV Canada)

After the Mystics took down the Las Vegas Aces in spite of their best player only making one shot from the field, every WNBA team realized that Washington is not a team that they want to face during the playoffs. Unfortunately for Chicago, they’re coming into this tough matchup on a low note. Earlier this week, the Sky suffered an 84–78 loss to a shorthanded Wings roster.

Chicago is 2–1 against the Mystics this season, and their wins have come when Candace Parker has had a big game. Parker picked up a triple-double during their first contest and has averaged 14.7 points and 11.7 rebounds against Washington this season. As the chances of Elena Delle Donne having two low-scoring games in a row are slim, the Sky are really going to need Candace Parker to be at her best on Friday. She is our player to watch during the game.

In their previous meetings, the team that won the first quarter is the team that emerged victorious. We’ll see if that pattern continues during their final meeting of the season.

Can the Fever Put an End to Their Losing Streak? Fever vs. Wings

Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings – Saturday, August 6 at 8:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV/NBA TV Canada, Indiana Fever Facebook Page)

The Indiana Fever nearly completed a comeback during Wednesday’s game against the Dream, but ultimately fell short of ending their losing streak. It has been a difficult season for Fever players and their fans, and the team is desperate to pick up a win. 

Indiana is facing a Wings squad that has been fighting hard to work their way into the playoffs, so they are going to need their players to step up if they want to pull off this upset. The good news for Fever fans is that Lexie Hull just came off of her best game of the season and fellow rookies Queen Egbo, NaLyssa Smith, and Destanni Henderson have really looked like they are finding their rhythm recently. If all of these pieces click on Saturday, one of the longest losing streaks in WNBA history might finally come to an end.

The player to watch in this game is Queen Egbo. Egbo has had some stellar performances this season and can be a real force on the glass and in the paint. She had a quiet night on Wednesday, and her team is going to need her to step up against the Wings. Baylor fans know what she is capable of, and there’s a good chance that if she gets going on Saturday, fellow Baylor alum NaLyssa Smith will feed off of her energy.

A High-Stakes Tiebreaker: Liberty vs. Mercury

New York Liberty vs. Phoenix Mercury – Saturday, August 6 at 10:00 p.m. ET (NBA TV/NBA TV Canada)

The New York Liberty just recorded back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Sparks this week, and they’ll be looking to carry that momentum forward into Saturday’s matchup against the Mercury.

Sabrina Ionescu looks to dribble past a Mercury defender (WNBA Twitter)

These two teams have met twice already this season, with Phoenix winning the first contest and New York winning the second. Saturday’s contest is a lot more than just a tiebreaker between the two teams; the loser of the contest will likely see their playoff dreams dashed for the season.

The player to watch during this game is Marine Johannès. Johannès has been consistent from three-point range throughout the season and has been dishing out some spectacular assists recently. Sabrina Ionescu had to come up big for her team on Wednesday against the Sparks, and Phoenix’s defense is likely not going to be giving her much breathing room in an effort to limit her impact. The Liberty will need Johannès to facilitate their offense to give Ionescu a break and will need her sharp-shooting to help them compete with a Mercury squad that has several players who can drain threes.

An All-East Clash: Sun vs. Sky

Connecticut Sun vs. Chicago Sky – Sunday, August 7 at 1:00 p.m. ET (ABC, Sportsnet NOW – Canada)

The Connecticut Sun are not accustomed to being swept by WNBA teams. They’re usually the ones doing the sweeping. If they don’t find a way to defeat the Chicago Sky on Sunday, however, the Sky will have a 4–0 record against them.

Courtney Williams rises above Ruthy Hebard (WNBA Twitter)

This contest features two players who have had multiple triple-doubles this season. That statistic was unheard of before this year. Alyssa Thomas and Candace Parker have been consistent performers for their respective teams, and their teammates will be counting on them to be changemakers during this regular-season meeting. That is why they are our co-players to watch.

Interestingly, if you look at the box scores of the teams’ first three matchups, there is a clear pattern in how the scoring is distributed. Chicago has strong first and last quarters, while Connecticut tends to dominate the second and third quarters. Connecticut is going to need to have a better start and finish to Sunday’s game if they want to avoid being swept by the Sky.

Alyssa Thomas reacts after hitting a shot for the Connecticut Sun (WNBA Twitter)

Will the Mystics End LA’s Playoff Dreams? Sparks vs. Mystics

Los Angeles Sparks vs. Washington Mystics – Sunday, August 7 at 3:00 p.m. ET (ESPN3, NBA TV Canada)

When the Mystics lost their first game against the Sparks earlier this season, they were playing against a Los Angeles roster that featured Liz Cambage, and Elena Delle Donne was not available to play. Even still, Washington kept the game competitive and only lost the contest by 2 points.

During their next meeting, Washington had a healthy roster and defeated the Sparks 94–81. Aside from the obvious addition of having Delle Donne on the floor, the big difference between the two games was how Washington handled the fourth quarter. During the first contest LA outscored them 31–21, whereas in the second, it was the Mystics who outscored the Sparks by 4 points.

Natasha Cloud has moved the ball well for Washington in both of their meetings against Los Angeles this season. She has averaged 11 assists against the Sparks and has helped ensure that multiple players on her team are getting scoring opportunities. We all know that Nneka Ogwumike can create her own scoring opportunities, and Katie Lou Samuelson can consistently score threes, but this LA team has really struggled to get the entirety of its offense involved in scoring throughout the season. In contrast, Cloud has been able to keep Washington’s offense humming, and that is why she is our player to watch for this game.

While Washington has already qualified for the playoffs, Los Angeles has not. If LA loses this game on Sunday, it is likely that they will fall short of making it into the postseason for the second year in a row. 

Can Atlanta Learn from its Mistakes? Dream vs. Lynx

Atlanta Dream vs. Minnesota Lynx – Sunday, August 7 at 7:00 p.m. ET (Amazon Prime)

When these teams last faced each other, it was a tale of two halves. Minnesota went on a 29–8 run during the first half to run away with the lead, but the Dream had an impressive 40-point fourth quarter to prevent the loss from being a complete blowout.

Atlanta won their first matchup against the Lynx this season because they had a strong performance in the first quarter. They cannot afford to let Minnesota go on runs at the beginning of the game like they did on July 28.

Sylvia Fowles beats Dream players to a jump ball (WNBA Twitter)

The player to watch in this game is Aari McDonald. McDonald has made a strong case for why she should be considered for the sixth player of the year award, and the Dream will need her to be a difference maker against a Lynx squad that also features several talented bench players. McDonald can also create scoring opportunities for herself and others, and as Atlanta sometimes struggles with offensive droughts, they’ll need her to be an impact player like she was on Wednesday against Indiana.

Atlanta’s coach was not happy with the team’s level of effort during their previous meeting against Minnesota and publicly called out players for their performance. Sometimes a little public criticism is what it takes for a team to break their bad habits. Let’s see if the Dream impress their coach on Sunday.

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