WNBA Playoff Preview: The Sun Are Ready to End the Storm’s Reign

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Experienced the Connecticut Solar not saved their supporter appreciation night time for the past video game of the W.N.B.A. frequent period, Coach Curt Miller may well have preferred to forfeit.

Already comfortably keeping the No. 1 seed, Connecticut (26-6) required a get — but did not will need a person. The Solar just required to stay healthful. Connecticut got the get — a 20-stage blowout of Atlanta for its 14th victory in a row — but lost DeWanna Bonner for the activity since of again tightness in the 1st quarter.

The sight of her hobbling towards the locker room was stress-inducing for a supporter base with substantial anticipations. With all people on the court docket, the Sun feel this is their year to provide the franchise’s very first championship to Connecticut.

But A’ja Wilson, previous season’s most valuable player, and the second-seeded Las Vegas Aces (24-8) believe it is their yr to win. Just after all, Wilson took the Aces to the finals in 2020, despite Las Vegas being without having numerous important gamers because of injuries and professional medical exemptions. The Aces have been swept by the Seattle Storm at the league’s Florida bubble. But now the All-Star centre Liz Cambage is back again, and Las Vegas’ formidable and explosive beginning backcourt of Chelsea Grey and Riquna Williams has dominated and the workforce has gotten vital contributions from the 2nd-device firecrackers Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young.

A finals pitting the league’s ideal offense (Las Vegas) against the league’s greatest defense (Connecticut) would make for a fun fight for the W.N.B.A.’s 25th title crown. But when playoff action commences Thursday, with two solitary-elimination game titles, six other groups will be out to disrupt any opportunity storybook endings.

Here’s what to assume.

The Liberty finished the common year the way it commenced: with a glimmer of hope that the franchise can reclaim its bygone glory. A scorching commence earned Sabrina Ionescu honors for player of the 7 days and Walt Hopkins the season’s 1st award for mentor of the thirty day period, but the achievements did not adhere.

Ahead of defeating the Washington Mystics in their ultimate regular-year sport, the Liberty had misplaced 8 consecutive game titles. And when the get held their playoff hopes alive, the Liberty’s ticket to the postseason arrived down to losses by two other groups on the last day of the season. Now, the Liberty must overcome a bleak 5-11 road history to gain towards a Phoenix workforce that thrives when cornered and takes place to be peaking at the ideal time.

The Mercury compiled a 10-game winning streak following the Olympic crack but dropped their very last three games with Diana Taurasi sidelined by an ankle injuries. But even in its period-ending loss, Phoenix turned in a person of its finest performances of the period on the steam of function gamers like Sophie Cunningham and Shey Peddy.

But Phoenix would be remiss to ignore the Liberty.

The Liberty can power the Mercury into a scrappy fight if: Natasha Howard, the Liberty’s rebounding chief, can get the workforce second-chance scoring chances and involve Sami Whitcomb, the Liberty’s very best 3-level shooter Betnijah Laney, the team’s primary scorer Michaela Onyenwere, the main prospect for the Rookie of the Yr Award and Jazmine Jones, who can very own the paint. A Liberty get is unlikely but not unachievable.

Led by a combustible duo identified as Marike — Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale — the Wings struggle more challenging and smarter than their upside-down record suggests. Mentor Vickie Johnson, in her initially season, has persuaded players to purchase into her rotation experiments. The final result is a younger and challenging squad that fears no foe and has picked up wins about Chicago, Phoenix and Seattle.

Candace Parker has produced an simple influence in her initial calendar year in Chicago, serving to the crew to a seven-match winning streak in June. But the workforce has considering the fact that limped to the end. For the postseason, the Sky will be evenly matched with the Wings, however they play two different variations of basketball — with Dallas solid on the outside the house, and Chicago at its ideal within. The Wings rank next in the W.N.B.A. in next-probability points per sport (12.3) and lead the league in offensive rebounds per activity (10). To earn, the Sky will need to play far better protection.

Minnesota accomplished a stage of achievements that appeared extremely hard immediately after a collection of accidents and absences remaining Mentor Cheryl Reeve relying on a number of players on seven-day contracts. Minnesota started out the time on a 4-game losing streak that finished with the arrival of Layshia Clarendon from the Liberty in late Could.

Aerial Powers averaged 18 points for each activity in September, such as a 27-point outburst in the time-closer towards Washington. So, if Clarendon stays healthful, Sylvia Fowles continues her double-double ways and Powers stays sizzling, the Lynx need to be in a position to tackle whichever team developments to perform them.

A legitimate title operate, nonetheless, depends on Napheesa Collier finding the regularity that has as a result far eluded her.

Even amid personnel changes — Alysha Clark, Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb departing in cost-free company just before the period and Noelle Quinn assuming head coaching duties with the year now underway — Breanna Stewart, Sue Chook and Jewell Loyd enable the rest of the league know just how really serious they are about successful a 3rd title in four seasons.

But the Storm have been not the identical immediately after the Olympic split, dropping six of their 11 game titles, together with a 32-issue blowout to Chicago at house.

Seattle was with no Stewart (foot) for its previous two matchups. And Loyd, in the period-ender, poured in 37 factors. The Storm’s title odds boost with Stewart in the combine. But if she cannot play, or plays hobbled, Quinn has a deep nicely of talent to draw from — commencing with Loyd.

Wilson and Cambage might be identified as the team’s greatest stars, but they are not alone. Coach Invoice Laimbeer has stacked his roster deep with superstars calling on their own a next device. When Dearica Hamby, a two-time winner of the Sixth Female of the Year Award, will come off the bench alongside a pair of gritty, previous No. 1 draft picks at guard, Plum and Youthful, enjoy intensifies, rate quickens and momentum shifts. Knowing Wilson and Cambage’s inclination to draw a whole lot of defenders, Laimbeer expects his next unit to feast on the scoring options this presents.

And they have — Plum, in certain. Her frenetic electrical power on defense has worn down offenses and her willingness to compile 30-level capturing performances when necessary has stored the Aces in game titles. If Las Vegas would make a return to the finals, it will be for the reason that of its second device and the steady, occasionally unsung, contributions of Williams and Gray.

If Plum is the solution weapon for the Aces, the Sun’s is Brionna Jones: a 6-foot-3 ahead who showcased a selection of expertise in elevated minutes in 2020 that inspired Miller to retain her in the commencing lineup. Remarkably light-weight on her feet, Jones has sharp courtroom awareness and quick arms that make it possible for her to be at the correct position at the appropriate time for gathering rebounds and scoring on putbacks.

And though Jones dazzles with the very best spin moves in the game, Jonquel Jones keeps her head down, coolly carving up defenses and thwarting offenses. Their performances have been fostered by a full staff tactic and riding the incredibly hot hand. Any participant, no matter whether Bonner, Briann January or Natisha Hiedeman, could go off for significant buckets at any time. But Connecticut’s quest for a franchise-initially title runs as a result of the Joneses.