Basketball

W.N.B.A. Playoff Preview: Don’t Crown the Seattle Storm But

The Las Vegas Aces bumped the Seattle Storm from the No. 1 spot they’d clung to for a lot of the season, and the defending champion Washington Mystics — with out Elena Delle Donne and different key starters from final 12 months’s squad — notched a seven-point victory to assert the eighth and last playoff spot. It was a becoming finish to an everyday season — delayed by two months and performed inside a so-called bubble in Florida — whose last playoff seeding got here all the way down to the final minute.

Blockbuster free company strikes within the low season had groups struggling to search out their stride within the season’s early going. The brand new-look and still-feisty Connecticut Solar — runners-up within the 2019 finals — overcame 5 straight losses to begin the season to assert the No. 7 seed. The Phoenix Mercury (No. 5) and Chicago Sky (No. 6), who performed one another within the first spherical of the playoffs final 12 months, managed to thrive regardless of the late-season departures of star gamers.

Now the playoffs start with two single-elimination video games within the first spherical on Tuesday involving the Nos. 5-Eight seeds. The winners will face the third and fourth seeds in single-elimination video games on Thursday for the second spherical. The highest two seeds — the Aces and the Storm — will face Thursday’s winners in best-of-five semifinal collection beginning on Sunday.

The 2020 playoffs start with 2019’s No. 1 group battling from the underside in a single-elimination sport. With Washington lacking a number of gamers integral to final season’s success, function gamers like Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins have supplied key performances, particularly late within the common season. To win a championship, they’ll want extra from Emma Meesseman, whose once-electrifying 3-point capturing has dwindled with out Elena Delle Donne drawing defenders into the paint. Delle Donne, the reigning Most Invaluable Participant Award winner, has not performed this season due to well being issues.

However the Mystics can benefit from the Mercury’s depleted roster. Within the last few video games of the common season, the Mercury dressed as few as seven gamers. Bria Hartley — whose signing on this 12 months’s free company interval reinvigorated the group’s hopes of playoff success — is finished for the season with a knee harm. Brittney Griner, the six-time All-Star heart, left the bubble on the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., after 12 video games for private causes.

Nonetheless, the 3-point firepower of Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith may help the Mercury, with Kia Vaughn enjoying nicely inside and Brianna Turner rebounding like a lady who needs to win a championship.

From runner-up in final 12 months’s finals to the No. 7 seed within the playoffs, the Solar have been on a journey this season with Coach Curt Miller. Connecticut misplaced the longtime fan favorites Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen and introduced of their former Mercury rival DeWanna Bonner. Cohesion didn’t come straightforward — the Solar misplaced 5 straight video games to begin the season — nevertheless it seems to be forming on the proper time.

Bonner got here up massive within the Solar’s first assembly this season towards her former group, scoring 25 factors for a playoff-clinching win. However the group’s success goes by means of the group’s engine, Alyssa Thomas (second in rebounding this season and main the league in steals), particularly with Jasmine Thomas coping with a foot harm.

However the Sky received’t make this a straightforward matchup, even with out the All-Star Diamond DeShields (private causes) and Azurá Stevens (foot). Courtney Vandersloot — who recorded probably the most assists in a single sport in W.N.B.A. historical past this season (18) and averaged a double-double — will ensure that of it.

After shedding within the semifinals final 12 months in a three-game sweep, the Sparks are out for redemption, particularly Coach Derek Fisher. His determination to play Candace Parker — a two-time league M.V.P. and the 2016 finals M.V.P. — simply 11 minutes in that fateful Sport Three tipped off a messy low season that noticed Penny Toler, the longtime basic supervisor, fired. The Sparks seem to have reset, particularly Parker, whose league-leading 9.7 rebounds have saved the Sparks in video games.

A visit to the finals, nevertheless, is dependent upon Riquna Williams sustaining her career-high 42.2 p.c 3-point capturing and maybe trying extra pictures from vary, and on Nneka Ogwumike, who has handled accidents, returning to her profession common of 16.2 factors per sport. Nevertheless it might be the four-time champion Seimone Augustus who serves as the important thing for a finals bid — even off the bench.

Amid continued rebuilding round Napheesa Collier, final season’s Rookie of the 12 months Award winner, the Lynx have an opportunity to win all of it if the veteran Sylvia Fowles is wholesome. Fowles, the 2017 league M.V.P. and three-time Defensive Participant of the 12 months Award winner, set the W.N.B.A. file for profession rebounds in July, however a calf harm has saved her off the court docket since mid-August. The Lynx miss the larger-than-life presence she will be within the paint.

To patch within the gaps, Collier has soared previous her rookie manufacturing to close double-double averages, however postseason prospects for this inexperienced group are unsure, despite the fact that the rookie Crystal Dangerfield has been a drive at start line guard.

The excellent news for Coach Cheryl Reeve is the boldness of the function gamers Bridget Carleton and Damiris Dantas and the obvious fearlessness of the rookie Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who by no means appears to again down in tense video games.

The Aces jumped previous the Storm for the No. 1 seed by beating them on the ultimate day of the common season on Sunday. With the win, the Aces secured a 2-Zero regular-season sweep of the Storm. The Aces spent the season with out Liz Cambage, their All-Star heart who has a medical exemption this season, and Kelsey Plum, their start line guard who tore her Achilles’ tendon simply earlier than the season.

But Las Vegas discovered success with its speedy, 3-point-shooting guards like Danielle Robinson creating room for A’ja Wilson, the 2018 rookie of the 12 months, to function within the paint. And the bench is so deep that it consists of Dearica Hamby, the 2019 Sixth Girl of the 12 months Award winner, and Jackie Younger, the No. 1 total choose in final 12 months’s draft. However the Aces’ postseason aspirations undergo the five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, who, in pursuit of her first W.N.B.A. championship, imposes her will on each possession with ease.

The Storm’s quest for his or her second championship in three years may rely on Sue Chicken’s gimpy knee. The W.N.B.A.’s profession assists chief, Chicken is a masterful playmaker whose sport is outlined by impeccable court docket imaginative and prescient and a hovering basketball I.Q. that she makes use of to drive opponents to fall prey to their worst inclinations.

Although spectacular this 12 months, the Storm have been examined — twice shedding to the top-ranked Aces and experiencing beautiful defeats to the Mystics and the Indiana Fever, who missed the playoffs. Though Breanna Stewart, the 2018 league and finals M.V.P., has been spectacular after lacking all of 2019 with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, the Storm will even want extra: Jewell Loyd extending her robust season, and Alysha Clark, a defensive-minded menace, spreading the ground along with her 3-point capturing. Seattle’s possibilities will enhance considerably if Sami Whitcomb thrives from deep and Natasha Howard reclaims the scoring and rebounding dominance of her final two seasons.

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