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Preview: Sparks host Lynx in first-round rematch of past two WNBA Finals

It won’t be a Sparks vs. Lynx Finals this year, as one team goes home tonight. Meanwhile, the Mercury and Wings kick off the 2018 playoffs in Tempe, Arizona.

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Maya Moore and the Lynx need a victory Tuesday night to keep their title defense hopes alive.
Getty Images

The first round of the WNBA Playoffs will be quick and merciless, with the bottom four teams becoming two by the end of the night in a pair of single-elimination games. Here’s how to watch.

No. 8 Dallas Wings (15-19) at No. 5 Phoenix Mercury (20-14)

When: Tuesday, August 21 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Wells Fargo Arena ASU (Tempe, AZ) | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN2

Injuries: For the Wings, Kaela Davis (vertigo) is doubtful and Tayler Hill (ankle) is questionable. For the Mercury, Stephanie Talbot (nose) is probable.

Storylines to follow

Season series: Mercury won, 2-1

The Wings needed just one win against the right team to lock up a playoff spot, and despite losing 10 of 11 games in that span, they got that one win. But that span of losses doesn’t bode well at all for a must-win game, especially against a team on a four-game winning streak playing in their home state. There’s no chance to feel out this Mercury team and maybe give up a Game 1 loss, because there is no Game 1 in the first round — it’s win or go home.

While Dallas has its power duo in Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith doing much of the work to keep their team relatively afloat, Phoenix welcoming DeWanna Bonner back to the lineup after missing the 2017 season means they’ve been working with a power trio in Bonner, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. And while the Mercury have stumbled hard a few times this season, if even two of these three players are healthy and active, it’s very difficult to get past them.

With how the Wings have been playing lately, and the fact that they’ve been relying heavily on dominant individual performances rather than a team effort in the turmoil of a sudden coaching change, Dallas doesn’t seem long for these playoffs. But maybe, just maybe, if they can turn up the defense and put forth a balanced attack — also known as what got them a 29-point win against the Mercury on July 10 — the Wings might just be able to fly away with this one.

No. 7 Minnesota Lynx (18-16) at No. 6 Los Angeles Sparks (19-15)

When: Tuesday, August 21 at 10:30 p.m. ET

Where: Staples Center (Los Angeles) | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN2

Injuries: For the Lynx, Rebekkah Brunson (concussion) is questionable and Danielle Robinson (ankle) is out. For the Sparks, Nneka Ogwumike (illness) is probable.

Storylines to follow

Season series: Sparks won, 3-1

For the first time since 2015, this power matchup isn’t taking center stage at the Finals. Instead, one of these two teams will be going home early.

That this meeting is taking place at the very beginning of the playoffs is a testament to how all-around dominant this season has been. Suddenly, the two teams that many expected to meet once more in the Finals are fighting to stay alive, and fans will only be graced with one more Lynx-Sparks game this season instead of a possible five.

The Sparks had the upper hand this season, winning both teams’ regular-season opener by a single point and working their way up to a 22-point rout on August 2. In that game, Candace Parker led everyone with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while only Sylvia Fowles broke double digits for the Lynx as the team shot just 41 percent. Also hurting the Lynx in that game was their dismal 1-for-10 performance from three, while the Sparks went 8-of-16.

But neither team impressed to close out the regular season. In each team’s last five games, the Lynx managed just two wins while the Sparks only won their sole home game in that span. And with the Lynx having won their final regular-season game and the Sparks ending their season on a two-game losing streak, it’s anyone’s guess who can put it all together when it counts most.

Timing-wise, it might not be the Sparks-Lynx matchup we expected, but considering where these teams are now, the strength and unpredictability of this clash should hold true one more time.

How to #WatchThemWork during the 2018 WNBA Playoffs