clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preview: Mystics host Sparks, Sun host Mercury in hotly-contested second round

Just three games separated these four teams during the regular season. Tonight, two of them go home and two of them head to the semifinals, which begin this weekend.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Connecticut Sun v Phoenix Mercury
Diana Taurasi (L) drives past Brionna Jones (R) earlier this season. The Sun finished the regular season one game ahead of the Mercury, although the Mercury took the season series, 2-1. Both teams face off for a semifinals berth Thursday night.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Another round of single-elimination playoff games is coming up Thursday night, with the winners moving on to face No. 1 Seattle and No. 2 Atlanta in the semifinals. Here’s how to watch.

No. 6 Los Angeles Sparks (19-15) at No. 3 Washington Mystics (22-12)

The Sparks beat the Lynx on Tuesday, 75-68, to advance to the second round. Due to their top-4 seed, this is the Mystics’ first game of the playoffs.

When: Thursday, August 23 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Charles E. Smith Center (Washington, DC) | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN2

Injuries: For the Sparks, Candace Parker (illness) and Nneka Ogwumike (illness) are probable.

Storylines to follow

Season series: Mystics won, 2-1

The first two games of the season series between these teams were very evenly split — not in terms of the closeness of the game, but because each team managed a sizable victory on their opponent’s home floor.

But when the Sparks visited the Mystics just six days ago, it was more reminiscent of a playoff atmosphere than either of those, which bodes well for tonight’s contest. Washington needed a Natasha Cloud buzzer-beater to escape with the victory in a low-scoring, albeit low-accuracy night for both teams. Neither team shot above 40 percent, so late-game heroics were called for, and Cloud was able to step up and provide them.

Of course, it’s ideal for fans and the possibility of advancement to the semifinals for both teams to make their shots. Playing down to the level of an inferior team because you think you can pull out a win is one thing, but doing so when a battle against the Dream or Storm is on the horizon won’t inspire much confidence.

Both teams lost their final game of the regular season, and while the Sparks are riding high off a win against their rival Lynx in Tuesday’s first round, they could be without (in some capacity, if not entirely) All-Star top scorers Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike on Thursday, as both are are battling illnesses. If the Mystics can step up and take advantage of what would be two monumental absences — even if both players make appearances on short rest following a cross-country flight — the semifinals could be closer than they think.

No. 5 Phoenix Mercury (20-14) at No. 4 Connecticut Sun (21-13)

The Mercury beat the Wings on Tuesday, 101-83, to advance to the second round. Due to their top-4 seed, this is the Sun’s first game of the playoffs.

When: Thursday, August 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, CT) | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN2

Injuries: For the Sun, Chiney Ogwumike (knee) is probable.

Storylines to follow

Season series: Mercury won, 2-1

Once again, the playoffs scheduling has allowed the most anticipated matchup to round out the evening. Both of these teams finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak. Both started the season strong and enjoyed a run in first place before faltering. They finished the regular season within just one game of each other, and in this instance, the lower seed owns the season series victory in dominant fashion.

That said, the Mercury were able to win both their games against the Sun this season at home, while the Sun picked up their win in Connecticut. With tonight’s game being yet another home game for the Sun — but with such heavy momentum on both sides coming in strong — it will be fascinating to see how much home-court advantage plays a role.

These teams also haven’t played since July 13, when the Mercury were in something of a freefall following Sancho Lyttle’s season-ending injury at the end of June, losing 7-of-8 in that span. Phoenix’s core trio of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner scored 63 of the team’s 87 points in that game, which fell short against a somewhat more balanced outing from the Sun, who were led by Courtney Williams’ 25 points and Chiney Ogwumike’s 22.

It’s safe to say that the Mercury have rebounded strongly since then, capping off an all-around encouraging performance against the Wings on Tuesday night, a team they were all but expected to beat by a lot, and did. The Sun will be well-rested for tonight’s matchup, not having needed to exert the energy to knock off the lowest-seeded team before flying cross-country. But if both teams can play how they did to finish the season, the winner of this one should come out feeling more than ready for the semifinals.

How to #WatchThemWork during the 2018 WNBA Playoffs