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Preview: Storm go for sweep, Dream and Mystics vie for series lead in Game 3 of semifinals

The lower-seeded teams will play host Friday night, but will home-court advantage help either of them as much as they need it to?

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The Washington Mystics and Phoenix Mercury have their work cut out for them in their respective Game 3s of the semifinals on Friday night.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The semifinals have moved to Washington, DC and Phoenix for tonight’s Game 3, where the Mystics will play host to a Dream team looking to take advantage of a big injury and the Mercury will try to avoid being swept by the Storm. Here’s what to expect and how to watch.

No. 2 Atlanta Dream (23-11) at No. 3 Washington Mystics (22-12)

The best-of-five series is tied, 1-1.

When: Friday, August 31 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Charles E. Smith Center, George Washington University | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPNEWS, NBA TV

Injuries: For the Mystics, Elena Delle Donne (knee) is questionable.

Storylines to follow

The Mystics are about to face their toughest playoff test this season. As they’re playing the next two games in DC, that’s saying a lot. But with high scorer, team leader and all-around star Elena Delle Donne down with a knee injury that could keep her out of tonight’s game, the Dream have a big opportunity to take a game or two on the road, just as the Mystics did in Atlanta.

Delle Donne’s absence will be felt even harder if her teammates can’t step up in her absence. For example, Kristi Toliver was the team’s second-leading scorer in Tuesday’s loss with 16 points, but she shot just 36.4 percent and missed some key shots late in the game. LaToya Sanders had 11 points on Tuesday and registered 4 blocks, but had a personal playoffs-low 3 rebounds. Of course, more players will have the opportunity to score without Delle Donne on the court, but many of her individual performances have been unmatched around the league this season, posing a difficult task for whoever replaces her.

The Dream, on the other hand, are still showing their strength in spite of not having had their own star, Angel McCoughtry, available. Most notable in these semifinals has been Alex Bentley who, coming off the bench, has led her team in scoring in the two prior games. Although Atlanta has been playing with a very short bench, Bentley has come alive in the time she has been given, acting almost as a sixth starter and giving the Mystics a lot of trouble, especially from three.

All things considered, Atlanta has the clear edge in this game. Washington has to hope that they can still keep things as close as they have been in the previous two games, feeding off the favorable crowd to pick up at least one win in this homestand.

No. 1 Seattle Storm (26-8) at No. 5 Phoenix Mercury (20-14)

The Storm lead the best-of-five series, 2-0.

When: Friday, August 31 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPNEWS, NBA TV

Injuries: Nothing new to report.

Storylines to follow

For three quarters in each of their semifinals games — maybe even three and a half — the Seattle Storm have proven that they deserve the No. 1 seed in the league. Their shooting is hot, their defense is impenetrable and all the stars are putting together top-class performances. Then, the last five or so minutes of the game rolls around, and that team doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

Credit where it’s due: If the Mercury can play like they have at the very end of Games 1 and 2 of these semifinals, this would be a whole different series. But as it stands, the Mercury are coming alive, feeding off near-impossible adversity (and, let’s be real, quite a bit of foul trouble) for a handful of minutes a game, just enough to make the Storm panic a little. In Game 1, Phoenix’s effort wasn’t quite enough. In Game 2, it was enough to force overtime.

In a different way than the Dream-Mystics series, which has been more of a constant slugfest between two very similar teams, the Mercury-Storm series has shown what happens when two teams who’ve tasted pure dominance (and a first-place position) this season are each able to show their biggest strengths — just not at the same time. And in that way, the Storm have the clear edge, pulling out all the stops from all of their recent award-winning players, right up until they don’t.

Now that the series has moved to Phoenix, it will be interesting to see if the Mercury can stay in a game throughout, rather than relying on some Diana Taurasi magic or a well-timed DeWanna Bonner shot to keep them in the contest. With the end of their season just one failed late-game comeback away, Phoenix doesn’t really have any other options.