A pair of feisty challengers await the first-place Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces in tonight’s games, as the Phoenix Mercury visit Connecticut and the Los Angeles Sparks host Las Vegas. The Sun come in with a five-game winning streak while the Aces’ win streak is at three games — will they be able to extend them?
Both underdogs have a lot going for them, though they remain fundamentally weak in other areas that might give them problems dethroning either team.
The Mercury had a record-breaking night on Tuesday, as three players scored 25 or more points. In a year where missing Diana Taurasi’s scoring output has meant Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner have had to step up their own scoring, performances like that — with help from Leilani Mitchell — are encouraging. In spite of getting 83 points from three players, though, Phoenix still lost that game, a testament to its over-reliance on big performances from individual scorers (and the dominance of the Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne).
On the other hand, the Sparks have been spreading the wealth a little more evenly, due mainly in part to having such a short bench of late. With only an eight-player rotation due to injury and suspension, Los Angeles has had to hope for a handful of players to have a big game each time out. To that effect, five players have had one or more double-digit games since the short rotation began, and the Sparks have gone 2-1. But whether they’ll be able to take it to the Aces, especially not having played since before the All-Star break, remains to be seen.
Tonight’s middle game between the New York Liberty and the Dallas Wings presents just one simple goal for both teams: win. The Wings are in the midst of a six-game losing streak, and their last outing on Tuesday was a blowout loss in which two of their rookies were their top scorers. However, the Liberty have lost four of their last five games, and against a Wings team that has still only won at home, facing them in Arlington will be a tall task.
Phoenix Mercury (10-9) vs. Connecticut Sun (14-6)
When: Thursday, August 1, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT
How to watch: CBS Sports Network
Keys to the matchup: Despite the Mercury’s inconsistency, the Sun have to know that they’re one bad scoring outing away from losing their first game since July 10. Both teams had big nights on Tuesday, though with differing results: Phoenix put up 93 points in a loss while Connecticut scored 100 points in a win. But the why in those scoring efforts is important. The Mercury got to their points total on a record-breaking outlier of a night, yes, but also in comeback fashion. The Sun, meanwhile, saw their scoring stall in the second half and nearly lost thanks to a Chicago Sky comeback. Another clash like that could see the Mercury sneak away with one of their biggest wins of the season.
New York Liberty (8-11) vs. Dallas Wings (5-15)
When: Thursday, August 1, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: College Park Center, Arlington, TX
How to watch: NBA TV, FOX Sports Southwest, SN1
Keys to the matchup: It has to be frustrating for the Wings’ challengers knowing that no matter how woeful they are on the road, at least half the time they’re able to pull off miracle wins at home. While the Liberty are not one of the teams who have fallen victim to the College Park Center magic, their own home win against the Wings on June 28 was a 69-68 nail-biter — not the type of energy to take into an away game. That said, Dallas hasn’t won in almost a month, nor has it broken 70 points in its last four games. This game is a toss-up not because the clash should be immediately exciting, but because it’s anyone’s guess which versions of these teams will show up when the competition isn’t top-tier.
Las Vegas Aces (14-6) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (11-8)
When: Thursday, August 1, at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
How to watch: ESPN2, NBA TV Canada
Keys to the matchup: No A’ja Wilson? No problem — at least at home against the 11th-place Wings on Tuesday. For the Aces, playing the Sparks in Los Angeles will be a little bit different, as LA has shown that despite its short bench, it can still conjure up scoring from a variety of sources. The magic number in these teams’ season series so far, currently tied 1-1, is 80: Score over 80 points, and the team wins the game. With both teams having scored around their season averages in their last couple of games — just south of 80 points for the Sparks and just north of 80 points for the Aces — meeting that number could result in a win once more tonight.