After a protracted break, the WNBA Playoffs resume Sunday afternoon with two second-round matchups. Two new teams join the fold to face Wednesday’s winners: the No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks, who host the No. 6 Seattle Storm, and the No. 4 Las Vegas Aces, who host the No. 5 Chicago Sky.
The Sky and Aces have carved out something of a rivalry this season despite the fact that the Aces have been the stronger team in each of their meetings. Chicago managed their sole win of the series on Aug. 9, having to overcome a Liz Cambage/Dearica Hamby onslaught on offense and defense, but Vegas was without A’ja Wilson for that one.
Since returning from her ankle injury on Aug. 18 — a 100-85 defeat of the Sky in which she scored 25 points off the bench — Wilson has been back to her old self, not dipping below 11 points for the rest of the regular season. If she and Cambage are both on today, as they were last time they faced the Sky when they combined for 48 points, the Sky have a lot to be worried about.
But things have been going pretty well for the Sky. They’re 3-1 in September, including a loss at the top-seeded Washington Mystics and their 105-76 dismantling of the Phoenix Mercury in the first round. They also surpassed 100 points in all three wins, locking up their place as the WNBA’s second-highest-scoring team (the Aces are third).
Plus, although the Sky lost Jantel Lavender to injury (in that Aug. 9 win over the Aces, no less), Astou Ndour has been a powerful, reliable replacement in the starting five. If Chicago can get a high level of play from her and the rest of the starters, including first-round standouts Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot, they’ll be able to keep pace with the Aces’ own stars.
The Sky’s overall defense has been a concern — they’ve scored over 100 points in three of their last four games, but also given up 100 in two; they’re also the victim of the most 100-point opponent outings in the league at five (four being losses, one against the Aces). But the Aces also come in with something of a disadvantage, having lost four of their last six and not having played for a week.
While this is a home game for the Aces, they’re not playing on their true home court, but at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center for the first time ever. There should be plenty of home support, though, as it’s also their first-ever playoff game.
Here’s how to watch both of today’s second round games:
No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks vs. No. 6 Seattle Storm
When: Sunday, Sept. 15, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
How to watch: ESPN2, SN1
Keys to the matchup: These teams haven’t been consistent against one another this season: The Storm won big at home, followed by a close Sparks win in LA, then a Sparks blowout at home again. But the Sparks haven’t had many games like that loss, in which only Nneka Ogwumike scored in double figures. Meanwhile, the only consistency for the Storm in those three games was Natasha Howard, who averaged 15.3 points in each. The defending champs have a tough outing ahead, especially against a fully-healthy Sparks squad.
No. 4 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 5 Chicago Sky
When: Sunday, Sept. 15, at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
How to watch: ESPN2, TSN2
Keys to the matchup: A’ja Wilson and Astou Ndour will be the players to watch down low this evening. With Ndour away at EuroBasket during the team’s first meeting and Wilson injured in the second, the only time they’ve been on the court together this season was on Aug. 18. Both are significant presences for their teams, and both are also on hot streaks, which only further intensifies this clash. (Plus, for the first time this season, they’ll each be in their team’s starting lineups at the same time.)