When the Chicago Sky signed Candace Parker as a free agent this past offseason, they imagined she would be a difference maker. However, they might wish her impact was not so stark.
With Parker was out of the lineup for eight games due to an injured ankle, the Sky struggled to a 1-7 record, losing seven-straight games. When Parker plays, they’re a perfect 6-0. Chicago has followed up their seven-game Parker-less slide with a five-game Parker-powered win streak.
Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on Amazon Prime, the Sky (7-7) will aim to secure a sixth-straight contest and preserve their perfection with Parker when they head to Brooklyn to meet the New York Liberty (6-6) for the first time this season.
Browsing box scores, Parker’s absolute importance to the Sky does not pop off the page. She is not putting up absurd numbers or obviously dominating. In fact, she has struggled to find her offensive rhythm in multiple game. In Saturday’s win over the Connecticut Sun, Parker managed only three points in 26 minutes, shooting a shuddering 16.7 percent from the field.
However, as Lisa Leslie emphasized on Saturday’s CBS broadcast, it is about “presence over points” with Parker. Advanced stats capture Parker’s impact. She leads the Sky with a plus-minus of plus-10.2; Chicago’s team-wide plus-minus is plus-2.3. When Parker is on the court, Chicago has an offensive rating of 101.2 and a defensive rating of 83.5, which translates to an overall net rating of 17.7. For the season, the Sky have an offensive rating of 97.7, a defensive rating of 95.2 and a net rating of 2.5.
Once she fully recovers from her troublesome ankle, it can safely be assumed that Parker’s raw offensive stats — 11.5 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting from the field — will improve. Add offensive efficiency to her eight rebounds, nearly four assists and more than a block per game and Parker, deservedly, will be in the middle of the MVP conversation.
The Liberty have their own MVP candidate in Betnijah Laney. The 2020 Most Improved Player did not rest on her laurels. No, she has leveled up, with no intent of relenting.
If Parker’s impact has been somewhat subtle, Laney’s has been undoubtedly evident. Even as the LA Sparks’ defenders successfully swarmed her on Sunday, she still got her buckets, scoring an efficient 14 points in the Liberty’s win. For the season, she is averaging almost 20 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 58.5 percent. A few too many turnovers are Laney’s only blemish.
For the Liberty to snap the Sky’s winning streak, they’ll need another excellent performance from her, in large part because the matchup should allow Parker to have a big-time game. Without Natasha Howard or Kiah Stokes, the New York defense does not have the size and athleticism to counter Parker. If Parker feasts, carving up the Liberty by getting her own points and playmaking for her teammates, Laney will need to respond by unleashing a three-level scoring effort.
A few more MVP candidates also are in action on Tuesday night. In the late game, Tina Charles and the Washington Mystics (6-6) will take on Breanna Stewart and the Seattle Storm (12-2). Both squads will be looking to extend win streaks, with the Mystics shooting for a third-straight win and the Storm seeking a sixth-consecutive victory.
A missing MVP candidate could swing the outcome of the evening’s first game between the Connecticut Sun (8-5) and Dallas Wings (6-7). Not unlike Parker, Jonquel Jones’s absence illuminates her value. Since Jones left the team to participate in EuroBasket with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sun have lost three-straight, largely due to their inability to generate good offense for 40 minutes. In these three games, their offensive rating has plummeted to 95.7 as they have scored only 74 points per game. To hang with the Wings, and their super-scoring duo of Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, the Sun will need to find more offensive firepower.
Connecticut Sun (8-5) vs. Dallas Wings (6-7)
When: Tuesday, June 22 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
How to watch: NESN+, Bally Sports SW or TSN
Key to the matchup: That Marina Mabrey magic! After going scoreless in the Wings’ Thursday loss to the Lynx, she came back with a vengeance in the Saturday rematch, dropping a career-high 28 points in 18 minutes as Dallas earned the dominating win. Her five 3-pointers gave her 34 for the season, which is tied for first in the league with teammate Arike Ogunbowale and Sue Bird. The effort further burnished her Most Improved and Sixth Woman award campaigns. She can again add to her resume in Connecticut, as her off-the-bench offensive juice should again be valuable against a Sun team that currently is struggling with scoring droughts.
Sun injury report: Jonquel Jones (out; EuroBasket), Alyssa Thomas (out for season; Achilles)
Wings injury report: none
Highlight: Marina Mabrey rains another triple
New York Liberty (7-6) vs. Chicago Sky (7-7)
When: Tuesday, June 22 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
How to watch: Amazon Prime, YES App or The U
Key to the matchup: It is not only due to Candace Parker that the Chicago Sky have turned a seven-game losing streak into a five-game winning streak. Allie Quigley appears to have recovered from the balky hamstring that caused her to miss six games. Coming off the bench after serving as a consistent starter the past four seasons, Quigley’s shooting helps the Sky offense run smoothly. A renowned 3-point shooter, she is hitting a career-best 46.2 percent from deep this season. During the Sky’s current five-game win streak, she is converting a fiery 57.1 percent of her 3s. There also is untapped upside with Quigley’s shooting, as she is taking 3.3 threes per game, her fewest since 2016.
Liberty injury report: Sabrina Ionescu (probable; ankle), Kiah Stokes (out; EuroBasket), Natasha Howard (out; knee), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)
Sky injury report: Astou Ndour-Fall (out; EuroBasket)
Highlight: Allie Quigley can do more than drain it from deep
Seattle Storm (12-2) vs. Washington Mystics (6-6)
When: Tuesday, June 22 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, WA
How to watch: JOETV or Monumental
Key to the matchup: Throughout her WNBA career, Theresa Plaisance has enticed as a stretch big. However, this skillset largely has been theoretical, as a series of unfortunate injuries have limited her effectiveness. Now in good health, she is beginning to realize her potential. Due to an injury to Myisha Hines-Allen, head coach Mike Thibault was forced to rely on Plaisance for more than 30 minutes of playing time in both of the Mystics’ past two games. She did not disappoint, lighting up the Dream for a career-high 25 points before dropping 16 on the Fever. Both games were Washington wins. Over the past four games, Plaisance has hit 13 triples. Until Hines-Allen and, eventually, Elena Delle Donne return, Plaisance should have a permanent, important place in Thibault’s rotation.
Storm injury report: Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (out for season; personal)
Mystics injury report: Natasha Cloud (out; ankle), Myisha Hines-Allen (out; knee), Kiara Leslie (out; concussion), Erica McCall (out, knee); Elena Delle Donne (out indefinitely; back)