On Thursday at 7 p.m. ET, the Las Vegas Aces (5-3) will challenge the New York Liberty (5-2) in a Big Apple battle. Expect this contest to be a contrast of styles.
Stellar 3-point shooting has fueled the Liberty’s surprisingly successful start to the 2021 season. New York is shooting a league-best 43.2 percent from deep on 27.4 attempts per game, an almost ideal realization of head coach Walt Hopkins’ modernized, five-out offensive system. All members of the Liberty’s current starting lineup — Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney, Sami Whitcomb, Michaela Onyenwere and Kylee Shook — are shooting 44 percent or better from 3-point range. Laney leads the way at 48 percent while Sami Whitcomb is converting 46.5 percent of her 6-plus attempts per game. Only Rebecca Allen, a career 36.7 percent 3-point shooter, is struggling from behind the arc at 21.7 percent.
The Aces, as is their wont, are at the other end of the spectrum, taking a league-low 13.4 3-pointers per game. Vegas converts their relative paucity of threes at a league-average rate of 33.6 percent. As such, the math would appear to favor the Liberty, as their threes should give them the scoring edge over the Aces’ twos.
However, head coach Bill Laimbeer stubbornly believes his team can defy the math due to their domination of the paint and penchant for free throws. The Aces lead the league with 39.8 points in the paint per game. They also are tops in the WNBA with 21.8 free throw attempts per game, on which they shoot 82.2 percent. Considering the Liberty’s lack of intimidating interior defense, evidenced by the 38.0 points in the paint that they allow per game (the second-worst mark in the league), the Aces should have the opportunity to feast.
Tina Charles’ performance against New York — when she scored 16 of her season-high 34 points in the paint — can serve as the model for Liz Cambage. For the season, Charles ranks first for points in paint per game (13.7); Cambage is fifth (10.3). In two games against the Seattle Storm, the only team that relinquishes more paint points than the Liberty, Cambage posted 14 and 16 points in the paint, respectively. On Tuesday, she tallied 18 points inside, and that was against a more stout Connecticut Sun defense.
So, don’t be surprised if Cambage has a big game in the Big Apple.
In Thursday’s other action, the Phoenix Mercury (4-3) and Chicago Sky (2-5) will complete their home-and-home series in the Valley at 10 p.m. ET. On Tuesday night, Kia Nurse delivered the Mercury the last-second win in the Windy City, Euro stepping into a heave just across half court to hand the Sky a fifth-straight loss. Back in Southern California after a 2-1 road trip, the Los Angeles Sparks (2-3) will look for their first win of the season in LA, hosting the stumbling Indiana Fever (1-8) at 10:30 p.m. ET.
New York Liberty (5-2) vs. Las Vegas Aces (5-3)
When: Thursday, June 3 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
How to watch: YES, MYLVTV or TSN1
Key to the matchup: In their overtime loss to the Atlanta Dream last Saturday, Sabrina Ionescu had the lowest usage rate — 15 percent — of her career. The Dream effectively employed defensive aggression to trap Ionescu and get the ball out of her hands. As no other guard corps plays as aggressively as Atlanta’s, Ionescu should find more opportunities to score and play make against Las Vegas. The early legend of Ionescu suggests she will respond with something incredible. However, the Aces have the league’s third-best defense (94.7 rating), with their personnel giving them the size and strength needed to prevent a signature Sabrina performance.
Liberty injury report: Leaonna Odom (probable; Achilles soreness), Jazmine Jones (questionable; elbow), Natasha Howard (out; knee), Jocelyn Willoughby (out; Achilles injury)
Aces injury report: Angel McCoughtry (out for season; knee)
Phoenix Mercury (4-3) vs. Chicago Sky (2-5)
When: Thursday, June 3 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, AZ
How to watch: CBS Sports Network or The U
Key to the matchup: Finally, the Sky are becoming whole. Although Candace Parker remains questionable due to her troublesome ankle, Stefanie Dolson and Allie Quigley are expected to return to the lineup. Just as important as these returns is Diamond DeShields rounding into form. DeShields has eased her way into the season as she returns from the quad injury that cut short her 2020 season. On Tuesday, she scored a season-high 26 points. Even more encouraging, she got to the free throw line a season-high 11 times, a sign that her athleticism and aggression are returning to 2019 levels. A fully-operational DeShields, in combination with a shrinking injury report, can help Chicago knock off Phoenix and begin to approach their preseason expectations.
Mercury injury report: Diana Taurasi (out; chest), Bria Hartley (out; knee)
Sky injury report: Allie Quigley (probable; hamstring), Stefanie Dolson (probable; Team USA 3x3 qualifying), Candace Parker (out; ankle)
Los Angeles Sparks (2-3) vs. Indiana Fever (1-8)
When: Thursday, June 3 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, CA
How to watch: Spectrum Sportsnet, fever.wnba.com or NBA TV Canada
Key to the matchup: Woof! We’ve got the league’s worst offense going against the league’s worst defense. Can the offensively-inept Sparks (86.4 rating) put points on the board against the undisciplined Fever D (109.6)? Or, can Indy muster enough defense to keep the LA offense under wraps? It is not the most inspiring matchup. Unfortunately for the Sparks, their offense has been even worse in the unfriendly confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center (78.9 rating). More promisingly, LA sharpened their defense during their three-game road trip (95.2 rating), indicating that they might be able to muck up the Indiana offense enough to win a low-scoring, ugly affair.
Sparks injury report: Nneka Ogwumike (out; knee), Chiney Ogwumike (out; knee), Jasmine Walker (out for season; knee)
Fever injury report: Bernadett Határ (questionable; ankle), Aaliyah Wilson (out; foot)