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Previews: Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces face off in highly-anticipated battle

Tuesday brings four games with playoff implications. Not only do two first-place teams — the Connecticut Sun (17-6) and Las Vegas Aces (17-6) — face off, but the other two in the top four — the Seattle Storm (18-7) and Minnesota Lynx (14-9) — also meet. At the other end of the standings, the Los Angeles Sparks (10-13) and Washington Mystics (8-14) are competing for eighth place and the Chicago Sky (11-12) have the opportunity to return to .500 against the Atlanta Dream (6-17).

WNBA All-Star Game
MVP candidates A’ja Wilson (left) and Jonquel Jones (right) meet.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Tuesday night brings what might be one of the best games of the WNBA season!

At 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3), the Connecticut Sun (17-6) host the Las Vegas Aces (17-6) with both teams hoping for a win and a Seattle loss to put them in first place. Right now Seattle owns the three-way head-to-head tiebreaker over the Sun and Aces.

Both teams enter the contest well rested and playing well. The Sun have not played since Aug. 19, when they defeated the Minnesota Lynx for the second time in a row for their third-straight regular-season win since the end of the Olympic Break and fifth-straight overall. The Aces have been off even longer, not playing since the second of their two-straight home wins over the Washington Mystics on Aug. 17.

The circumstances thus seem right for a potentially-relevant Finals preview!

This will be the third and final meeting between these two squads, with the Sun claiming the win in both of the previous contests. On May 23, Connecticut got the win at The House in Vegas, 72-65. Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones combined for 60 points for the Sun. This frontcourt scoring outburst was complemented by a domination of the glass, as the Sun grabbed 44 boards, outrebounding the far-from-undersized Aces by 18.

Just over a week later, on June 1, Connecticut earned a 74-67 home win behind 23 points from J. Jones. For Vegas, Liz Cambage scored a game-high 28 points; however, for the second time against Connecticut, A’ja Wilson struggled. In both games, Wilson scored 14 points, her third-lowest scoring outputs of the season. She has also averaged six boards against the Sun, well below her season average of 9.5.

Wilson thus seems due for a big game. Because Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jonquel Jones is widely considered the leading contender to take the MVP trophy from Wilson, the reigning MVP should be motivated to show that she has no intention of relinquishing that crown.

At the same time that the Sun and Aces are battling, two other top teams will meet. The Minnesota Lynx (14-9) welcome the Seattle Storm (18-7) to the Twin Cities (ESPN2).

After two-straight Sue Bird-less and Breanna Stewart-less losses that dropped them to third in the standings, the Storm secured two-straight wins. Fresh off a visit to the White House, Seattle will seek to keep things rolling with a win over Minnesota, which will look to continue to rebound from a rough trip to Connecticut that snapped an eight-game winning streak.

At the other end of the playoff standings, the Washington Mystics (8-14) and Los Angeles Sparks (10-13) meet at 7 ET (ESPN3) in a contest with eighth-seed implications. Boosted by the return of former MVP Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks have won four-straight games, vaulting into the eighth spot in the standings. The Mystics are hoping their former MVP likewise can increase their playoff odds. While Elena Delle Donne made her much-anticipated return to the court on Sunday, DC was unable to steal a win from Seattle, dropping their fourth-straight game. Thus far, these squads have split their two games, meaning the winner will gain a critical edge in their potential fight for the final playoff spot.

Finally, also at 7 ET (ESPN3), the Chicago Sky (11-12) need to take care of business against the Atlanta Dream (6-17). Sinking just below .500 after two-straight losses, the Sky must get the win over the long-winless Dream if they want to have a chance of earning a first-round playoff bye.

Game information

Connecticut Sun (17-6) vs. Las Vegas Aces (17-6)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT

How to watch: ESPN3, NESN+ or MYLVTV

Key to matchup: The Aces’ newly-minted 3x3 gold medalist Kelsey Plum has yet to play against the Sun this season. Can she shift the dynamics of the matchup? In Vegas’ last game, Plum had one of her best games of the season, using a 3-for-4 performance from 3-point range to power her way to 24 points. She also had five assists and five free throws, positive indicators of an offensively-engaged mindset. Coming off a lost season due to an Achilles injury, in combination with the time she missed for Olympic qualifying, Plum has gradually found her groove in the Aces’ hierarchy over the course of the season, with her minutes increasing and numbers improving month by month. If this trend continues, things bode well for Vegas on Tuesday, and moving forward.

Sun injury report: Alyssa Thomas (out for the season; Achilles)

Aces injury report: Angel McCoughtry (our for the season; knee)

Highlight: An aggressive Kelsey Plum rightly has the Aces hyped!

Minnesota Lynx (14-9) vs. Seattle Storm (18-7)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center in Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: ESPN2 or TSN2

Key to matchup: Is the wear and tear of her Olympic experience starting to catch up to Jewell Loyd? Unlike her fellow Olympian teammates, Loyd has yet to take a game or two off for load management. Instead, she returned to the WNBA court in full gold-medal Gold Mamba mode, dropping 26, 35 and 29 points in the first three regular-season contests of the second half of the season. However, her scoring shine began to fade in fourth quarter of Seattle’s Aug. 18 loss in New York, when she was 0-for-7 from the field as the Storm relinquished a double-digit lead. On Sunday, she struggled in DC, shooting 2-for-12 as she missed all five of her 3-point attempts. Possibly, head coach Noelle Quinn will encourage Loyd to take a quick reprieve from the court, with the rest allowing her to rediscover her sure-fire scoring chops for the stretch run of the season.

Lynx injury report: Rennia Davis (out for season; foot)

Storm injury report: Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (out for season; personal)

Highlight: Gold Mamba mode activated

Washington Mystics (8-14) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (10-13)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.

How to watch: ESPN3, NBC Sports Washington, Spectrum Sportsnet or NBA TV Canada

Key to matchup: Nneka Ogwumike is not the only Ogwumike back for the Sparks. Chiney returned to the court on Sunday for the first time since May 28 and, like her big sister, provided her squad with a substantial spark. Although playing only nine minutes, C. Ogwumike scored six points on 3-for-4 shooting, adding a pair of rebounds, a steal and a block. She also was tied for the team’s highest plus-minus at plus-10. If C. Ogwumike consistently can provide LA with an injection of energy as she works her way back into playing shape, the Sparks will be better situated to hold onto the eighth seed.

Mystics injury report: Tina Charles (out; gluteal strain)

Sparks injury report: Jasmine Walker (out for season; knee)

Highlight: Sparks fans have been waiting for the Nneka-to-Chiney connection

Atlanta Dream (6-17) vs. Chicago Sky (11-12)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Gateway Center Arena @ College Park in Atlanta, GA

How to watch: ESPN3, Bally Sports Southeast, The U or SN 1

Key to the matchup: It has been a bit of an odd season for Diamond DeShields. After a shortened, injury-plagued 2020 season, many assumed DeShields was poised for her true star — if not superstar — turn, exceeding the overall impact of her 2019 All-Star season. Instead, her 2021 has been inconsistent, with exciting flashes balanced by bouts of on-court invisibility. She is averaging 11.5 points per game on a career-low effective field goal percentage of 43.1 percent. She also has the lowest usage percentage of her career at 19.7 percent. On Sunday, Chicago head coach James Wade shifted DeShields to the bench, possibly in hopes of tapping into the best version of her by giving her more usage. She shot a frigid 2-for-11 from the field, scoring only six points and grabbing only two rebounds. DeShields finally making the leap expected of her would demonstrably help a Sky team stuck in the middle of the standings.

Dream injury report: Cheyenne Parker (out for the season; personal), Chennedy Carter (out; suspension), Candice Dupree (doubtful; back), Tiffany Hayes (doubtful; knee)

Sky injury report: Candace Parker (probable; ankle)

Highlight: A sparkling steal and score from Diamond