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Previews: Connecticut Sun, Phoenix Mercury aim to keep winning streaks alive

The Connecticut Sun (20-6) have won eight games in a row. The Phoenix Mercury (15-10) have notched six-straight wins. Can both squads keep rolling? The Sun meet the Washington Mystics (10-15) while the Mercury host the Chicago Sky (14-12). In other action, the Los Angeles Sparks (10-16) and New York Liberty (11-16) will look to get back in the win column against the Indiana Fever (5-19) and Minnesota Lynx (15-9), respectively.

WNBA: AUG 26 Los Angeles Sparks at Connecticut Sun
The members of the Connecticut Sun starting five are, rightly, all smiles, riding an eight-game winning streak.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The league-leading Connecticut Sun (20-6) have the opportunity to claim the longest winning streak of the 2021 WNBA season when they head to the nation’s capital on Tuesday evening to meet the Washington Mystics (10-15) at 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV).

Winners of eight-straight games, a ninth win in a row by the Sun would surpass the Minnesota Lynx’s eight-game streak, which, coincidentally, was snapped by the Sun.

The Sun’s schedule certainly helped them secure this streak, as they have enjoyed a five-game home stand at Mohegan Sun Arena, where the Sun are almost unbeatable, in part because opponents must travel to the outpost of Uncasville, Conn.

However, by no means are the Sun vulnerable away from home. They have compiled a 12-5 record on the road, with a net rating of 6.8. All the more, two of these losses came without Jonquel Jones, as Connecticut dropped both games of a two-game set against the Sky in Chicago when Jones was competing in EuroBasket.

With the Mystics missing Tina Charles and possibly Elena Delle Donne, it is hard to bet against the Sun securing a ninth-consecutive win.

The Phoenix Mercury (15-10) likewise are streaking.

Winners of six-straight games, they followed up an undefeated three-game home stand with an undefeated three-game road trip. They return to the Valley, welcoming the Chicago Sky (14-12), fresh off their two-game sweep of the Storm in Seattle, for a contest on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET (NBA TV).

The challenge of winning a seventh game in a row could be made more difficult by the absence of Brittney Griner. Griner missed the Phoenix’s second game in New York, having tweaked her ankle in the waning seconds of the Mercury’s first win over the Liberty last Wednesday.

Fortunately for Phoenix, Skylar Diggins-Smith has been scintillating. After receiving only limited minutes for Team USA during the Tokyo Olympics, Diggins-Smith seems intent upon proving that she is one of most elite women hoopers in the world, winning Western Conference Player of the Week for her efforts. During the Mercury’s three-game road trip, she averaged 26.3 points, 6.3 assists, 2.3 steals and a block per game. She drained an average of three 3-pointers per game, shooting 60 percent from behind the arc. She also got to the line for eight free throws per game.

It will be interesting to see how Sky head coach James Wade deploys his long, athletic perimeter defenders in Kahleah Copper and Diamond DeShields against Diggins-Smith.

Two more games dot the Tuesday night WNBA schedule.

Following their four-game winning streak, the Los Angeles Sparks (10-16) have dropped three-straight games on their East Coast road trip. Their trip continues against the Fever (5-19) in Indiana at 7 p.m. ET (Twitter).

The New York Liberty (11-16) also will be looking to stall a slide when they face the Minnesota Lynx (15-9) at 8 p.m. ET (Amazon Prime). Having lost four games in a row, the Liberty have fallen to the eighth spot in standings, barely hanging on to the final playoff spot. It will be difficult to avoid a fifth-straight loss, as the Lynx have not lost at the Target Center since June 15.

Game information

Indiana Fever (5-19) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (10-16)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, IN

How to watch: Twitter or Bally Sports Indiana

Key to the matchup: Many WNBA watchers have been waiting for the full-fledged Kelsey Mitchell breakout, when the NCAA’s second all-time leading scorer would move beyond flashes of stardom and blossom into a certified offensive superstar. Instead, the fourth-year wing has plateaued, if not slightly regressed. Her scoring efficiency is down, in large part due to her struggles from behind the arc. She also has assumed a reduced playmaking role, evidenced by her lower assist percentage and average. In August, Mitchell has been more aggressive looking for her shot, upping her field goal attempts to 18.3 per game after averaging 14.4 attempts over the first half of the season. Even if her efficiency is still lagging, the increased aggression is encouraging, especially since it makes it more likely that Mitchell could have one of her explosive scoring games that, critically, could help the Fever find another win.

Fever injury report: Danielle Robinson (questionable; ankle), Kysre Gondrezick (out indefinitely; personal), Bernadett Határ (out indefinitely; ankle), Chelsey Perry (out for season; knee)

Sparks injury report: Chiney Ogwumike (questionable; knee), Kristi Toliver (out; hand), Jasmine Walker (out for season; knee)

Highlight: Kelsey Mitchell with the determined drive to the hoop

Washington Mystics (10-15) vs. Connecticut Sun (20-6)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. ET

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

How to watch: NBA TV, NBC Sports Washington and NESN+

Key to the matchup: While the Sun are hyping Briann January as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, it also is worth appreciating the importance of January’s offense to the Sun’s success. For the season, she is averaging 6.9 points per game on six field goal attempts, with 1.3 free throw and 2.3 trey attempts. During Connecticut’s current win streak, she is putting in 9.8 points per game, slightly increasing her attempts from the line and from deep. She has scored in double figures in five of these eight games, highlighted by her season-high 19 points, on 70-percent shooting, against the Las Vegas Aces. An aggressive and efficient January makes the already-dangerous Sun an even more daunting challenge for opponents.

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

Mystics injury report: Elena Delle Donne (questionable; back), Tina Charles (out; glute strain)

Highlights: Briann January scorched the Aces with her hot shooting

Minnesota Lynx (15-9) vs. New York Liberty (11-16)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center in Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: Amazon Prime or Bally Sports North+

Key to the matchup: Is this DiDi Richards for real? Since the Olympic break, the rookie from Baylor has taken a demonstrable leap. Expected primarily to be a defensive disruptor, she has offered some unexpected offensive contributions of late. Not a 3-point shooter in college, she has taken 2.2 threes per game in August, converting them at 61.5 percent. Although that percentage is not sustainable, the prospect of Richards settling in as a reliable, above-average 3-point shooter would be a significant value add for New York’s 3-point-happy offense, especially since she also is an impact player on the defensive end.

Lynx injury report: Rennia Davis (out for season; foot), Sylvia Fowles (questionable; shoulder), Layshia Clarendon (out; leg)

Liberty injury report: Sami Whitcomb (questionable; ankle), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles), Jazmine Jones (out; foot)

Highlights: DiDi Richards drains the deep ball!

Phoenix Mercury (15-10) vs. Chicago Sky (14-12)

When: Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ

How to watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports AZ+, The U or NBA TV Canada

Key to the matchup: For most teams, a four-game West Coast road trip would be quite perilous. Not so for the Sky! For the season, Chicago is 10-4 on the road, compared to 4-8 at home. As such, maybe it shouldn’t have been that surprising that the Sky swept their two-game set with the Storm in Seattle. While it was their offense that powered the big-time blowout win over the Storm on Sunday, it is their defense that has distinguished their road performances from their home performances. Chicago has a 101.3 defensive rating at home and a 92.4 defensive rating on the road. They thus are a more than legitimate threat to snap the Mercury’s win streak in Phoenix. The Sky also should have some extra motivation since the Mercury won the first two games between these squads by a combined margin of four points.

Mercury injury report: Brittney Griner (questionable; ankle), Bria Hartley (out indefinitely; knee)

Sky injury report: Astou Ndour-Fall (out; foot)

Highlights: Enjoy the best of Chicago’s offensive explosion in Seattle