The Las Vegas Aces (19-7) welcome the Chicago Sky (14-13) on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET as each is fighting to settle its playoff position. Earlier in the night, at 8 p.m. ET, the Dallas Wings (11-15) are at home against the Atlanta Dream (6-19), who have lost their last 10 games. The Minnesota Lynx (16-9), who are closing in on the current No. 3 seed Seattle Storm, face the “in the hunt” Los Angeles Sparks (10-17) at 8 p.m. ET. At 10 p.m. ET, the Storm (18-10) will look to end their three-game losing streak when they face the New York Liberty (11-17), who enter tonight just half a game ahead of the Sparks.
First of two
The Aces and the Sky meet for the first time this season and will play again on Sunday in Chicago to close out the two-game mini series.
The Aces have won seven of their last 10 games and are just 1.5 games behind the Connecticut Sun. Las Vegas is the highest-scoring team in the league at 88.8 points per contest, with 81 percent of their shots coming from inside the 3-point line. A’ja Wilson leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds on average. Liz Cambage is averaging 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Additionally, the Aces have the luxury of bringing Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby off of the bench. Plum brings 12.8 points, which is third on the team, and 3.8 assists while Hamby scores 11.7 points and contributes 5.8 rebounds.
The Sky’s record of 5-5 over their last 10 games describes their season in a nutshell: some highs and lows. The highs came last weekend when they handed the Storm two losses, including a 107-75 blowout. A low was following up that performance with a devastating 103-83 loss at the hands of the surging Phoenix Mercury.
The unevenness in Chicago’s play has surprisingly come on the offensive end. The Sky have an offensive rating of 100.8, which is sixth in the league, while their defensive rating of 97.7 is third in the league. The Sky are set for their lowest defensive rating since 2015, the last time it was under 100 for the season.
The Sky’s much improved defense gives them a chance, but at some point the scoring will have to pick up.
The Wings have alternated wins and losses over their last five games, which, if the trend is to continue, means that they should beat the struggling Dream. The Wings last played Aug. 28 in a one-point loss to the Washington Mystics in which they relinquished a 16-point halftime lead.
Arike Ogunbowale is a star in the league and is the engine of the Dallas offense. She is the only player to start all 26 games for the team. The Wings have won games against some of the better teams in the league but can lose to anyone in the league as well. This hot/cold problem for the Wings has left them fighting for one of the last spots in the playoffs.
For the Dream, it cannot get much worse. They have dropped their last 10 games and show no signs of being able to turn it around. The Dream’s season was derailed in July when Chennedy Carter was suspended. Without a true No. 1 scorer, the Dream have suffered.
Courtney Williams and Tiffany Hayes are the double-figure scorers for Atlanta with 15.9 and 14.6 points, respectively. The Dream also allow a league-worst 86.7 points per game.
Elsewhere, the Minnesota Lynx are officially in the playoffs but still have a chance to compete for a higher seed while the Los Angeles Sparks look to close the gap between themselves and the Liberty/Mystics.
Minnesota has won their last three games and eight of their last 10. The Lynx’s record of 16-9 might flatter them a little as they have a net rating of 3.2. However, when you have a future Hall-of-Fame center paired with a rising star power forward, you tend to be successful. Sylvia Fowles is averaging 16.6 points and 10 rebounds while Napheesa Collier is contributing 16.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
The Sparks are dead last in scoring with 73.1 points per game and their scoring against the Lynx has been worse (62.5 over two games). Both games ended in blowout victories for the Lynx. Los Angeles has just four wins in their last 14 games. The Sparks are in desperate need of a win.
Uncharted territory for Storm
The Storm have not lost three games in a row since 2018. The defending champions had been cruising through the 2021 regular season but now have just two wins in their last seven games. How they deal with this late season adversity could have a significant impact on the playoffs.
Look for Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd to give the Liberty headaches. Stewart is scoring 20.3 points per game on the year while Loyd is having a career year at 18 points per game. The Storm’s defense has been good all year, but has been faltering as of late. Marked improvement is necessary.
The Liberty have one win since July 9: an 83-79 victory over the Storm. However, that win was followed up by the Storm beating the Liberty 99-83. New York has a minus-7 point differential as defensive woes have plagued the team all year. Natasha Howard has to establish herself as the premier defender she was in Seattle. Her scoring has been inconsistent too, but that could be due to missing time.
The Liberty, like the Sparks, need a little consistency to end the season if they are going to make playoffs.