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Preview: What the Sky and Wings need to do to win in Round One

The Chicago Sky and Dallas Wings kick off the WNBA postseason.

Dallas Wings v Chicago Sky
Kahleah Copper of the Sky goes up for a layup against Moriah Jefferson of the Wings.
Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

After five months and 32 games, we have reached the do-or-die part of the season for the Chicago Sky and Dallas Wings. They only have one game to focus on right now and that’s Thursday night’s matchup in Chicago at Wintrust Arena. The winner will advance to the second round and play either the No. 3 Minnesota Lynx or the No. 4 Seattle Storm. The loser will be done with the 2021 WNBA season.

The Wings have to feel good coming into Thursday night’s game. They’ve made the playoffs for the first time since 2018, they have a superstar in Arike Ogunbowale on their team and they’ve beaten the Sky two out of three times this season. Not to mention, they are the on-paper underdog which puts less pressure on them and more pressure on Chicago.

For the Wings to win they’ll need a big game from Ogunbowale. In a playoff matchup it’s usually the stars that have to shine and carry the team to glory, especially if the game is close midway through the fourth quarter. Those are moments where superstars get you buckets. If the Wings find themselves in a one- or two-possession game, expect the ball to be in Ogunbowale’s hands.

In both wins the Wings had against the Sky, they shot the three ball incredibly well: 55 percent and 50 percent, respectively. In their one loss against the Sky they shot 24 percent. They’ll need be aggressive shooting the three if they want to win on the road.

Bench play is another key factor. The Wings have a deep bench and they’ll need to get good performances from players like Isabelle Harrison and Marina Mabrey if they want to compete with the equally stacked Chicago Sky bench.

The Sky have had an up-and-down season that all comes down to Thursday. Can they win and make it back the the second-round of the playoffs, a place they haven’t been since 2019? Can they salvage this lackluster season and become contenders again for the title?

This season has been glass half-empty, glass half-full for the Sky. Case in point, Thursday night’s game. The game is at home. That’s ideal right? The Sky will have that Wintrust crowd loud and active supporting the team in a must-win game. However, the Sky are 6-10 at home. So how much of a home-court advantage will Wintrust really be for them? I’m sure they’d rather be home than away in a one-game playoff, but the data won’t make any fans rest easy.

The Sky have the talent and experience to be favored in this game. This team has three All-Stars in the staring lineup and two former All-Stars on the bench. The Sky can be a phenomenal team. If they play up to their potential they can blow out anyone in the WNBA and do so convincingly. And, even with all the disappointments of 2021, they’re still in the driver’s seat, playing at home, with a fully healthy team ready to go.

Diamond DeShields is the X-factor for the Sky. She’s an All-Star caliber player that plays both ends of the floor in an explosive and dominant manner. If she can have a great game coming off the bench, that might just tip the scales in favor of the Sky. Stefanie Dolson is also an unknown. She’s missed the last couple games due to injury, but has been cleared to play. How healthy is she? How effective will she be? Having a stretch five, All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist, ready and able to play 10-plus productive minutes would be huge for the Sky.

The devil is in the details for Chicago. We can assume the starters will play well; Candace Parker will score 15-plus, Allie Quigley will be hitting threes, and Courtney Vandersloot will lead the team in assists. It’s the margins that will matter. Can the Sky stay out of foul trouble? Can they reduce turnovers? Can they win the rebounding battle? If the Sky focus on the little details and execute on them, they should come out victorious.

Game information

Chicago Sky (16-16) vs. Dallas Wings (14-18)

When: Thursday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL

How to watch: ESPN2

Key to the matchup: The Dallas Wings will go as far as Arike Ogunbowale takes them. They’ll need a big night from her if they want to pull off the road victory. They’ll need great production from their bench and they’ll have to continue shooting from three at a high percentage. The Sky will need to win the battle on the boards, avoid double-digit turnovers, and have a few bench players rise up.

Wings injury report: Satou Sabally (questionable; Achilles)

Sky injury report: none