Sky vs. Sun

Sunday afternoon’s clash with Connecticut will set the stage for the Chicago Sky’s seven remaining games to what has ultimately blossomed into one of the Sky’s more intriguing seasons. The stakes? A trip to the WNBA Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Where it gets intriguing is that New York, which also has seven games remaining, is tangled up with the Sky for the fourth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. Starting with Sunday’s visit to Connecticut, Chicago has four road games and three at home. Fortunately, the Sky are comfortable on the road, where they have a slightly better record than at home.

On Aug. 26, the Sky walked away from Mohegan Sun Arena, stunning Connecticut, 82-70, in their own house without Sylvia Fowles. However, the Sun returned the favor two days later with an 83-72 victory over the Sky at Allstate Arena. With Fowles again out of the lineup, Sun center Tina Charles romped to the tune of 24 points and 14 rebounds. The good news is that in Sunday’s game against Los Angeles, Fowles returned to true Olympian form, playing 34 minutes to score 14 and pull down nine boards in a crucial win over the Sparks.

Fowles’ presence will help the Sky deal with the 6-foot-4 Charles as the two resume their ongoing rivalry for supremacy in the paint. Since she entered the league in 2010, Charles has had 12 battles with the Sky, and her individual performance is often indicative of the team’s success. When Connecticut wins, Charles has averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds. When Chicago wins, those figures dip to 12.8 and 9.4, respectively. In other words, if the Sky can contain the former Rookie of the Year and one-time All-Star, their odds increase dramatically. That’s not to say they can overlook other Sun players, such as Kara Lawson or Renee Montgomery. Lawson dropped 16 points and six assists versus the Sky on Aug. 26 and followed that up with 18 and six dimes two days later in Chicago. Montgomery has been deadly from outside lately, shooting 65 percent from beyond the arc in the last five games, and scoring in double figures seven of the past eight. She currently holds the records for most points (33) scored against the Sky by a Connecticut player.

The Sun’s other top front-line player, Asjha Jones, has been out since July 13 tending to an Achilles injury. Her return is uncertain, leaving Mistie Mims and Kelsey Griffin to pick up the slack. With Connecticut’s weakened front court, Sky coach Pokey Chatman may take a longer look at Carolyn Swords, who put up career numbers against the Sun in Fowles’ absence on Aug. 26. Swords poured in 14 points in just 22 minutes and has scored in double figures each game she plays 20 minutes or more. If she can provide the same matchup problems off the bench, the Sun will have their hands full down low.

Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot apparently loves to play Connecticut. In her three games against the Sun this year, she’s scored 22, six, and 17 points while adding eight, 11, and six assists, respectively. Her career averages of 10 points and six assists against Connecticut are significantly higher than her norm. Tamera Young and Shay Murphy each had scoring outbursts against Connecticut last year. Young scored 20 on June 23, but missed the Aug. 26 contest two weeks ago due to personal reasons. Murphy scored 18 against Connecticut on Aug. 9th of last year, and she’s proven a reliable threat off the bench this season, including a 13-point lift off the bench Sunday against L.A.

Tipoff is at 4 p.m. You can catch all the action on WNBA LiveAccess via www.chicagosky.net.