After a five week hiatus, the WNBA’s historic 20th season resumes on Friday night, with a big five game slate throwing us right back into the fire. Here’s what to watch for as the WNBA gets back in gear.
Minnesota Lynx at Connecticut Sun – 7 PM EST
Fresh off a gold-medal winning performance down in Rio, the Lynx’s four Olympians will tip off the WNBA’s return to action with their 7 PM EST meeting with the Connecticut Sun.
In the two teams’ only meeting this year, the Sun scored a surprising 93-89 victory in overtime, handing the Lynx one of the just four losses they suffered before the Olympic break. Maya Moore was spectacular in the loss, dropping a season-high 40 points and grabbing 8 rebounds.
With just one game separating them from the playoffs, the Sun will be eager to score another upset, but they’ll have their work cut out for them. The Lynx boast the league’s best defense–by a wide margin–posting a 94.4 defensive rating before the Olympic break. Meanwhile, the Sun’s offense was 10th in the league prior to the stoppage of play, with an offensive rating of just 99.3.
The Sun, with Chiney Ogwumike in fine form, looked strong heading into the break, however, and the Lynx’s four Olympic stars (and coach) may be feeling the effects of the extra games and travel. Tune in to League Pass on Friday to see if Maya and company can march closer to locking up one of the top two seeds, or if Chiney will lead the Sun to another important upset.
New York Liberty at San Antonio Stars – 8 PM EST (NBATV)
The first game of NBATV’s doubleheader on Friday night pits the East-leading New York Liberty against the hard-luck San Antonio Stars.
Moriah Jefferson has been impressive in her rookie season, but other than her strong play, this season has been a disappointing one in San Antonio. They were already shorthanded entering the season, as three-time All-Star Danielle Robinson underwent surgery on her Achilles a few months before the year was set to begin. Then, Kayla McBride, who was in the midst of a career year, went down with a broken foot that will keep her sidelined for the remainder of the season. As a result, they’ve stumbled to a 5-18 record, and it seems another top draft pick is in their future.
We will, however, get to see silver medalist Astou Ndour return to WNBA action. The Stars forward played superb ball in Rio, helping Spain secure their first ever Olympic medal in women’s basketball.
As for the Liberty, they picked up right where they left off last season. With an 18-8 record, and eight games remaining, they’re in position to match, or perhaps surpass, the club-record 23 wins they secured last season. Tina Charles, fresh off another gold medal, has been unstoppable, leading the league in scoring (21.4) and rebounding (9.6) as she looks to add another MVP Award to her trophy case.
It’s unclear if she will play immediately, but the Liberty will be bolstered coming out of the break by the return of Epiphanny Prince, who missed the first portion of the season rehabbing from an ACL tear. The two-time All-Star averaged exactly 15 points in each of the last three seasons, and will be a big boost to the Liberty’s offense (100.9 offensive rating, 8th in the league), which can at times struggle to score.
Atlanta Dream at Chicago Sky – 8:30 PM EST
Last week, Angel McCoughtry and Elena Delle Donne were leading the U.S. Women’s National Team to a record sixth straight gold medal. This week, they’ll be on opposite sides of the court, as McCoughtry’s Dream travel to Chicago to take on Delle Donne’s Sky in a key matchup.
The Dream jumped out to a brilliant start, but have fallen back to the pack lately, while the Sky have struggled to really get going this season. Now, the two are separated by just 1.5 games, as Atlanta tries to hold on to the fourth seed, which would give them a bye to the second round of the playoffs.
This will be a battle of opposites, as the Sky boast the fourth best offense in the league (105.3 offensive rating), but haven’t been able to stop anyone, coming in 10th in the league in defensive rating (105.5).
Meanwhile the Dream have struggled to put the ball in the basket, and come out of the Olympic break 11th in offensive rating (99.1). Their defense has been stout, however, sitting fourth in the league with a defensive rating of 101.9.
Both meetings between these two this year have gone Atlanta’s way, and thus the Dream already hold the tiebreaker should they finished deadlocked in the standings at the end of the year. Still, this win would be an important one for the Sky as they look to climb above .500 and into one of the top four postseason positions.
Dallas Wings at Phoenix Mercury – 10 PM EST
It hasn’t been quite the 2016 either of these teams expected, but all hope is certainly not lost yet. The Mercury (10-14) hold the the seventh seed if the season were to end today, while the Wings (9-16) are currently in 10th, but just half a game out of eighth.
The main reason for both of these teams’ struggles? Defense, defense, defense. They have the two worst defenses in the league, with the Wings bringing up the rear (107.2 defensive rating), and the Mercury just above them (106.3). Not only are these marks pitiful, they’re historically bad. You’d have to go back to 2012 to find a season when a team finished with a worse mark than even the Mercury, let alone the Wings.
It should come as no surprise then that these two combined for the highest scoring game of the season, a 117-111 thriller the Wings won in triple overtime, starting their season-long dominance of the Mercury.
The Wings are 3-0 in meetings between the two teams this season, which is lucky for them, as they have just nine wins on the season. If it weren’t for their dominance over Phoenix, Dallas may not even be in the playoff hunt.
We should see plenty of points in this one on Friday, as the Mercury try to get some revenge, and both teams look to start the remainder of their seasons off on the right foot.
Los Angeles Sparks at Seattle Storm – 10 PM EST (NBATV)
These two teams got their 2016 campaigns started against each other back in May, so it’s fitting their first post-Olympic game will be against each other as well.
The Sparks of course were tremendous before the break, cruising to the best record in the league at 21-3, while boasting the best offense (110 offensive rating) and second best defense (96.9). On the other hand, the young Storm have struggled as they continue their rebuild, but find themselves tied for the eighth and final playoff position at the moment with a 9-15 record.
But on Friday night, the focus will be on the individual matchup between Candace Parker and Breanna Stewart. Parker, of course, famously won both the MVP and Rookie of the Year in her first season in 2008. Though unlikely to take home the MVP, Stewart is putting together the finest rookie season since Parker, and has already established herself as one of the top players in the league.
In their only meeting so far, both shined, with Stewart going 9-13 from the field for 23 points in her WNBA debut, only to be upstaged by Parker, who dropped 34 and lead the Sparks to a 30-point victory.
Friday night, the present and the future of the WNBA will clash once again, when these two brilliant forwards go head-to-head on NBATV.