What to expect from the WNBA Playoffs second round

With the second round of the WNBA Playoffs set to tip off this weekend, we’re covering what to expect from Aces vs. Storm and Sun vs. Sky.

Just four teams remain in the race for this season’s WNBA title: the Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm. One of those teams will hoist the trophy next month and be crowned WNBA champions.

But first, we’ve got two semifinal series to play to help set the stage.

Let’s talk about how we got here and what’s next.

What happened in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs?

To get down to four teams, you first had to eliminate four other teams.

The WNBA went with a new format in the first round this year. Instead of a single-elimination round that saw the top seeds get byes, we jumped right into series. Each first-round series was a best of three, with the higher seed hosting the first two games and the lower seed hosting a potential Game 3.

In the first round, two of the series needed that third game, while the other two never had to leave the higher seed’s home floor.

The Aces had the easiest first round, as they took on a depleted Mercury team. And I’m not sure that was a good thing for Vegas — but we’ll get to that later. The Aces beat Phoenix 79-63 and 117-80. The highlight for Phoenix was Kaela Davis scoring 23 points in Game 2, which…look, nothing against Davis, but if she’s the highlight of your playoff series, that’s not great.

The other two-game series was Storm-Mystics. As someone who was holding onto a preseason Mystics championship bet ticket, the series didn’t go the way I thought it could. Washington played close in Game 1, losing by three, but was shut down in the second game, losing 97-84. The Mystics were a solid team but just didn’t have the firepower to get past Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd.

The other two series went three, but the higher seed prevailed on the road.

The Liberty came out on fire offensively with a 98-91 Game 1 win over Chicago, but Chicago snapped back in Game 2, winning 100-62. That set up a deciding Game 3 that New York threatened in, but a huge run in the second half took the Liberty out. They went from being right in the game to losing 90-72.

As for Connecticut-Dallas, the Sun won Game 1 93-68. It looked like that was going to be how the series went, but the Wings fought back in Game 2 to win 89-79, sending the series to Arlington. But after the game was tied at the half, Connecticut won the third quarter 23-12 and never looked back, winning 73-58 behind 21 points from DeWanna Bonner.

Now, we’ve set up two intriguing series: Aces-Storm and Sky-Sun.

What to expect from Aces vs. Storm

This is the matchup that I personally hoped we’d get in the WNBA Finals, but the seeding didn’t work out that way.

The storyline here is clear: A’ja Wilson vs. Breanna Stewart. The two MVP candidates. The faces of the WNBA. Stewart, in perhaps her final year in Seattle before she hits free agency, looking to add another ring to her resume. Wilson, who is going to be in Vegas longterm as the team tries to build a dynasty, looks to get her first ring, but to do so, she first has to beat Seattle in a playoff series.

No disrespect to Sky-Sun, but this is the series to pay attention to, if for some reason you can’t handle watching four hours of basketball in one night.

Vegas comes in off of an easy win over Phoenix, which worries me a little bit. Every other team remaining in the playoffs faced a tough first-round matchup. Vegas didn’t. Could that be a small issue? Will the Aces be ready to fight from the jump on Sunday?

During the regular season, Vegas beat Seattle in three of the four meetings, with Seattle’s only win coming on June 29, when the Storm won 88-78.

The most recent meeting was Aug. 14, with Vegas winning 109-100. The notable thing about that game is that Vegas won without Dearica Hamby, who missed the game with a knee injury.

With Hamby, Vegas has the ability to play two completely different frontcourt looks. Need to go big and overpower opponents? Then you play Kiah Stokes at the 5 and Wilson at the 4. But want to increase spacing and try to outscore your opponent? Then you slide Wilson to the 5 and play Hamby at the 4, which is what the team did a lot in the regular season.

We’ll have to see if Hamby can suit up on Sunday. Vegas can win without her, especially with how Hamby struggled with her 3-point shot — shooting just 21.9 percent from deep. But if she’s out, Vegas will miss that versatility. It’s easier for Seattle’s center to defend Stokes than Wilson, even if it’s likewise easier for Seattle’s 4 to defend Hamby than it is to defend Wilson when she’s at the 4.

This could also potentially be the final series for Seattle legend Sue Bird, who is retiring after this postseason.

What to Expect in Sky vs. Sun

Chicago and Connecticut both have really strong frontcourts but in very different ways.

The Sun should start Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, which is a really strong frontcourt that doesn’t necessarily feature a ton of shooting. Thomas took two 3s this year. Bonner averaged 4.2 3s per game but shot 32.9 percent — which is pretty good when compared to her entire career but isn’t consistent enough on the macro level. The team brings Brionna Jones off the bench, who provides them a traditional big at the 5.

The Sky should start Candace Parker, Emma Meesseman and Kahleah Copper in those three frontcourt spots, with Azura Stevens off the bench. That group can’t play the kind of bully ball that the Sun can play, but it’s a lot more versatile as a group. Parker, Meesseman and Stevens can all play the 4 or the 5 and can play inside or outside.

The Sun have also seemed to run into a wall in the postseason in recent years, partially because their style of play works over the course of a full season, but is more likely to break down in a short series because the team doesn’t have as many secondary ways to generate offense as other teams.

In last year’s playoff semifinals, for instance, the Sky beat the Sun 3-1. Connecticut got a big win at home in the series, led by a huge Alyssa Thomas game off the bench, and every game was close, but Chicago just had the offense to get it done. And that Sun team had Jasmine Thomas in the backcourt, which this one does not have due to Thomas suffering an ACL tear.

The Sky also have a major advantage in the backcourt. That aforementioned Thomas injury really hurts in a series like this, because the backcourt matchup is now Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley against Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman, which should be viewed as a win for Chicago, even if Williams is the most likely of those four names to go out and just torch the other team for a game or two.

On paper, this matchup feels heavily weighted in Chicago’s direction. And looming at the games these teams played this season, that checks out. Chicago won all four meetings between these sides. While the games were all close, the Sky were able to close out Connecticut every single time. Chicago’s a more versatile and balanced team, and that consistently won out when these teams met.

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