8 things to watch for in the WNBA semifinals

LET'S GO!!!

Good morning. Welcome to the freaking WNBA semifinals!!!

In case you’re joining us late, here’s what you missed:

Round 1 - single-eliminations!

No. 7 Sun 94, No. 6 Sky 81

  • Alyssa Thomas dominated with 28 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. This game was never close.

No 5. Mercury 85, No. 8 Mystics 84

  • SHEY FREAKIN’ PEDDY hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot as time expired.

Round 2 - more single-eliminations!

No. 4 Lynx 80, No. 5 Mercury 79

  • Damiris Dantas scored 22 points and eight rebounds. Skylar Diggins-Smith missed a potential game-winner.

No. 7 Sun 73, No. 3 Sparks 59

  • DeWanna Bonner finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. This game also was never close.

That brings us to today!

Round 3 - best-of-five series

Game 1: No. 7 Sun vs. No. 1 Aces at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

Game 2: No. 4 Lynx vs. No. 2 Storm at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC

Before we move on here, I wanted to remind y’all that Here’s Basketball is sponsored by my fave t-shirt and hoodie company, Homefield Apparel. What a good brand they are! You should check out their college gear here, and use the code below to get 20% off your order!

Ok, now let’s talk about what to watch for today.

Will these series be sweeps?

I sure hope not, but both the Aces and Storm swept their opponents in blowout fashion during the regular season. In one game without Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas, the Sun lost to Vegas by 21 points, and in the second game with them both in the lineup, they lost by 15 points. For the other series, in one game with Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx lost to Seattle by 24 points, and in the second game without her, they lost by 15 points.

Of course, all of those games were played during a chaotic, tightly-packed regular season where teams were often playing every-other-night. Plus, playoff basketball is different. The two lower seeds have coaches with a ton of playoff experience, armed with a little more time to gameplan. The Lynx are led by Coach of the Year and four-time champion as a head coach, Cheryl Reeve, and the Sun are led by Curt Miller, who coached his team to a five-game Finals series against last year’s champion Mystics, a team that had arguably the best offense of all time. If any two coaches can give the top seeds a run, it’s these two.

Will the Sun be able to stop Aces’ posts?

The Aces are historically opposed to shooting three-point shots, and thrive mostly from the interior scoring and slashing abilities of MVP A’ja Wilson, Dearica Hamby, Angel McCoughtry, and more (Please read Mike Prada’s FiveThirtyEight piece titled The Aces Don’t Need Threes to Win). Most teams aren’t built to contain so many strong bigs and wings, but Connecticut isn’t most teams.

Alyssa Thomas was my pick for Defensive Player of the Year because she can guard all five positions, and is a total wall to drive past. She can break up any and all actions coming her way, and paired with the long reach of Bonner, the two are a nightmare to score against. Will Miller have Vegas scouted better than he did in late August? The talent is there to give the top seed a scare.

Will Kayla McBride get hot shooting the ball?

In the Aces’ win over the fully healthy Sun, it was McBride who caught fire, scoring 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting. She ran a number of curl and flare cuts off Hamby and Wilson screens to dominate the mid-range, and was more aggressive than usual taking hand-offs downhill to draw contact (she made 7-of-7 free throws.) She only averaged 13 points on the season, but to beat Connecticut, she may have to increase her workload again.

Curt Miller’s fit

Again, Curt Miller’s fits remain important. Please look at the shirts he’s worn this year:

His aesthetic will influence the Sun’s outcome. I promise.

Sue Bird’s health

Sue Bird missed half the season because of a bone bruise in her knee that she re-injured twice, and we haven’t seen her on the court since Sept. 9. How she looks in her first game back will be important for the Storm’s success.

The team’s gone 10-1 with her, and 8-3 without her. She’s averaging 10 points on 49 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent shooting from deep (4.5 tries per game), and five assists to just 1.6 turnovers. The Storm have quality backups in Jordin Canada and Epiphany Prince. But Bird’s still this team’s leader.

Will Breanna Stewart dominate the playoffs again?

Stewart had a much stronger first half of the season than second, as she racked up uncharacteristically poor shooting nights like a 4-of-17 showing against the Mystics followed up by a 7-of-21 night against the Sparks. In the early part of the season, it looked like the MVP award was hers to lose … and then she lost it.

Stewart, of course, is still arguably the best player in the world, and she was in the running for the award — her season was still damn good. She also missed the last two games of the year to a foot injury that might’ve been bothering her towards the end of the regular season. The question is if she’s able to re-establish herself as the all-world player she was during her 2018 championship and MVP run, which of course came before she tore her Achilles last year.

Sylvia Fowles’ status

Lynx fans were ecstatic when Fowles, who had been sidelined with a calf injury since Aug. 13, played in Thursday night’s win-or-go-home game against the Phoenix Mercury. But the 2017 MVP was a shell of herself, and hardly played down the stretch, scoring six points on eight shots in 18 minutes.

To beat the Storm, the Lynx might need prime Syl back. If she isn’t all the way there though, Reeve might have to make a tough call and pull her, because Stewart will exploit her in every way.

Can the Lynx get Napheesa Collier the ball enough to win?

Collier, the second-year player who won Rookie of the Year last year, got the keys to the Lynx’s offense this year with Fowles sidelined, and she proved she was capable of leading a team to the postseason. For the year, she averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game, and finished fifth in MVP voting. Minnesota unexpectedly got the No. 4 seed.

Bizarrely, in some stretches this season, Minnesota’s struggled to get her the ball though. Subsequently they’ve gone on dry scoring spells. That happened in the Lynx’s close 1-point win over Phoenix on Thursday, where Collier only took six shots and finished with seven points. The team scored just 14 points in the second quarter, where Collier took just two shots.

That can’t happen again, or Seattle will blow them out.

Let’s talk DraftKings:

Guards to pick

Sue Bird, Seattle Storm ($7,800) - Bird’s going to play normal minutes because it’s the playoffs and she’s Sue Bird. Also, assuming Odyssey Sims sticks to Jewell Loyd, Bird will be going against a much smaller Crystal Dangerfield on offense.

Kayla McBride, Las Vegas Aces ($7,500) - McBride will see a much tougher line of defense now that Briann January is back in full form, but she could see more looks than usual for the aforementioned reasons.

Guards to avoid

DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun ($10,700) - Granted one game against the Aces was played without two other key starters, Bonner’s averaging just 24 fantasy points against Vegas. She scored just 31 in the game the Thomas’s both played in. Vegas’s wing defense is real.

Crystal Dangerfield, Minnesota Lynx ($8,500) - Dangerfield played the Storm the first time in just her second game ever and she only logged 11 minutes. But in her second matchup, she scored 13 points without any assists. The Storm’s defense is bigger, stronger and just as quick.

Forwards to pick

Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm ($11,500) - I’m taking Stewart instead of A’ja Wilson at a similar price because I like any matchup not against Alyssa Thomas better than one against her. Collier and Fowles — if she plays — won’t be easy assignments either, but to win today, you should draft one of Stewart or Wilson.

Alysha Clark, Seattle Storm ($7,900) - This is a great price for a player who’s had breakout games sporadically all year, yet remained solid throughout. She averaged 24 fantasy points against the Lynx this year.

Forwards to avoid

Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx ($10,300) - The Storm’s focus is going to be on containing Collier, and they have the talent to do it. She’s averaged just 26 fantasy points against the Storm this year, which is well below what you’d need from her at this price.

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If you have any leads, please email: mellentuck10@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter: @mellentuck. I miss doing this as a full-time job. All of my previous work can be found at SB Nation, where I worked for the past four years before being laid off due to the pandemic. I’ve also written for The New York Times twice this year, which you can read here and also here.