The biggest story in the first round of the playoffs isn’t the Wings’ matchup against the Phoenix Mercury.
Current rivals, the Los Angeles Sparks, and Minnesota Lynx are also meeting in the single-elimination first-round game.
Minnesota won their first championship in 2011 and since then has won three more titles with one of them against the Los Angeles Sparks 2017. Los Angeles won the title in 2016 after taking the Lynx to Game 5.
The Sparks had a record just a tad better than the Lynx this season finishing 19-15 while the Lynx finished with an 18-16 record. The Sparks led the season series against the Lynx 3-1.
Minnesota opened the season on a rough start only winning five of their first ten games. The Lynx struggled throughout the season having lost three games in a row at home in early August. Minnesota have also been without Rebekkah Brunson for the last couple of games this season due to a concussion.
Los Angeles has also had a rocky season. The Sparks opened the season with a 9-1 record even with star player, Candace Parker out with an injury for the first three games. Los Angeles went on to struggle at home this season losing three home games in a row. Around the All-Star break, Nneka Ogwumike (illness) and Alana Beard (groin injury) were not active for a few games. Ogwumike did not play in the Sparks last game against the Connecticut Sun.
The Sparks beat the Lynx in Minnesota on ring night as Chelsea Gray hit a clutch shot at the buzzer to give Los Angeles the win. In the second meeting with Parker back from injury, the Sparks handed Minnesota their fourth straight loss at the time as Parker had a stat line of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Lynx beat the Sparks in Minnesota behind Brunson’s historic night as she became the league’s all-time rebounds leader. She had 12 boards to pass Lisa Leslie and Tamika Catchings and finished the game with 15 boards.
Their final meeting in Los Angeles resulted in a Sparks win as Candace Parker led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds. This win ended the Sparks five-game home losing skid at the time. Parker recorded her ninth double-double of the season in this win.
Both teams are equally matched on the offensive end in points, 2,684 (MIN) and 2,683 (LAS). They also held their opponents to 77 (LAS) and 78.3 points per game this season. The Lynx pounded the boards averaging 35.3 rebounds per game while the Sparks averaged 31.3 rebounds per game. For Minnesota, Sylvia Fowles finished the regular season by setting a new WNBA record for rebounds in a season with 404 boards.
While the Lynx dominate on the boards, the Sparks force their opponents to turn the ball over. Los Angeles leads the league in steals with 7.9 per game and only commit about 12.1 turnovers a game which is the fewest in the league.
Fowles and Candace Parker’s matchup in this game is crucial as their frontcourt partners, Ogwumike and Brunson, are both questionable. Fowles has been dominating the paint this season with 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds while Parker has been doing it all for the Sparks with 17.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.
The guard play for both teams will be a must watch with Beard who will have the assignment of guarding Maya Moore and the Lynx backcourt with Lindsay Whalen, Tanisha Wright, and Seimone Augustus going against the Sparks’ backcourt with Odyssey Sims and Chelsea Gray.
Before you watch this finals matchup, a battle-ready Dallas Wings team will take on the Phoenix Mercury.
In the opening game of the 2018 season, Phoenix beat the Wings behind a historic performance by Diana Taurasi as 20 of her 26 points in the first half contributed to her to making 1,000 three-pointers.
The second Mercury win against the Wings happened during the Mercury’s season-high eight-game win streak. Taurasi and Brittney Griner led the way with 21 and 17 points, respectively in the win.
The Wings also defeated the Mercury during their own five-game win streak behind Skylar Diggins-Smith’s 20 points. Dallas was able to gain 14 steals in this game which was more than double their season average.
The Mercury won their regular season series with the Wings 2-1.
With the return of Liz Cambage, the Wings acquired a dominant player to give the team an edge inside. Cambage’s play this season put her in the MVP conversation as she has been averaging 23 points per game. Cambage also had a historic 53-point game against the New York Liberty that resulted in a Dallas 104-87 win.
Mid-season, Dallas traded Aerial Powers to the Washington Mystics for Taylor Hill. The Wings ended up going on a nine-game losing streak following the trade. The Wings’ head coach, Fred Williams was fired following their 80-93 loss to the Washington Mystics.
They were close to be on the outside of the playoff picture but in their emotional win against the Las Vegas Aces, the Wings clinched the last spot of the playoffs.
On the flipside, the Phoenix Mercury nabbed new additions to help them make noise in the postseason. Sancho Lyttle was acquired from Atlanta, Brianna January came on from the Indiana Fever, and DeWanna Bonner made her return to the Mercury.
Lyttle tore her ACL in July and Bonner slid into the four position to keep the Mercury a competitive team this season.
Phoenix finished the season on a four-game winning streak and clinched their spot in the playoffs in their 104-95 win against the Atlanta Dream.
This matchup between the Mercury and Wings puts the bigs on display with Griner and Cambage going against one another. In their meetings this season, Griner had the edge over Cambage with 17.3 points to 13.7 points per game while both players averaged five rebounds. One thing to look for in their matchup is the number of fouls that are drawn due to them drawing five fouls in the season opener and fouling out in their second meeting.
With their backcourt counterparts, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi, both duos are the highest scoring duos in the league with Taurasi and Griner leading with 41.2 points combined per game while Diggins-Smith and Cambage combined for 40.9 points per game.
On the offensive boards, the Wings dominate with 10.6 rebounds per game while the Mercury only averages 7.2 rebounds per game. Phoenix also allows their opponents to grab 10.1 rebounds per game.
One thing is for sure that the pace in this game will be fast due to the fact that both teams rank in the top half of the league in pace. The Wings ranked third with 81.7 possessions per 40 minutes. Contrary to the Wings’ 11.2 fast break points per game, the Mercury only convert on 6.9 per game.
Watch both must-see games on ESPN2. Dallas and Phoenix play at 5:30 PT then it is followed by Minnesota and Los Angeles at 7:30 PT.