The Minnesota Lynx clash once more with their great rivals the Seattle Storm as the Connecticut Sun try to take down the league’s top team Las Vegas Aces.
The Lynx and Storm are perennial WNBA Finalists, but heading into 2020 nobody knew what to make of either sides, with some pundits doubting if Minnesota would make it to the playoffs in their first season of the post Augustus era. As it turned out, they needn’t have worried. Napheesa Collier continued on from her incredible Rookie of the Year campaign last season, with this year’s ROY, the second-rounder Crystal Dangerfield combining to lead the Lynx to the semi-finals. All this in spite of an injury hampered campaign for the league’s record holding rebounder Sylvia Fowles.
Seattle saw the return of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart after they both missed the 2019 season through injury, and again, nobody was quite sure how they would go in 2020. They dominated the league. Topping the standings until the final game day, Seattled dropped to the 2-seed thanks to losses to the Las Vegas Aces. Seattle also boast the FocusHoops WNBA Show Defensive Player of the Year Alysha Clark, who could be a deciding factor in the semi-final series.
Seattle handily beat Minnesota the two times they have met this season, including their 103-88 victory over the Lynx back on September 6th. Minnesota were without Sylvia Fowles against a full strength squad. Storm are 5-1 in September and will be well rested, whilst Lynx are 4-3 this month and just came through a battle with Phoenix on Thursday night by a single point.
Arguably the key performer of Thursday for Minnesota was their Center, Damiris Dantas who performed well against Storm the last time they met. The battle between Dantas and Natasha Howard will be a key duel during this Semi-Final match up.
Howard, who spent one season in Minnesota, is averaging just short of 10 and 7, whilst Dantas is around 13-6. The last time they met, Dantas edged Howard in points and easily bested Howard on the glass, but it was for nought as Storm eased to a comfortable victory.
The question marks remain over the health of Fowles and Bird, two of the greatest players in the league’s history have both had injury plagued seasons with Bird playing just 11 games this year with Fowles featuring just 7 times in the regular season, but playing 18 solid minutes against Phoenix on Thursday. If either player misses significant time, this could be a deciding factor in this series.
It goes without saying, Breanna Stewart’s impact on the Storm this season has been enormous, averaging 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds and was neck and neck with eventual MVP winner A’ja Wilson. Stewart, in her comeback season, would dearly love to win the WNBA Playoffs, and will be leaned upon hugely to lead her team to glory in this series.
The Connecticut Sun, have had an incredible 12 months. From being within 10 minutes of winning the 2019 WNBA Finals, to pundits openly wondering when they’d win a game this season the Sun are now 3 wins from the most improbable return to the finals.
In their way is the best team in the WNBA. The 18-4 Las Vegas Aces, bested the Seattle Storm twice in the regular season on their route to the number one seed. With the league’s MVP A’ja Wilson and Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, as well as legendary figure Angel McCoughtry the Aces are loaded with talent.
The Aces are coached by the FocusHoops WNBA Show Coach of the Year Bill Laimbeer (the official league award going to Lynx’s Cheryl Reeve) who will be going up against Curt Miller and his team. Connecticut had a tough start to the season going winless in their first five games before finishing out the remainder of their games with a 10-7 run, and have won their two playoff match ups dispatching with the Chicago Sky and outsider tip for the title Los Angeles Sparks.
Led by DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, a very new look Connecticut turned a corner in the second week of the season and haven’t looked back to incredibly finish second in the Eastern Conference. Bonner was a new addition to Miller’s outfit after a fine career in Phoenix, and made an impact from week one on her way to averaging 19.7 points and 7.8 rebounds and an outside look at the MVP award.
The Aces had a tough preseason, on occasion working with just 4 players, but despite a game one loss to Chicago Sky Las Vegas were amongst the most consistent teams in the league, beating Connecticut twice holding them to 78 points in both games whilst amassing over 90 themselves.
McCoughtry and Wilson have been exceptional all season and have clicked instantly on the floor. McCoughtry is a five time all-star but has never won the WNBA and played just one game last season before injury ended her campaign. Under Laimbeer she has excelled as the second piece alongside Wilson sharing minutes effectively with Sixth Woman of the year Dearica Hamby.
The clash between Wilson and Bonner will be a defining one in this series. When they last met Wilson impressed to score 24, but Bonner went almost blow-for-blow with her to score 22, with 11-12 from the line. In their earlier match up Bonner was held to 10 points whilst Wilson scored 21 tacking on 7 rebounds.
Las Vegas have been a wonderful throwback this season, as they have favoured the inside game with McCoughtry, Hamby and Wilson are all very able inside scorers, with only Kayla McBride able to score from outside with any regularity (just one made 3 pointer per game).
Las Vegas are rightly favourites in this series, only losing to two teams this season (being swept by the already eliminated Mercury and Sky) but Connecticut have shown their quality already in the playoffs handily beating Chicago and a rested Los Angeles. In both games Bonner and Thomas were dominant, especially against Chicago as Alyssa Thomas finished with 28-13-8 in a remarkable stat line.
Both matchups are mouth watering, and the dream Finals clash of the top two in the league meeting is on the cards but anything can happen. Minnesota and Connecticut have shocked the league with their performances this season, and could well topple Las Vegas and Seattle to battle it out for the championship themselves.
Make sure you join us for the FocusHoops WNBA Show on Thursday at 8pm live on youtube for a recap of the first two games in Round 2.
Las Vegas take on Connecticut at 6 pm tonight whilst Seattle face Minnesota at 8 pm.