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Preview: First Round of WNBA Playoffs

The 2019 WNBA playoff brackets. (Photo courtesy of WNBA.)

The WNBA regular season officially wrapped up Sept. 8 and players are now in playoff mode. The first round, scheduled for Sept. 11, has Phoenix Mercury facing Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx playing Seattle Storm. Read on for a preview of both match ups.

Phoenix Mercury (15-19) @ Chicago Sky (20-14)

Previous meetings: 

June 11 — Sky won 82-75

August 25 — Sky won 94-86

September 1 — Sky won 105-78 

How they got here: 

The Sky stumbled to start the season, going 6-7 and losing three consecutive games at home. Fourth-year pro Astou Ndour stepped in for an injured Jantel Lavender over the final 11 games of the season in which Chicago went 6-5. 

The Mercury started the year riding DeWanna Bonner as she averaged over 20 points per game over the first 10 games. Brittney Griner has been playing at an MVP level again and averaged 24.5 points over her last eight games.

Keys to winning: 

This game will come down to whether someone on the Mercury can help their top two stars. The Sky have proven deep enough to score when they rest. Bonner and Griner scored over half the points for Phoenix in each of the games and only twice did another player hit double digits: Diana Taurasi scored 12 on 13 shots and Essence Carson scored 10 in another game. Meanwhile, the Sky have had four players in double digits in each game and eight players in total reached at least 10 against the Mercury.

Another key reason for the Sky winning the matchups is the second-chance points they gained from their overall rebounding. Chicago collected 15 offensive rebounds in the two recent games between these two and outrebounded Phoenix by 15 overall in each game. A large part of that can be attributed to Cheyenne Parker who collected an average of 10 per game coming off the bench, collecting over 20 per cent of available rebounds while on the court.

Pick: Chicago

Minnesota Lynx (18-16) @ Seattle Storm (18-16)

Previous meetings:

May 29 — Lynx won 72-61

June 4 — Storm won 84-77

July 17 — Storm won 90-79

August 18 — Storm won 82-74

How they got here:

Seattle has been up and down, relying on Natasha Howard to carry the team with both Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird missing the season due to injury. The Storm ended the season in poor form with a net rating of -5.3 over their last 14 games, which coincided with the return of Jewell Loyd from injury.

The Lynx started the year strong before a 3-8 stretch between July 17 and August 20 almost ruined their season. A five-game winning streak that included wins over Las Vegas, Chicago and Phoenix was snapped in the season finale.

Keys to winning:

Ball control, in a game which features the top two teams in both TO% and opponent TO%, the team that wins the turnover battle will hold a large edge. Looking back at the four games between these teams, the winner of each game also held the advantage in rebounds so the battle down low between Natasha Howard and Sylvia Fowles could swing the game. Fowles totaled 13 rebounds in the losses to Seattle but collected 13 alone in their sole win.

Seattle has been able to shoot Minnesota out of the building in their three wins shooting above 50 per cent in each win and over 40 per cent from three. The bevy of options for Seattle has caused struggles for Minnesota’s defense with Alysha Clark and Jordin Canada able to take advantage of their match ups with Odyssey Sims and Danielle Robinson. The Storm’s only loss to the Lynx came when Clark was out of the lineup.  

Pick: Minnesota

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