The Lynx (14-8) secured the No. 4 seed in the WNBA playoffs and the single bye that comes with it, meaning they will be spectators Tuesday when the playoffs open.
But there is plenty to watch for in the two early matchups in Bradenton, Fla., bubble. The Lynx will play the highest seeded remaining team from the first round on Thursday in a winner-take-all game to advance to the WNBA semifinals.
That opponent will be Phoenix if the Mercury wins its game, or it will the winner of Connecticut vs. Chicago if Washington upsets Phoenix. The Lynx went 2-0 against Chicago and Connecticut this season and 1-1 against Phoenix. Here’s a look at Tuesday’s two games:
No. 7 seed Connecticut (10-12) vs. No. 6 Chicago (12-10) 6 p.m. in Bradenton, Fla. TV: ESPN2
The matchup: This game features the Sun, which appeared in the WNBA Finals last season, and the Sky, which is making its second straight playoff appearance. The two teams split their two regular-season games and took opposite paths to the playoffs, with the Sun surviving after an 0-5 start and the Sky ending the season on a 2-6 run.
About the Sun: This is a much different team than the one that lost to Washington in the finals last season. Only Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas are returning starters from that team, with Shekinna Stricklen lost via free agency, Courtney Williams having forced an offseason trade to Atlanta and All-Star center Jonquel Jones sitting out the season because of coronavirus concerns.
The Sun added high-scoring forward DeWanna Bonner via free agency but started the season without guard Briann January. The Sun has struggled to score — it is 10th in the league in scoring (80.4), but it’s second in points allowed (79.9) and fourth (44.3) in opponent field goal percentage.
About the Sky: The Sky started the season 10-4 and looked like it would compete for a top playoff seed. But then Azura Stevens was lost to a knee injury and Diamond DeShields left the WNBA bubble for personal reasons in late August. The Sky promptly lost five of six games before ending a four-game losing streak with a 95-88 victory over Dallas in the final regular-season game.
This team can score; the Sky finished third in scoring (86.7) and first in field-goal percentage (49.1) but is prone to defensive lapses. The guard tandem of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley drives the Sky offense. Vandersloot averaged career highs in points (13.6) and assists (10.0), while Quigley is averaging 15.4 points.
No. 8 Washington (9-13) vs. No. 5 Phoenix (13-9) 8 p.m. in Bradenton, Fla. TV: ESPN2.
The matchup: These are two teams that had to learn to do more with less. Washington lost four of its starters from its 2019 title team but still managed to make the playoffs, winning its final four games. Phoenix reinvented itself after All-Star center Brittney Griner left the bubble for personal reasons, going to small ball and surging to the fifth seed. Phoenix won both games between the two teams in back-to-back games in August.
About the Mystics: Coach Mike Thibault should be a coach of the year candidate for getting his team back to the playoffs. From his 2019 starting five he lost G Kristi Toliver to free agency, and had G Natasha Cloud take the season off to work on social justice issues. C LaToya Sanders opted out of the season for health reasons, as did star Elena Delle Donne. Then, after acquiring post player Tina Charles in an offseason trade, she opted out of the season for health reasons as well.
F Myisha Hines-Allen is a candidate for most improved player, going from 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in 2019 to 17.0 and 8.9, respectively, this season. F/C Emma Meesseman, who came off the bench to win MVP of the 2019 finals, is averaging 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and leads the team with 4.5 assists.
About the Mercury: On Aug. 21 the Mercury announced Griner would not play against the Lynx, and Phoenix lost to Minnesota to drop to 6-7. Griner ultimately left the bubble for personal reasons and the Mercury, now dedicated to an offense based around the backcourt of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi, promptly won six straight.
The offensive shift has revitalized Taurasi and taken Diggins-Smith to a new level. While going 7-2 down the stretch Taurasi averaged 21.2 points and made 40.4% of her threes. Diggins-Smith averaged 20.8 points and hit on 39.3% of her three-pointers.