Updated September 11, 2019 - 12:08 am
The Aces’ All-Star trio of A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Kayla McBride has played in three playoff games — combined. So it’s important that teammate Tamera Young, who has played in a team-high 19 such games, knows exactly what to expect when the postseason begins.
“It’s do or die,” Young said Tuesday after practice. “Especially one-game elimination — it’s all or nothing.”
It all begins Wednesday.
The eight-team field is set, and postseason play opens with a pair of single-elimination games that will determine who the Aces play Sunday in the franchise’s first playoff game since 2014. The Aces are the No. 4 seed and earned a bye into the second round. They will host a single-elimination game Sunday at Thomas & Mack Center against the highest seeded first-round winner.
The winner Sunday advances to the semifinals, where either the Washington Mystics or Connecticut Sun await for a best-of-five series. Semifinal play begins Sept. 17, and the best-of-five WNBA Finals begin Sept. 29.
Here’s what the Aces could be up against, and here’s what each team can do to maximize its chance to win the title.
1. Washington Mystics (26-8)
■ Key stat: Posted the best offensive rating (112.8 points per 100 possessions) in league history.
■ They can reach the finals: If they play the way they did in the regular season. No team plays with more cohesion or chemistry. They sport the league’s best net rating (plus-14.8), and their best player is Elena Delle Donne — who averages 19.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and shoots 51.5 percent, including 43 percent from 3-point range, and makes 97.4 percent of her free throws. Her shooting percentages make her the first WNBA player in the the 50-40-90 club.
2. Connecticut Sun (23-11)
■ Key stat: First in offensive rebounding percentage (34.9), second in defensive rebounding percentage (72.7).
■ They can reach the finals: If their guards can continue to make plays in close games. All-Star forwards Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas are formidable on the interior, but backcourt mates Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas often produce with their late-game decision making. Williams averaged 13.2 points and Jasmine Thomas 11.1 points and 5.1 assists.
3. Los Angeles Sparks (22-12)
■ Key stat: Third in points in the paint (36.5 per game).
■ They can reach the finals: If Candace Parker plays like vintage Candace Parker. The two-time WNBA MVP injured her hamstring before the season and averaged career lows of 11.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 22 games. She showed flashes of brilliance, though, during four 20-point outings. She is flanked by All-Stars Chelsea Gray and Nneka Ogwumike on a team that won the title in 2016.
4. Aces (21-13)
■ Key stat: First in defensive rating (95 points per 100 possessions).
■ They can reach the finals: If they reassume the defensive dominance that propelled them earlier in the season. Their defense was historically effective at one point, surrendering fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions, but the unit had a stream of breakdowns late in the season. The Aces can score; Wilson, Cambage and McBride lead the offense. But they’ll need to defend to go deep.
5. Chicago Sky (20-14)
■ Key stat: Second in offensive rating (101.6 points per 100 possessions).
■ They can reach the finals: If their post play can hold up throughout the playoffs. Starting forward Jantel Lavender injured her foot last month, meaning the onus falls on fellow bigs Stefanie Dolson (9.3 points), Cheyenne Parker (8.8 points) and Astou Ndour (6.8) on both ends of the floor. Chicago’s starting backcourt of Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot made the All-Star game and is one of the best units in the WNBA. The bigs will have to do their part.
6. Seattle Storm (18-16)
■ Key stat: Commit the second fewest fouls (15.6) per game.
■ They can reach the finals: If they can keep games low scoring. Power forward Natasha Howard averages 18.1 points for the defending champions. But All-Star guard Jewell Loyd averaged 12.3 points — fewest since her rookie season of 2015 — and no one else averages more than 9.8 points. They do, however, sport the league’s No. 4 defense and are capable of mucking up a game with their physical style.
7. Minnesota Lynx (18-16)
■ Key stat: Second in defensive rating (95.8 points per 100 possessions).
■ They can reach the finals: If they can dramatically reduce their turnovers. The Lynx led the WNBA in turnover percentage (20.5) and will face a formidable defensive team Wednesday in the Storm. Sylvia Fowles (13.6 points, 8.9 rebounds), Odyssey Sims (14.5 points) and Napheesa Collier (13.1 points) bring formidable offense and need as many possessions as possible.
8. Phoenix Mercury (15-19)
■ Key stat: Second lowest turnover percentage (17.0).
■ They can reach the finals: If Diana Taurasi can return from injury. The nine-time All-Star guard was limited to six games this season and is unlikely to play in the first round Wednesday against the Sky. If Phoenix wins, though, and she returns, she’ll join standouts Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner, her teammates on Phoenix’s 2014 championship team.
Mercury at Sky, 5 p.m., ESPN2
Lynx at Storm, 7 p.m., ESPN 2
Implications for the Aces
The Aces will host the highest remaining seed Sunday afternoon at Thomas & Mack Center and cannot play the Mercury. They were 2-1 in the regular season against all three prospective opponents.