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After Seattle, Which Team Is Number Two?

VIA @LVACES

If the Seattle Storm are the best team in the league, and they have certainly looked the part in jumping out to a 10-1 record, who comes next?

On Saturday, we saw Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and  Minnesota dominate with convincing victories, and at 8-2, 7-3, and 7-3 respectively, they each have a case to make as the next best team.

First, the Aces, who are on a torrid stretch for the best 10-game start in franchise history and are currently on a seven game winning streak. Las Vegas is first in the league in field goal percentage and rebounds. Meanwhile, opponents are shooting 28.7% from beyond the arc.

It’s not just defense, however, as A’ja Wilson is battling to stake her claim as the best offensive player in the game. She is averaging over 20 points per game with 8.5 rebounds, all while shooting 49% from field. The one-two punch with Angel McCoughtry has been exceptional so far. McCoughtry is sitting at 15.4 points per game and shooting 57.1% from the field.

Through the first five games, Jackie Young had just 27 points and one game in double figures. Since then, she’s figured something out, as Young has 15, 15, 17, 16, and 16 in her last five outings. All of that has come for Young while playing off the bench. If those three can continue to play at their current level, Las Vegas can challenge the Storm.

The Aces have already beaten both Los Angeles and Minnesota in the short season. The win against the Lynx came on Thursday by 10. In the game against the Sparks, Wilson and McCoughtry combined for 50 points. Young added 15 more, while the rest of the team combined for 21.

Sparks fans, however, will be quick to remember that Nneka Ogwumike didn’t play in that game, and this past Saturday was just another reminder of what she can do. She went for 17 points on 8-of-9 from the field, playing in her usual, absurdly efficient manner. On the season, the 2016 MVP is averaging 12.6 points per game.

The other (two-time) former MVP on the Sparks roster is off to another phenomenal start. Candace Parker is nearly averaging a double-double, and her 3.7 assists per game are the second most on the team. While Chelsea Gray is facilitating and scoring, she has not been as consistent a shooter as in past seasons, when she typically shot well above 40%. Some of that could just be lingering rust, and if Gray can find her stroke during the second half of the season, the Sparks could be primed for a deep playoff run.

A true title contender, Los Angeles boasts a strong starting five, depth, and an abundance of scorers. As a team, Los Angeles is second in 3-point percentage and Riquna Williams showed why on Saturday, draining 7-of-12 for 21 points. Despite playing off of the bench, she has been the team’s leading scorer, shooting 50.8% from beyond the arc, more than 10% above any season in her career. The Sparks can also turn to Seimone Augustus or Brittney Sykes off the bench for scoring, making this a well-rounded team.

Also active on defense, the Sparks are second in steals and have forced the most turnovers of any team. Because of their fast pace on offense, where they lead the league, Los Angeles is both scoring and letting up the most points of any team. The Aces are right behind the Sparks in pace, at second. And on the other end of the spectrum is Minnesota, the slowest-paced squad in the league. Rather than a defect, this speaks to the preferred style of the Lynx.

Like the Sparks, Minnesota also has a caveat for their loss to Las Vegas. Sylvia Fowles, who was putting up MVP-like numbers up to that point, missed nearly the entire game with injury. In their first game without Fowles, Minnesota had no trouble putting up points in a commanding win over the New York Liberty. The Lynx kept all five Liberty starters under double digit scoring while four of their own five starters reached that mark.

Fowles is now out indefinitely with a calf strain, after missing two games earlier in the season due to the same injury. The Lynx will need Napheesa Collier and rookie Crystal Dangerfield to step up in her absence, and so far, they have. Against the Liberty, Collier had her second straight 20+ point outing, scoring 26, one shy of her career best, while adding 13 rebounds and five assists. Dangerfield, meanwhile, scored 22 for the second-highest scoring output of her young professional career.

The Lynx, whose dynasty dominated the past decade, will need to rely on some new faces. Collier’s 14.9 points and nine rebounds per game are impressive, but she can’t be expected to drop 20 every night. And while the return of Odyssey Sims should give the team a boost, they’ll also need rookie Mikiah Herbert Harrigan to play beyond her years and for Lexie Brown to sustain what is now a career-best season.

Minnesota is leading in the categories they need to, including ranking first in offensive rebounds. Their opponents are shooting a second-worst 42.4% from the field. Still, with all the young talent, Minnesota needs to prove it can compete with and beat the best teams in the league. All three losses have come against Seattle, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, but by an average of more than 17 points.

Behind Seattle, the Sparks, Aces, and Lynx are two through four in defensive rating. And at this point, that is exactly how I would rank these four teams.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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