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WNBA Finals Preview: Las Vegas Aces V Seattle Storm

VIA @LVACES

Seattle needed a buzzer-beating putback from Alysha Clark to win Game 1 of their semifinals series against the Minnesota Lynx. From their, the Storm rolled, sweeping the only active franchise with four WNBA championships and giving themselves a chance to now become the second.

Las Vegas took considerably longer to wrest control of the series with the Connecticut Sun, with the outcome largely uncertain until A’ja Wilson scored 11 points on 9-of-10 from the line in the fourth quarter of a decisive Game 5. Connecticut, the No. 7 seed in the playoffs, was on the precipice of an enormous upset, leading 45-39 at half time. But the Sun scored just 18 points after the intermission and none within the last 2:39.

Now, the top two vote-getters in the MVP race, Wilson and Breanna Stewart, and the two best teams in the WNBA will be facing off with a championship on the line.

The matchup also pits the best offensive team in the regular season, Las Vegas, against the best defensive team, Seattle.

In the playoffs, though, Seattle has been the top scoring team, averaging 89.7 points per game. Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, and Stewart have all increased their per game scoring averages.

Bird in particular has come back from injury rejuvenated, scoring 11.3 points per game, and she now has the chance for a legacy burnishing fourth WNBA title. The point guard is also averaging a team-high 7.3 assists in the playoffs.

Seattle was such a strong preseason favorite because the team was essentially running back their 2018 squad, which swept the finals as Breanna Stewart was named MVP. Even with Sami Whitcomb leaving the bubble, they have eight players back from that trophy-winning team.

After being held out of the final few games of the regular season, and with a week off while the single elimination portion of the tournament played out, Breanna Stewart is looking outright dominant. Through the three playoff games, she has put together a line of 23 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game.

The sweep of the Lynx was picture perfect for the Storm. The team hauled in more defensive rebounds per game than any other team in the playoff (29 per game), dished out more assists than any other team in the playoffs, and turned the ball over less than any other team in the playoffs (12 per game).

On the season, Seattle shot 47.0% from the field, and they have sustained that mark in the postseason. For Las Vegas, that number is worrying, because in the six games their opponent shot at least 45.9% from the field, the Aces lost four.

Of course, none of those losses came against Seattle. The two teams met twice, and the No. 1 seed Aces swept both.

On August 26, Wilson scored 23 and Danielle Robinson added 23 off the bench to overcome a 29-point effort from Stewart. Loyd shot 1-of-11 from the field and Seattle lost by eight.

On September 13, with the top seed on the line, both Wilson and Dearica Hamby scored 23. While Loyd’s 30 points were a massive improvement over her first outing, they were not enough, and Seattle lost by two.

How much do those games matter now? Well, Bird sat for both, Stewart missed the second, and Hamby is now out with a knee injury. Seattle is playing its best basketball and Las Vegas slogged through five games to bypass the No. 7 seed (albeit a very hot No. 7 seed). Though the Aces advanced, Connecticut actually outscored their opponent in the series.

To win, Las Vegas needs multiple MVP-caliber performances from Wilson. The top offensive team in the regular season has been held to just 72.6 points per game in the playoffs, the second lowest output of any playoff team — behind only Los Angeles’ 59 from their one-and-done performance.

While the Sun’s defense contributed to that 16 point differential between regular- and postseason scoring, Seattle’s defense has been even better.

Las Vegas scored 51.8% of its regular season points inside the paint, more than any other team. Seattle allowed just 15 made field goals in the paint per game, fewest in the league. In the matchup of the two best teams in the league, this is another strength-on-strength matchup to watch.

Last round, Las Vegas was even worse from behind the arc than in the regular season, when they averaged just 4.2 3-pointers per game. They also made 2.8 fewer free throws per game. Simply put, if Seattle can keep Las Vegas off the line and out of the paint, the Aces will not be able to win.

The difference maker is Angel McCoughtry. Still the all-time leader for points in a finals game, her 38 in 2011 was spectacular— though it came in a losing effort. In fact, McCoughtry has never won a WNBA finals game in nine tries, getting swept as a member of the Atlanta Dream in 2010, 2011, and 2013. Her experience will be crucial however, as she’s just one of two Aces players with Finals experience, the other being Sugar Rodgers, who was a rookie on the Lynx team that beat the Dream in 2013.

While Las Vegas is an excellent team, there’s simply too many factors that are trending towards the Storm.

Prediction: Storm in 4

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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