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WNBA playoffs odds, picks: Betting analysis for the second-round matchups

Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles has said this will be her final WNBA season. (David Berding/Getty Images)

Round two of the WNBA playoffs is set for today, and despite many calls for a format change, the No. 3-seeded Lynx and No. 4-seeded Storm will have to sweat out single-elimination games.

The winners of Sunday’s games will advance to the semifinals, where they’ll get rewarded with a five-game series against either Connecticut or Las Vegas. But first things first, let’s break down today’s action from a betting perspective.

No. 5 Phoenix Mercury at No. 4 Seattle Storm (3 p.m. ET, ABC)

Talk about an escape job. The Mercury survived and advanced in The Sophie Cunningham Game on Thursday with an 83-82 win over the pesky Liberty. It was Phoenix’s second straight one-point win in the first round after Shey Peddy’s buzzer-beater sent them to the second round last season.

Meanwhile, the Storm certainly weren’t expecting to be playing Sunday after entering the break in first place, but considering they needed a win over Phoenix in their final game just to avoid Round 1, they’ll take what they can get.

Had the Mercury won that game just over a week ago, this one would be taking place in Phoenix. But Jewell Loyd had other plans, dropping 28 first half points to lead her team to a 94-85 win without Breanna Stewart.

The Mercury were favored by two in that one, but PointsBet has Sunday’s spread set at Mercury -3.5. And the unfortunate reality is that the best bet in this one will probably come down to player health.

Diana Taurasi is currently questionable for the contest, while Stewart has been ruled out. If Taurasi suits up, the best bet is probably on the Mercury -3.5 line. Of course, if that happens, the line will move at some point during the day, but there should be time between the injury update and the line movement to get a bet down.

Availability aside, the other key to this game lies in Phoenix’s perimeter defense. Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith are one of the deadliest backcourt duos in the league when they have the ball, and Peddy and Kia Nurse are solid complements as well. But none of them have an easy time matching up with a guard like Loyd on the other end.

The Mercury’s win Thursday marked the eighth straight game that they have allowed their opponent’s highest-scoring guard to score above their season average, including that game in Seattle in which Loyd hung 37 on them. If they can’t find a way to slow down Loyd this time around, they might be in trouble, even without Stewart on the court.

Health and backcourt defense should have an impact on the over/under as well. That line is set at 160.5.

For whatever Taurasi lacks on defense at this stage in her career, we all know how capable she is of lighting up the scoreboard. Factor in that Phoenix plays nearly five more possessions per 40 minutes with her on the court this year, and her presence is vital for hitting the over.

I’d hold off on putting any money on either the spread or the total of this game until we get confirmation on Taurasi’s status. If you’re close to a computer when you get the updates, check the lines to see if you can bet them before they change accordingly.

No. 6 Chicago Sky at No. 3 Minnesota Lynx (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Death, taxes and Cheryl Reeve in September. The legendary coach once again has her team in prime position to make some noise in the playoffs.

But first, she’ll have to get past her former assistant, Chicago head coach James Wade. After single-elimination exits in each of his first two seasons at the helm, Wade and his squad are hungry to break through to the semis.

They’ll have to do it as sizable underdogs, as PointsBet’s spread is currently Chicago +4.

The matchup with the storylines will be Candace Parker versus Sylvia Fowles, who have been rivals ever since their college days in the SEC. But the X-factor matchup in this one will be Kahleah Copper versus Aerial Powers.

Including Copper’s 23-point showing in Chicago’s first-round win over Dallas on Thursday, the Sky are 6-2 when their leading scorer uses at least 25 percent of their possessions. When her usage rate drops below 17 percent, they are 0-4. Getting her looks will be important for Wade’s offense.

On the flip side, Powers has come on strong as of late after a slow start with her new team that was worsened by an early season injury. All four of Powers’ 20-point performances have come in Minnesota’s last six games.

Powers has struggled in her career against Chicago, shooting just 32 percent — a full 10 percentage points worse than her field goal percentage against other teams. But Reeve has unlocked something in her this month, so that should carry over into the playoffs.

Between that, Minnesota’s 8-3 record against the spread as home favorites, and Chicago’s 2-5 mark as road underdogs, I’m still taking Minnesota -4 in this one.

I’ll also go with the over on the 165.5-point total here. With all the usual small sample caveats, both of the teams’ regular season matchups broke 190.

Perhaps more relevantly, the Sky and the Lynx are second and third in the percentage of games in which they’ve hit the over, at 58 and 56 percent respectively, behind only the Aces and their top-ranked offense.

Chicago looked locked in defensively for much of its win over Dallas on Thursday, so if that team shows up again, then this over could be in trouble. But Minnesota is no Dallas offensively — Reeve’s group has been a well-oiled machine down the stretch. I’ll take my chances at 165.5.

Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats and Bet Her. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.