After Saturday’s win against the New York Liberty, Connecticut Sun Head Coach Curt Miller declared that his squad will “scratch and claw” into the playoffs.
Standing at 6-8, the Sun have just eight (!!!) games left to prove they can hang with the elites of the league and compete in the postseason. If the season ended today, Connecticut would advance to the playoffs with the seventh seed. But the 2020 season is still going on and a lot can happen in the world of basketball in the next three weeks.
How can the Sun keep their playoff hopes alive through the rest of the regular season? Let’s examine their schedule, other teams that may have an effect on Connecticut, and see what the Sun think about their final push into the postseason.
Game 15 | No. 6 Phoenix Mercury
Game Info: Wed. August 26, 10 PM ET, CBS Sports Network
Preview: Phoenix (7-7) stands one game above Connecticut in the league standings. Wednesday’s match-up will be the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Mercury are coming off an 88-87 win over the Mystics on Sunday, propelled by a 34-point performance by All-Star Diana Taurasi.
Players to Watch Out for: Two-thirds of the Big 3: Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith (Brittney Griner left the bubble for personal reasons). Second-year vet Brianna Turner is also coming off a big performance of 17 rebounds and nine points versus Washington.
Importance: Because the standings are so close, it is extremely important that the Sun sweep this series. This is also the first time DeWanna Bonner will face her old team, in case the Sun needed extra motivation for this game.
Game 16 | No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks
Game Info: Fri. August 28, 8 PM ET, CBS Sports Network / Spectrum SportsNet
Preview: The Sparks (10-3) are currently riding a seven-game win streak. They have a big test against Minnesota Wednesday before Friday’s Sun match-up. These teams met almost a month ago in July where LA held a slight edge over Connecticut to take the 81-76 win. DB put up 34 points and 14 rebounds in the game, while AT added a near triple-double with 18 rebounds, 10 points, and eight assists.
Players to Watch Out for: A seven-game win streak is done by a team effort. I honestly can’t highlight certain players because LA is so deep. Half of the team is All-Stars, while the other half are destined to earn that honor soon. Each player plays a pivotal role in Derek Fisher’s system.
Importance: Every game counts, but the Sun can afford to drop this one. The Sparks are among the elite teams in the league, so Miller and squad should definitely use this as an opportunity to test their strength against a Finals favorite.
Game 17 | No. 10 Washington Mystics
Game Info: Sun. August 30, 4 PM ET, Twitter / NBC Sports Washington
Preview: Washington’s (4-9) season certainly didn’t turn out as anyone imagined. They were off to a hot start, but have slowly fallen down the league standings. However, the Mystics still have pieces of their Championship team left. Their last two losses to the Mercury and Wings were by single-digits. They can still produce a high caliber offense, as five Mystics scored in double-digits in Sunday’s loss. This team can still win games and the Sun need to look out for that.
Players to Watch Out for: Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins are my picks. Hines-Allen is averaging 16.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season, shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Atkins also has a hot hand this season, averaging 14.8 points per game off 47.5 percent three-point shooting.
Importance: The Mystics aren’t the team they were last year or at the beginning of this season, but squads like Washington, New York, and Atlanta have no problem messing up the playoff hopes for other teams. The Sun shouldn’t see this game (or any game) as an easy one.
Game 18 | No. 12 New York Liberty
Game Info: Tues. Sept. 1, 7 PM ET, CBS Sports Network / Fox Sports GO (New York)
Preview: Don’t let the 1-12 record fool you, the Liberty are a tough team to compete against. In a season where you are playing almost every day with little rehab and practice, stamina is important. 10 of the Liberty’s 12 players have under two years of experience in the league. Young means inexperienced, but it also means energetic. The Sun have had issues this season with finishing games, so they need to prepare to play at a high level for all four quarters.
Players to Watch Out for: Amanda Zahui B on defense and Layshia Clarendon on offense. Zahui B is averaging 9.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. She is able to shut down bigger opponents while also scoring points for New York. Clarendon is also a player to focus on, as she is shooting 47 percent from the field and 34.4 from the arc in 2020.
Importance: Losing this game could affect the Sun’s playoff hopes more than winning would. Connecticut has bigger tests up ahead, so it is important that they are able to capture these wins.
Game 19 | No. 2 Las Vegas Aces
Game Info: Thurs. Sept. 3, 8 PM ET, Twitter / MyLVTV
Preview: The Aces (10-3) are one of the best teams in the league, period. They crushed the Sun last week, 99-78, and held DeWanna Bonner to 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Connecticut had just 26 rebounds in the game and turned the ball over 16 times. In short, the Aces are really good. It will be interesting to see how the Sun adjust their scheme for their second bout with Vegas.
Players to Watch Out for: MVP favorite (well at least my favorite…) A’ja Wilson. 19.8 points per game. 8.8 rebounds per game. 47 percent shooting on the season. The Aces wouldn’t be atop of the league standings if it weren’t for Wilson.
Importance: This would be a huge win for the Sun mentally. Standings wise, every win counts but it wouldn’t necessarily hurt if they fell to a Finals contender.
Game 20 | No. 8 Indiana Fever
Game Info: Sat. Sept. 5, 4 PM ET, Facebook / Fox Sports Indiana
Preview: Indiana (5-8) is a half of a game behind Connecticut in the league standings. The Sun beat the Fever with ease last week, 84-62. However, Indiana turned it around and defeated No.1 Seattle the following game. This team is very confusing and inconsistent. A different team is shown every time they come on the court. Miller and the Sun need to be ready for anything.
Players to Watch Out for: Kelsey Mitchell and Julie Allemand are the obvious picks, but I want to throw Kennedy Burke in there as well. She’s a tough competitor and was a key piece in the Fever’s win over the Storm (check out Owen Pence’s Wubble Weekly for a more in-depth analysis of Burke’s play against Seattle).
Importance: Extremely important. The Fever just beat the Storm. If they get hot, Indiana can easily replace Connecticut in one of those final playoff spots. The Sun need to win in order to hold that tiebreaker advantage.
Game 21 | No. 6 Phoenix Mercury
Game Info: Wed. Sept. 9, 7 PM ET, Facebook / FSAZ+
Preview: This game all depends on how the rankings look up to this point. Either team could have clinched a playoff spot by now, or they may be duking it out for one.
Importance: I’m not confident the Sun will make the playoffs without sweeping the Mercury. With that being said, no one knows what is going to happen and my preview can be completely off come game time.
Game 22 | No. 11 Atlanta Dream
Game Info: Fri. Sept. 11, 7 PM ET, Facebook / Fox Sports Southeast Atlanta
Preview: The Dream (3-11) have shown some great flashes this year, but haven’t been able to pull together dominant wins. They are still a good team, and as usual, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Players to Watch Out for: Chennedy Carter, assuming she is back in action, will be making a final push for her Rookie of the Year campaign. ‘Hollywood’ looks for big time opportunities. A game where you could potentially spoil a team’s playoff hopes and secure ROTY title? Yeah…I would watch out Connecticut.
Importance: It all depends on where the league standings are, but as I said, every game counts.
Foes & Friends
There are some teams in the league that could potentially help and some that could hurt Connecticut’s playoff hopes.
The Foes are obvious. Each team is neck and neck with the Sun currently:
Phoenix: No. 6 / One game ahead of Sun
Indiana: No. 8 / Half of a game behind Sun
Dallas: No. 9 / One game behind Sun
Every loss the Foes suffer will result in a win for the Sun. These are the main teams Connecticut should cheer for over the next eight games:
The Aces, Lynx, and Storm all play Phoenix, Indiana, and Dallas one more time this year. These teams are also at the top of the league standings. Them winning is not going to negatively affect the Sun in their push towards the playoffs.
Final Thoughts & Quotes
In a shortened season with games almost every day, players cannot lose sight of what is ahead. Though it may be hard to not relive yesterday’s mistakes, the Connecticut Sun are focused on living, learning, and moving on.
“When you play games every other day, you can’t dwell too much on the past game because you have another one to get ready for,” said rookie Kaila Charles last week during media availability. “We might drop a couple games, but we are still in it and have more games to play. We just want to get a playoff seed and then we will have time to make our deep run.”
Every single player on the Connecticut Sun will need to contribute a high level of production in order to make the playoffs. As detailed above, six of their last eight games will be against teams ranked at sixth or below in the league standings. The last three playoff spots will likely be decided on the final day of the season.
“You have to take care of teams that you are competing with at the end of the standings to get in the top eight,” Miller said after Saturday’s win. “Every game is important, especially the games that are at No. 6 or below. They are double whammies that are trying to create an opportunity for the playoffs.”
As for now, Miller and his Sun squad are focused on taking a much needed rest and recovery since playing 10 games in the last 19 days.
“We finally get to take a deep breath and regroup,” Miller said. “We have to take it game by game, but we want to clean up some things that we haven’t been able to get to on the practice floor. We will go back and watch film from some of the recent games and be able to finally correlate stuff from the film room to the practice floor.”
“We found a bit of a rhythm and found some things that work for us,” Jasmine Thomas added. “The pieces are coming together. I think we made some progress in a very tough stretch.”
At any point, a team can get hot and make a run up the league standings.
“Now it’s pretty tight with the playoffs,” Alyssa Thomas said. “All of us are pretty evenly matched right now. For us, it is just about starting to separate ourselves and taking it one game at a time.”
“Our goal is to scratch and claw. We know people are going to get hot behind us and we can’t worry about other people, we have to take care of ourselves. If we can string some (wins) together, we can put ourselves into position to be in the playoffs” Miller explained.