After a 36-game regular season that began in early May, the WNBA Playoffs are finally here! The 2022 postseason boasts a new format as eight teams fight to reach the WNBA Finals and ultimately bring home the league crown in September.
With first-round action underway, one of the four opening-series matchups will be the third-seeded Connecticut Sun going up against the sixth-seeded Dallas Wings in a best-of-three battle.
As the series between the Sun and Wings commences, Mitchell Hansen takes a look at Connecticut and Jasmine Harper analyzes Dallas as they preview the matchup and offer their thoughts, insights, and predictions on what might take place during the first-round series.
Mitchell: Connecticut enters the postseason after putting together another strong season, compiling a record of 25-11 and rounding out the season winning eight of its final 10 games. The Sun are arguably playing some of their best basketball at the right time. Brionna Jones noted after the regular season finale that she felt like Connecticut was clicking at the right time, adding, “I think we’re going to bring that momentum and energy into the playoffs.”
At the end of the regular season, the Sun ranked near the top of the WNBA in multiple areas, including first in rebounds per game (37.1); second in opponent points per game (77.8) and field goal percentage (46.2 percent); and third in points per game (85.8), three-point percentage (36.1 percent), and assists per game (21.1).
MVP candidate Jonquel Jones has been leading the way for Connecticut once again this season. However, she has benefited from a strong supporting cast of Brionna Jones, DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, Courtney Williams, and Natisha Hiedeman.
The Sun, who are looking to capture their first championship in franchise history, are a top three team for the second straight season and the third time in the last four years. This team knows what it’s like to have more pressure as a top seed in the playoffs. Just a few years ago in 2019, Connecticut reached as far as the WNBA Finals before falling to Washington in five games.
This Sun team is one worth keeping an eye on and could surprise some people in the postseason, entering the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league at the best possible time.
Jasmine: After a dominant win against the Los Angeles Sparks in their final regular season game, the Dallas Wings are gearing up for the first round of the playoffs. Like many teams this season, the Wings had a rocky start, and the regular season looked pretty grim at one point. The team couldn’t sustain win streaks for more than two or three games at a time, the injury bug plagued players, and figuring out how each player fell into their role was a challenge.
The team moved on from their longtime facilitator Moriah Jefferson, seeking a renewed offense coupled with a sturdy defense. They drafted a defensive mind in Veronica Burton, a hustle player in Jasmine Dickey, and brought in Teaira McCowan from the Indiana Fever as reinforcement.
It took a while for McCowan to gel on the floor with teammates, but she soared as a true center once the new-team jitters wore off, ranking second in field goal percentage (60.2 percent) behind Sylvia Fowles (62.2 percent) to end the season. Her addition to the team opened up the Wings’ playmaking and allowed other players to expand their game. McCowan coming into the fold helped Kayla Thornton regain her offensive groove and Tyasha Harris become a dependable three-point shooter.
The Wings ranked as a middle-tier team throughout the majority of the regular season, placing eighth in field goal percentage (43.5 percent), three-point percentage (34.3 percent), and rebounds per game (33.8). Head coach Vickie Johnson emphasized transition game for her players all season long, urging them to let their defense dictate the offense. Getting players to commit and buy in was a tough task for the second-year coach. Although it took half the season to gather the rhythm Johnson was looking for, the wins came to fruition at the perfect time, leading to the Wings securing a playoff berth.
The Dallas Wings have a challenge on their hands of making it past the first round and proving they are championship contenders too. Coach Johnson and her players agree that the Wings belong in the playoffs, but determining how far they can fly is tough because of their inconsistent history. Even still, they caught their best offensive flow in years to end the 2022 regular season, going 5-2 in their final seven games and beating the top two seeds in back-to-back matchups. If the Wings can maintain their flow while adding in a little razzle dazzle, we can bet on them making a lengthy postseason run.
How the Teams Stack Up
Mitchell: Dallas is one of the few teams Connecticut struggled against this season, with the Sun losing the three-game season series 1-2. Two of those three games in the regular season were in Connecticut, much like what will take place over the first two meetings in this playoff series. Dallas was able to take the first game of the year on the road, but Connecticut bounced back with a win at home in the second game before Dallas took game three in Texas to round out the season series.
The regular season series record alone proves the Wings are comfortable with facing the Sun and have what it takes to steal at least one game on the road. However, Connecticut has played relatively well against Dallas in the three meetings this summer, even though it dropped two of those three games. In the three contests, the Sun averaged 82.3 points while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. Defensively, Connecticut did a nice job of limiting a talented Dallas offense, giving up 78.3 points on 40.8 percent shooting. Statistically, the Sun have outperformed the Wings this season, but when this time of the year rolls around, the wins have to follow that production in order to advance to the next round.
Jasmine: As Mitchell stated, the Sun have statistically outperformed the Wings this season, but Dallas’ last-minute push for a win rattled Connecticut and other teams on more than one occasion. The Wings’ 2-1 series win against the Sun came as a result of dominant performances from Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally, and/or Allisha Gray. With that being said, Dallas is without its top scorer in Ogunbowale due to an abdominal injury, and Sabally’s ankle injury keeps her availability at a game-to-game decision.
Also, the Connecticut Sun have a clear size advantage over the Wings with Brionna Jones, DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in their pocket. The Wings do have a crafty and strong inside presence with McCowan, who ranks 10th in points in the paint per game (8.3) and first in second-chance points per game (3.7), but she alone cannot measure up to the post competition. Connecticut has four capable defenders and scorers who can neutralize McCowan early on by throwing a lot of bodies at her on both ends. The Wings will have to rely on other sizable players, such as Isabelle Harrison or Awak Kuier, to take the pressure off McCowan and provide relief. Dallas’ small ball has worked against opponents like the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces as of late, but is that same style sustainable in the playoffs?
X Factors and What To Watch For
Mitchell: Some of the X factors and key things to keep an eye on for Connecticut in this series—and perhaps throughout its entire run in the playoffs—is the Sun’s post play, defense, and bench performance.
When it comes to post production, Connecticut features a star-studded group headlined by Jonquel Jones, Thomas, Bonner, and Brionna Jones in the paint. The Sun are more post-reliant rather than guard-reliant, although Williams and Hiedeman can step up when called upon at guard, which is the exact opposite of Dallas. If the Sun’s post players can continue their play like we saw throughout most of the summer, that could be a huge advantage for Connecticut.
Two other areas of focus for the Sun should be their defense and how much they can get from the bench in this first-round series. As talented as Connecticut’s offense can be, it is also a solid defensive team, ranking second in defensive rating (96.3) during the regular season. Defense will be key when squaring off against a Wings squad that also has a top-five offense. Bench play is another area where the Sun have thrived, mainly due to Brionna Jones’ 13.8 PPG and 5.1 RPG off the bench. Connecticut ranked third in bench scoring during the regular season, while Dallas ranked ninth in the WNBA.
Jasmine: Building off Mitchell’s last point, Connecticut and Dallas are almost complete opposites. The Sun play with size and have great bench production, while the Wings rely more on their prolific scoring with a guard-heavy roster. Dallas only ranked ninth in defensive rating (104.3) during the regular season, while Connecticut shined at number two (96.3). This could pose a major problem for the Wings. Dallas’ shaky defense could be a particular weak spot when guarding Thomas, who is ranked fifth in the league at drawing fouls. If Johnson can’t get her post players to defend at a high level without getting into foul trouble, the Sun could have their way on the court.
Additionally, with Satou Sabally remaining day-to-day, determining how she falls into the Wings’ game plan is tough. Sabally hasn’t played for one month, and Dallas hit its stride rounding out the season when she wasn’t on the floor. Working her back in, if fully healthy, calls for Sabally to adjust her game to the winning recipe the Wings and Johnson have cooked up. On the other hand, if Sabally remains out or is limited during this round, the team will need their remaining 10 players to stay healthy and locked in on the game plan. And with Ogunbowale officially sidelined versus Connecticut, Dallas needs a volume scorer in the case the Wings find themselves down.
That’s where the X factors come in: the vets. I’m putting pressure on the Wings’ vets to hold it down in round one with Gray and Mabrey leading the charge. Allisha is the best two-way player in the game right now and provides efficiency and consistency. Marina can score from anywhere at any time with her clutch gene. The longtime Wings players know what needs to be done and how to do it. It’s all about execution at this point, and as the Wings continuously preach when a player is down, it’s “next man up” right now.
Mitchell: If both teams were at full strength in this opening round, it would likely be a fairly competitive and entertaining series between two teams who rank in the top four in the WNBA in offensive production. However, Dallas being without Ogunbowale leaves a huge hole in the Wings’ rotation. Ogunbowale’s team-leading 19.7 PPG will be tough for the Wings to make up for, offering Connecticut a chance to take this series in short order. Although the Sun saw their struggles against the Wings during the regular season, Connecticut is battle-tested in the postseason and should be able to come out on top and advance to the second round of the playoffs. The mixture of Connecticut playing well as of late and Dallas being without its star guard will open the door for the Sun in the opening round. Give me Connecticut in a 2-0 series sweep.
Jasmine: I’m going to take the Dallas Wings moving on to the second round. The Wings have claimed win after win despite losing their top scorer, Ogunbowale, as well as a versatile forward, Sabally. As previously mentioned in my recent article, the only thing stopping the Wings at this point is themselves. When the team opens up and expands their game, it works. They won six out of their final nine contests and sealed the season with a statement win against the Sparks, 116-88. Additionally, the team remains focused on taking games one at a time instead of rushing ahead and clinging for life to the championship. Dallas is aggressive, committed, and energized, and the Wings are hard to stop when their tunnel vision kicks in.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of WNBA.com.