After having their six-game winning streak snapped by a signature Arike Ogunbowale game-winner, the Seattle Storm (7-2) head eastward for a five-game road trip. Their first stop is Atlanta, where they will meet the Dream (4-4) for a two-game set at Gateway Center.
The first of the two matchups is Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.
Although they currently sit second in the league-wide standings at 7-2, there is some cause for concern for the Storm. Namely, they are highly-dependent on Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd for scoring production. The pair has combined for an average of 43 points per game. While Sue Bird occasionally unleashes an aggressive scoring game, she primarily serves as a table setter, tossing 6.2 assists per game.
Seattle’s prominent offseason additions — Katie Lou Samuelson and Candice Dupree — have offered uninspiring offensive contributions. As neither is a strong defender, it is critical that they are positives on the offensive end. Samuelson has averaged less than 19 minutes in her four games, scoring only 5.5 points on 40 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent shooting from behind the arc. Dupree is playing less than 18 minutes per game, but averaging a slightly better 6.9 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting.
Of course, depending on Stewie and Jewell is not necessarily a bad thing. Loyd’s leap, in particular, has spurred Seattle’s successful start to the season, despite the subpar efforts of supporting players. While she does not profile as a conventional Most Improved Player candidate — a two-time All-Star and Second Team All-WNBA honoree in 2016 — Loyd has gone from an inconsistent, sometimes star to a night in, night out superstar.
The Gold Mamba, recently named Western Conference Player of the Week, demonstrably has improved her shooting and scoring efficiency. Her career-high 20.7 points per game are coming on a career-high true shooting percentage of 60.3 percent. Her career-high 42.9 percent from 3-point range, on a career-high 6.2 attempts per game, has helped her unlock this elite level of efficiency. And yes, that’s a lot of career highs!
Seattle’s “Big 3” of Stewart, Loyd and Bird could overwhelm Atlanta’s defense by themselves. Although the Dream have successfully deployed their trapping scheme, the veteran Bird could slice, dice and sauté their over-eager defense, setting up Stewart and Loyd for open jumpers or easy drives to the hoop.
Atlanta could also have their way on offense. Seattle has surrendered a league-worst 40.4 points in the paint. While the Dream will miss Chennedy Carter’s potent penetration, Tiffany Hayes is one of the WNBA’s most persistent drivers, using her lethal combination of shiftiness and speed to slink and slither to the hoop. If Hayes also is hitting her 3-pointers, which she so far is converting at a career-high rate of 46.7 percent, she could force the defense to close out hard, making her forays to the bucket more favorable.
Wednesday’s national television game on CBS Sports Network (8 p.m. ET) features two squads seemingly stuck on the struggle bus — the Chicago Sky (2-7) and Indiana Fever (1-9). After winning their first two games, the short-handed and snakebitten Sky have lost seven-straight games, severely missing the services of Candace Parker, who is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday. The Fever’s slide is at five-straight games, and they do not appear close to righting the ship. In their last game, Indiana was blitzed by a Los Angeles Sparks team that then-owned the league’s worst offense.
Atlanta Dream (4-4) vs. Seattle Storm (7-2)
When: Wednesday, June 9 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Gateway Center in College Park, GA
How to watch: Bally Sports SE, JOE TV, TSN
Key to the matchup: The backup point guard matchup between two former Pac-12 defensive-minded speed demons — former UCLA Bruin and fourth-year Storm Jordin Canada vs. former Arizona Wildcat and Dream rookie Aari McDonald — should be a fun one! So far this season, Canada has seen her role reduced due to the good health of Sue Bird. In turn, she has yet to find her groove, as her offensive and defensive numbers are down across the board. Since picking up a DNP-CD in the second game of the season, McDonald steadily has found her footing. With Chennedy Carter out with an injury the past two games, she has received additional playing time and made the most of it, posting back-to-back 15-point performances.
Dream injury report: Chennedy Carter (doubtful; elbow)
Storm injury report: Mikiah Herbet Harrigan (out for season; personal)
Highlight: Aari McDonald drains the pull-up triple
Chicago Sky (2-7) vs. Indiana Fever (1-9)
When: Wednesday, June 9 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL
How to watch: CBS Sports Network
Key to the matchup: In the Sky’s two previous seasons under head coach James Wade, they have have been a high-scoring team with a top-five offensive rating. This season, the formerly-potent Sky have been stuck in the mud. Poor shooting is a big part of the problem. Chicago is last in the league in effective field goal percentage and second to last in the league (to Indiana) in true shooting percentage. On the positive side, the Sky are getting to the free throw line for 20.3 freebies per game, which is tied for the third-best mark in the league. At the line, they shoot a league-best 86.3 percent. So, the Sky can shoot! Once the jumpers start falling, Chicago should begin to resemble the efficient and effective offense of the past couple of seasons.
Sky injury report: Candace Parker (probable; ankle); Astou Ndour-Fall (out; temporary contract suspension—EuroBasket)
Fever: Tiffany Mitchell (questionable; quad); Jessica Breland (questionable; illness) Bernadett Határ (out; ankle), Aaliyah Wilson (out; foot)
Highlight: Some vintage Sky offensive action