The second round of the WNBA playoffs is set after first-round victories from the Connecticut Sun and the Phoenix Mercury.
The playoffs continue Thursday from the bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with the stakes still extremely high. The single-elimination format puts No. 3 seed Los Angeles Sparks and No. 4 Minnesota Lynx in jeopardy of an early exit, although all four teams competing know they are just one good game away from the semifinals.
Here is a look at what to expect in the upcoming round of the 2020 playoffs.
WNBA Round 2
Thursday, Sept. 17
No. 5 Phoenix Mercury at No. 4 Minnesota Lynx, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
No. 7 Connecticut Sun at No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Both games available for live streaming at Watch ESPN and the ESPN app.
Mercury vs. Lynx
One of the biggest stories for Minnesota heading into the playoffs is the health of Sylvia Fowles, who was limited to just seven games this season because of a calf injury. Head coach Cheryl Reeve hinted at a potential return in the postseason.
"We were already in a place with her when we were managing her calf where she had short stints anyway," Reeve said, per Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press (via the Star Tribune). "If we're fortunate enough to have her that would be the mind set. No way am I bringing Sylvia Fowles off the bench. If she's healthy enough, she's starting."
The 2017 WNBA MVP is still a dominant force in the post when healthy, leading the team with 9.7 rebounds per game. She has also won two titles with the Lynx, providing some much-needed experience on what has become a mostly young roster.
Rookie Crystal Dangerfield has been a revelation with an average of 16.2 points per game this season, while Napheesa Collier contributes in a lot of ways, but neither is proven in the playoffs. Without Fowles, the Lynx could be in for a tough challenge in Round 2.
The Mercury survived a tough Round 1 battle from a red-hot Washington Mystics squad giving everything it had to advance. Phoenix trailed 11 points at halftime and 13 late in the third quarter before a 17-0 run turned the tides:
It then came down to Shey Peddy hitting the buzzer-beater to send the Mercury to the next round.
Phoenix had an up-and-down season and have questions about depth but still have two of the best players in the league between Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. The two combined for 47 points against the Mystics and are good enough to carry the team deep in the playoffs.
If Brianna Turner can continue to produce defensively, the Mercury can at least win in Round 2.
Sun vs. Sparks
The Sparks beat the Seattle Storm in the second round last season before the Sun swept them in the semifinals. The team is looking for revenge this time around.
Los Angeles has a two-time MVP in Candace Parker and one of the deepest lineups in the WNBA with five players averaging double figures. The squad is especially dangerous from the perimeter while shooting 39.8 percent as a team, best in the league.
Seimone Augustus led the WNBA while shooting 54.5 percent from three-point range, while Riquna Williams can get hot in a hurry. They help form an exciting bench that can change a game in an instant.
The only thing that has held the Sparks back is inconsistency, which was seen with some cold shooting the last two games. The issues then bled into other areas on the court, including defense and rebounding.
If the Sparks lose focus Thursday, the Sun will make them pay.
Connecticut is dangerous thanks to DeWanna Bonner, the third-leading scorer in the league this season at 19.7 points per game. Alyssa Thomas also showed what she could do during Tuesday's 94-81 win over the Chicago Sky:
Thomas is one of the most versatile players in the league and set new career highs in points (15.5), rebounds (9.0), assists (4.8) and steals (2.0) per game this season. She had 28 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in the Round 1 playoff win and should play a significant role again in Round 2.
Add in a quality team defense that just held Courtney Vandersloot in check and the No. 7 seed will be a tough team to beat.