The WNBA season is flying by, with under two weeks left before the regular season concludes. There's still time to find value in the late-season matchups, starting with a four-game slate on Tuesday, August 2. As the season goes on, road teams are at a disadvantage with commercial travel leading to tired legs. I picked three games with value on the home teams to analyze, including a two-unit play tonight.
New York Liberty vs. Los Angeles Sparks
With the second-worst defensive rating in the league, L.A. could struggle to limit Sabrina Ionescu and the Liberty. Brittney Sykes held Ionescu in check during previous matchups, as the star guard averaged under 12 points per game in her career against the Sparks, but New York is now tougher to defend with multiple capable ballhandlers since adding Crystal Dangerfield and Marine Johannes into the mix.
Nearly 60% of opponent shots off catch-and-shoot opportunities against the Sparks were unguarded according to Synergy, the second-highest figure in the league. The Liberty can knock down enough shots to make L.A. pay, as New York ranks first in points off uncontested catch-and-shoot looks per game.
L.A. allowed the highest opponent effective field-goal percentage and three-point percentage this season, and no team scored a higher proportion of points from beyond the arc than the Liberty this year. A large chunk of those threes came off passes from Ionescu, as her 80 three-point assists lead the league entering today's games.
The Sparks could struggle to get easy looks on the other end as the team posted a 103.5 offensive rating with Cambage on the court but that dropped to just 96.9 points per 100 possessions without her. L.A. shot nearly 7% worse from two-point range without Cambage and the Sparks averaged fewer free-throws and looks at the rim with Cambage off the floor.
I'd take the Liberty anywhere up to -5.5 and I put two units on the favorites at -3.5.
EDGE: New York Liberty -3.5 (2 Units)
Connecticut Sun vs. Phoenix Mercury
The Mercury have been playing small lineups since moving on from Tina Charles earlier this season. That strategy worked out relatively well so far due to a torrid stretch from Skylar Diggins-Smith, but Connecticut's stacked frontcourt will be a tough matchup for Phoenix.
The most-used Phoenix lineup of Diggins-Smith/Peddy/Taurasi/Cunningham/Turner shot below 60% at the rim in 248 minutes so far this season and the Sun will make it even harder for the Mercury to score inside.
Opponents outscored the Mercury by eight points per 100 possessions in Phoenix's road matchups, the second-worst net rating in the W. The 11th ranked Mercury defense will face a top-three offense in the Sun, which is an especially daunting challenge considering the rebounding advantage for Connecticut.
The Mercury posted the second-lowest defensive rebound rate in the league and could struggle to contain the Sun on the offensive glass. Connecticut paced the WNBA in offensive rebound rate last season and is on pace to top the league once again by a significant margin.
Phoenix also allowed the second-most opponent second chance points per game and Connecticut leads the league in 2nd chance scoring behind frontcourt stars Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones.
I expect the rebounding battle to yield plenty of extra chances for Connecticut's offense while the Mercury will struggle to score against the frontcourt of the Sun. Even with a double-digit spread, I'm taking the favorites to cover in what should be a convincing victory at home.
EDGE: Connecticut Sun -10 (1 Unit)
Washington Mystics vs. Las Vegas Aces
This is a matchup of strength against strength, as Washington's league-best defense will look to hold the potent Las Vegas offense in check. Washington leads the league in defensive rating after an impressive 10-game stretch with a 92.2 defensive rating, which is more than four points per 100 possessions better than any other defense in that span.
In contrast, the Aces rank just eighth in defensive rating in that time and the Commissioner's Cup champions have been vulnerable to opposing offenses since starting the season strong.
Among players responsible for at least 5% of Washington's defensive possessions, five Mystics ranked in the 70th percentile or better for Synergy's defensive efficiency, which matched Seattle for the highest count in the league. The Mystics also held opponents to score the fewest Points Per Possession (PPP) on isolations, pick-and-rolls and post-ups (all including passes) according to Synergy.
A large part of that success is the perimeter defense, led by two All-Defensive Team candidates in Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. Atkins established herself as one of the premier defensive guards in the league, while Cloud is a tenacious defender who also tops the W in efficiency (Points per Possession + Assist) among the 15 players averaging at least 20 combined offensive possessions and assists per game.
On the offensive side, Washington posted a 106.9 offensive rating while outscoring opponents by 9.3 points per 100 possessions in Elena Delle Donne's 578 minutes on the court.
Delle Donne is known for becoming the first player in WNBA history with a 50/40/90% shooting season, but her dominance at the rim has gone underappreciated. EDD made more than 90% of her shots at the rim so far this season and no other player with at least 10 attempts at the rim exceeded 80% accuracy according to PBP Stats.
I think this game could go either way and while Las Vegas has been a much better clutch-time team than Washington this season, the Mystics posted a +20.93 net rating in 19 high or very high-leverage minutes with Delle Donne on the court this season. Washington is simply a different team with the star forward available and I'll bet that a full-strength Mystics squad matches up favorably with the Aces in this matchup.
EDGE: Washington Mystics +3.5 (1 Unit)