The 2022 WNBA regular season has come to a close and the Wings enter the playoffs coming off one of their best performances of the season.
After having a major breakthrough that led to a five-game winning streak earlier in the month, Dallas ended the season with an absolute thrashing of the Sparks. The Wings broke the team record for first-half points and finished shooting over 65% from the field.
Dallas won 116-88, giving the team an 18-18 record. It is the first time the Wings have finished with a .500 or better record in a season.
Sixth-seeded Dallas now turns its attention to their playoff series against No. 3 Sun. The first round of the playoffs is a best-of-three series with the first two games taking place in Connecticut. A potential winner-take-all Game 3 would be held at College Park Center on August 24.
Here are five things to know ahead of the first round of the playoffs.
Dallas actually won the season series
The Wings defeated every team in the league at least once. But of the five teams to finish with a winning record, Connecticut was the only team they beat twice. Dallas played two straight against the Sun in Uncasville, Conn., in May. The Wings upset the Sun in the first game, 85-77, in what was one of the team’s early statement victories. They were blown out by 31 points two days later but it was still a successful road split. The third matchup was both teams’ final game before the All-Star Break. Dallas won 82-71.
But the Wings team that took two of three from the Sun during the regular season will not be the same team taking the floor in the playoffs. All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale is out for at least the first round of the playoffs with an abdominal injury and Dallas team has been lifted thanks to the emergence of their big offseason acquisition.
Battle of the bigs
The second-half surge of Teaira McCowan has not only changed the way the Wings play but also raised their potential ceiling in the playoffs. Recently called the “Monster in the Middle” by Aces coach Becky Hammon, McCowan has been Dallas’ best player the last month of the season.
Connecticut has arguably the best post rotation in the league with its three main bigs all making the All-Star Game. While her stats are down across the board from last year, reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones is still a top-five player in the league. Brionna Jones, unrelated to Jonquel, is the heavy favorite for Sixth Woman of the Year. Alyssa Thomas is a swiss-army knife who is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
The matchup between McCowan and Connecitcut’s bigs will be the key to the series. In the final regular game between the two teams, McCowan was starting to figure out her role on the Wings. She had 14 points and four blocks in the game as Jonquel Jones struggled to only 10 points. It is no easy task to get the best of the defending MVP. But McCowan has done it before and Dallas is going to need her to do it again.
What role will Satou Sabally play?
Satou Sabally’s third season has been a disappointment due to injuries. Her talent is evident every time she steps on the floor but her time on the hardwood has been limited this summer. She arrived late from Europe, missed three weeks in June with knee injury and then missed the last 13 games of the season.
How much Sabally plays, if at all, in the playoffs remains to be seen. Considering her lengthy absence combined with just a few practices heading into the playoff game, she likely won’t play major minutes. But her potential return adds a dynamism to the Wings bench. Sabally — who can play as a small forward, power forward or small-ball center — gives Dallas an offensive creator it’s been missing without Ogunbowale. She can also defend the perimeter well against both wings and forwards, which could allow Dallas to match up better against Connecticut’s tall frontcourt.
The Sun are a balanced team
While Dallas enters the playoffs still riding some of the momentum it earned from its five-game win streak for earlier in the month, Connecticut arrives as arguably the most consistent team of the season’s second half. The Sun are 11-3 since the All-Star Break. Two of their losses were by a combined six points in Chicago.
The team overall is extremely well-balanced with its four best players — Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas — all averaging between 14.6 and 13.4 points per game. Starting guards Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman also average 11.1 points and i.1 points respectively.
It just isn’t on offense where Connecticut is sound. The Sun defense is also one of the best units in the league. Their defensive rating ranks second in the association and they lead the WNBA with nearly nine steals per game.
Dallas can win more than just its first-ever playoff game
The Wings have made the playoffs three previous times in their history: 2017, 2018 and 2021. All three times they played in a winner-take-all first round matchup on the road, and lost each time by an average of 15 points. Dating back to the franchise’s history in Tulsa and Detroit, the Wings/Shock haven’t won a playoff game since Sept. 23, 2009 — a span of 4,710 days.
That was so long ago that just two days before that last win, coach Vickie Johnson had played in the final game of her 13-year WNBA career.
Dallas’ search for a playoff victory has been like a camel looking for water in the desert. But this season doesn’t represent a mirage. The Wings have as good of a chance as they ever had to win a playoff game thanks to the new best-of-three format and an opponent they are confident against in the Sun.
But they should strive for more than that. A victory in Connecticut would give Dallas the chance to host a game in Arlington, another major accomplishment for a franchise that has been lost in the woods for the better part of a decade. Winning the series—and the Wings have more than a puncher’s chance of doing so—would mark the best moment in the team’s history in Texas.
Despite the ups and downs of this season, Dallas did take a step forward from its full-tear down rebuild from a few years ago. But there is still time to continue progressing before the season ends.
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