The 2021 WNBA Playoffs have arrived, and the action will begin with the single-elimination first round, which is set for Thursday night. In the first game of the doubleheader, the No. 6 seed Chicago Sky will host the No. 7 seed Dallas Wings.
After signing Candace Parker in free agency, the Sky had high hopes for this season, but things didn't quite go to plan. Now, they'll have to get through two single-elimination rounds just to make the semifinals. As for the young Wings, they're back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and are looking to spring an upset on a veteran Sky team with much more experience.
Ahead of Thursday, here's a closer look at this matchup.
(6) Chicago Sky vs. (7) Dallas Wings
- Date: Thursday, Sept. 23 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
- Location: Wintrust Arena -- Chicago, Illinois
- TV: ESPN 2 | Live stream: WatchESPN
Players to watch
Sky: Candace Parker
Parker's first season in Chicago didn't go to plan because of multiple ankle injuries, but it's no secret the Sky go as she goes. They were 15-8 with her in the lineup and just 1-8 when she was out. Her offensive versatility and defensive presence make such a massive difference for this team.
Wings: Arike Ogunbowale
Ogunbowale's third season in the WNBA had some ups and downs, but she still finished fifth in the league in scoring at 18.7 points per game. She is the type of explosive scorer who can win you a game by herself, which is all the more important in a win-or-go-home situation.
Three keys that will decide the game
Can the Sky recapture their early-season form on defense?
Despite a talented and experienced squad, the Sky's porous defense has held them back the past few seasons. One of their goals this summer was to fix it, both through internal development and Parker's arrival.
Early on, they showed great strides and heading into the Olympic break boasted the third-best defense in the league. Once play resumed, however, it was a different story. They allowed 105.5 points per 100 possessions after the Olympic break, a mark that put them 10th in the league in that span.
Simply put, that's not good enough. It's great to be able to score, but at a certain point, you need to be able to stop someone if you want to win in the playoffs. We know the Sky can shut opponents down, but whether they'll show up on that end of the floor on Thursday remains to be seen.
What can the Wings get from Satou Sabally?
This has been another frustrating season for the former No. 2 pick. Though she started out well, she was limited to just 17 games due to an ongoing Achilles tendon problem, and only returned to the lineup in recent days. She did play in the regular season finale, but only put up four points in 19 minutes.
Her health and availability will play a big role in how this game goes. At her best, Sabally's ability to space the floor and facilitate opens up so many options for the Wings on the offensive end. Meanwhile, her length and athleticism make her a prime candidate to guard Candace Parker.
If Sabally is feeling better and plays as she did at the beginning of the season, the Wings will have a real chance to steal this game. But if she's still limited and looks more like she did over the weekend, it's going to be much more difficult for them to pull off the upset.
How much will experience matter?
One of the first things that stick out when you just glance at these two rosters is the difference in overall experience. The Wings' most veteran player is Kayla Thornton, who is in just her sixth season in the league. Meanwhile, the Sky have three players who have been in the league for over 10 seasons. The Wings don't have a single 30-year-old, the Sky have three of them.
When you start looking at the playoffs, specifically, the difference is even starker. Four players on this Wings roster have played in the postseason, and together they've combined for just 10 playoff appearances. Meanwhile, the only player on the Sky who hasn't been to the playoffs is Dana Evans, who is a rookie.
It's always easier to face the pressure and a playoff atmosphere when you've done it before, so there's no question that experience matters. The question, though, is to what extent? This Wings group has never been in the playoffs together, and we won't know if they're ready for the moment until the game starts.
Sky over Wings
They haven't always been the most consistent this season, but the Sky is a much better team on paper and should win this game at home. As cliche as this sounds, it's just hard to imagine Parker letting them lose. She won't want her first season with her hometown club to end this early.