Aug. 16 WNBA Preview — Seattle Storm (14-12) at Connecticut Sun (17-8)

Having salvaged a split of their two-game trek west and four-game road trip overall, the Connecticut Sun look to retain the inside track on a bye to the semifinal round of the playoffs Friday night when they host the reigning WNBA champion Seattle Storm.

The Sun (17-8) did what good teams do – beat a quality yet short-handed team on the road after turning back the Mercury 78-71 on Wednesday night to remain one game behind Washington for first. Jasmine Thomas and Jonquel Jones combined for six straight fourth-quarter points as Connecticut withstood a challenge from a feisty Mercury team playing without suspended center and WNBA leading scorer Brittney Griner.

“Man, we knew we needed this one bad,” Courtney Williams told the Sun’s official Twitter account after chipping in 12 points and six rebounds. “It was a little ugly, but we got the ‘W.’ We stayed tough, had to string together stops and knock down some shots.”

Jones finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds for her fifth double-double in seven games and league-leading 13th on the season. She leads the WNBA in rebounding (10.2) and blocks (2.2), and is also ninth in scoring at 15.0 points per game.

The Sun have been nearly unbeatable at Mohegan Sun, going 11-1 this season and winning 18 of 19 there since a 78-65 loss to Seattle on July 20, 2018. Connecticut has won five straight at home since a 74-71 defeat to Minnesota on July 6, averaging 83.0 points and outscoring opponents by 12.6 per game.

The Storm (14-12) are wrapping up a three-game road swing and trying to avoid back-to-back losses to the WNBA’s top two teams. Seattle collapsed in the fourth quarter of an 88-59 loss at Washington on Wednesday night, getting outscored 29-8 in the final 10 minutes.

Natasha Howard scored 13 of her 24 points in the first quarter when the Storm raced to a 23-16 lead, but Seattle committed 17 turnovers and shot 35 percent while the Mystics connected at a 50.9 percent clip from the floor and sank all 21 of their free throws.

Howard, who ranks third in the league in scoring (18.6) and fifth in rebounding (8.2), is doing all she can to carry Seattle, averaging 20.6 points on 50 percent shooting and 3.6 steals over her last five games. The defending WNBA champs – playing all season without injured starters Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird – are 1-8 on the road against the five teams ahead of them in the playoff chase.

One of those eight losses was an 81-67 setback at Connecticut on June 16. Alyssa Thomas scored 20 points and Shekinna Stricklen added 16 for the Sun, who broke open a close contest with a 10-2 burst to start the fourth quarter.

(Jasmine Thomas photo courtesy Connecticut Sun official Twitter account)

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