The Storm and Las Vegas Aces suffered upset defeats this week, which snapped nine- and eight-game winning streaks, respectively, and erased some of the shine from Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown between the top two teams in the WNBA standings.
Still, the noon matchup on ABC features the league’s highest-scoring offenses and offers a unique contrast in styles between championship contenders who are diametrically opposed in their offensive and defensive philosophies.
And there’s also an intriguing battle between Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson, the league’s top two candidates for the MVP award.
“They’re a different style team, a real power team,” coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “There are different ways to win and different systems for sure.
“Las Vegas has a really strong inside game. They have really strong wings that are big who can drive it. They’re good midrange shooters. They get to the free-throw line. It’s a different style of game, but really effective and successful.”
Seattle (11-2) has throttled opponents with an aerial attack led by five of the league’s most accurate three-point shooters while Las Vegas (9-3) punishes opponents with a relentless interior assault.
On a recent broadcast, Aces coach Bill Laimbeer could be heard during a timeout stressing to his players the importance of scoring inside.
“Two, by two, by two!” he yelled. “We will wear them down.”
Las Vegas has adopted the personality of its 63-year-old coach, a four-time NBA All-Star center who won the last of his two titles with the Detroit Pistons in 1990.
“Their style fits his coaching philosophy well,” Kloppenburg said. “He has the players that can execute it. They have a really good inside power game. You know what they’re going to do, but stopping it is another thing.”
Led by 6-foot-4 forward A’ja Wilson, who is arguably the league’s top MVP candidate, the Aces utilize an old-school approach that prioritizes getting the ball inside and getting to the free-throw line.
Wilson leads the league in free-throw attempts (6.8 per game) while ranking second in scoring (19.6 points), fifth in rebounding (8.3) and fourth in blocks (1.5).
Newcomer Angel McCoughtry, a six-time WNBA All-Star who spent the past 10 years in Atlanta, gives Las Vegas another formidable scoring threat inside who averages 15.4 points and shoots 55% from the field.
“They put a lot of pressure on you by going inside and driving to the basket,” Kloppenburg said. “They don’t take a lot of threes, but then they’ve got pretty good three-point shooters.”
Las Vegas is first in the WNBA in points per game (88.4), free-throw attempts (23.3 per game), percentage of points on two-point shots (65.8), percentage of points on midrange shots (18.1) and percentage of points on points in the paint (47.7).
Conversely, Seattle leads the league in three-point shooting percentage (41.6) and percentage of points from three-pointers (32.4).
The Storm ranks second in scoring while averaging 87.6 points per game, but is near the bottom of the league in points scored in the paint and at the free-throw line.
During Thursday’s 90-84 loss to the Indiana Fever, Seattle ran into another power team that exposed its rebounding deficiencies. The Storm was outrebounded 46-30, including 14-5 on the offensive glass.
Seattle’s front line will be tested once again by Las Vegas, which leads the WNBA with 36.5 rebounds per game.
The Aces’ forte is rebounding whereas the Storm’s defense ranks first in points allowed (73.8), steals (10.8) and blocks (4.6).
“Aggression matches aggression,” Stewart said when asked how the Storm plans to counter the Aces’ big front line. “Continuing to make sure we get paint points and we get to the free-throw line.”
Despite the heavyweight billing, the Storm insists there’s no extra motivation heading into Saturday.
“We look at these games all the same,” Stewart said.
The WNBA’s two top scoring offenses take starkly different approaches. Here’s a breakdown of the percentage of points scored by Seattle and Las Vegas.
PPG. 2-PT Range Paint FTs 3-PT Range
Seattle 87.6 (2nd) 52.3 (10th) 38.8 (10th) 15.2 (11th) 32.4 (1st)
Las Vegas 88.4 (1st) 65.8 (1st) 47.7 (1st) 21.2 (2nd) 13.0 (12th)
— Sue Bird will miss her second straight game Saturday to rest a nagging left knee injury. The 39-year-old point guard suffered a bone bruise July 28 and sat out five straight games before returning Aug. 12. She appeared in the next four games before sitting out Thursday.