2020’s schedule provides plenty of intrigue for the Chicago Sky
After the Sky turned their fortunes around last season, second-year head coach James Wade will look to build on the team’s momentum in pursuit of the franchise’s first championship. While free agency poses plenty of problems itself for Chicago, the Sky’s schedule poses its own problems.
Here are three key stretches from the Chicago Sky’s 2020 schedule:
June will be a brutal test for the Sky
Last year’s Sky team didn’t establish themselves as postseason threats until the midway point in July, but Chicago will need to find their rhythm early on in the 2020 season if they want to make it through June in good shape.
The Sky play six of their 10 June games at home, but seven of those games come against last year’s playoff semi-finals field—the Connecticut Sun (23-11), Las Vegas Aces (21-13), Los Angeles Sparks (22-11) and Washington Mystics (26-8). The Atlanta Dream (8-26), Minnesota Lynx (18-16) and New York Liberty (10-24) round out the rest of the month.
In one of the stranger scheduling quirks of this WNBA season, Chicago faces Washington three times in the span of 11 days, likely due to schedule squeeze from the new Commissioner’s Cup and the Olympics. Although the Sky will have home court for two of those games, the reigning champs will likely make it the most challenging stretch of the Sky’s season. Chicago handed the Mystics one of their few losses last season, the Sky lost their other two match ups.
Chicago might end up bringing back most of its 2019 squad back for 2020—although, depending on the contracts the Sky’s free agents pursue, the league’s new collective bargaining agreement could make that difficult. Continuity would certainly go a long way in helping the Sky get off to a strong start in May, which features a more palatable series of match ups, and to roll into June prepared for war.
Olympic break could be a blessing or a curse for Chicago Sky
This year’s WNBA season features a month-long break during July and August for the Olympics. For some teams it will be a welcome reprieve from tough schedules and injuries. For others it will be a threat to momentum and chemistry building.
Chicago likely won’t be exempt from the list of teams sending players to the Olympics this year. Diamond DeShields was tapped to represent the United States in its Olympic qualifying games in Belgrade, Serbia in February. Last year’s leading scorer for the Sky should be a good bet to make the trip to Tokyo, and she is more than keen on the opportunity.
Astou Ndour’s Spanish national team has qualified for three of the last four Olympics, including a
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second-place finish in 2016. After leading Spain to a EuroBasket title last summer, Ndour is poised to make noise with Spain in Tokyo this year. The 6-foot-5 center is a restricted free agent and will no doubt attract attention after she broke out as a starter following Jantel Lavender’s foot fracture in August. She averaged 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in 11 games as a starter.
The break could go either way for the Sky. If they struggle through June, it could be a chance to hit the reset button and make a push for the final 13 games of the season. But the odd gap in the season could throw a hitch in the team’s momentum, not to mention the non-league minutes the Sky’s Olympic players will rack up.
DeShields already carries a heavy load offensively—she was tenth in the league in usage last season—and she’s Chicago go-to defensive stopper late in games. The wear and tear of Olympic travel and competition could only add to that load leading into a vital stretch of the season.
But it could also be the type of challenge the third-year guard responds to with brilliance. You’d be hard pressed to find a more promising young player in the league than DeShields, and the positive benefits of being part of an Olympic team could be what pushed her into MVP contention.
The bottom line is: Olympic years are weird for the WNBA. Even the most veteran players in the league only have a few seasons of dealing with Olympic breaks and most of the league will be in the same boat.
Every team will have to adjust one way or another—keep an eye out for how the Sky handle the break.
September provides opportunity for Sky to boost their playoff seeding
There are no guaranteed wins in the W, but there are certainly match ups that pose less of a threat than others. Luckily for the Sky, they will finish the 2020 season with a string of those games.
Chicago’s final four games are against last year’s lottery teams: Atlanta (8-26), the Dallas Wings (10-24), New York (10-24) and the Indiana Fever (13-21). If the Sky are serious about being championship contenders, they should be coming of that late stretch with three or four wins. Even if those teams take steps forward, Chicago should be hitting their stride by September and putting in consistent performances.
The ramifications of winning those games could be huge for the Sky’s postseason.
The Sky flirted with the fourth seed season, but late losses doomed their chances. Instead, Chicago had to play the Phoenix Mercury in the first round before going on the road to face the Las Vegas Aces, who they lost to by one point thanks to a miracle heave from Dearica Hamby.
While this year’s final quartet of teams no doubt have room to improve, they should provide a better chance for the Sky to jockey for seeding. With a softer finish to the season, Chicago might be able to redeem some of last year’s slip ups.
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