WNBA playoffs 2019: Who will win in the second round?

The first round of the WNBA playoffs went to form, with both higher-seeded home teams, No. 5 Chicago Sky and No. 6 Seattle Storm, advancing. But now they're the ones who have to go on the road.

The third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks and No. 4 Las Vegas Aces host Sunday's second-round games. The Sparks are 15-2 at Staples Center, and have won 14 games in a row there. Their only losses at home came back to back, June 15 and 18, to New York and Washington.

The Aces are 13-4 at home, but their usual arena, Mandalay Bay Events Center, is booked for a concert Sunday. They'll play close by, at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.

Both matchups would seem very appealing as series, but it's all-or-nothing Sunday, with the winners moving on to semifinal series with the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun.

No. 6 Seattle at No. 3 Los Angeles (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET)

Season series: Sparks won 2-1

June 21: At Seattle 84, Los Angeles 62

Aug. 4: At Los Angeles 83, Seattle 75

Sept. 5: At Los Angeles 102, Seattle 68

The Storm have defied the projections this year after being without 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and veteran point guard Sue Bird due to injuries. The defending champions have shown a lot of grit, but a great deal of young talent has also blossomed. Forward Natasha Howard was the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, center Mercedes Russell made a big jump in her second season, and guards Jordin Canada and Jewell Loyd are coming off a game in which they dominated Minnesota's backcourt with a combined 48 points.

Howard is looking to bounce back after scoring a season-low two points Wednesday. But the most recent game she and the Storm played at Los Angeles, on Sept. 5, was one of their worst of the season. Howard was just 3 of 14 from the field in that 34-point loss.

That Sparks team was hitting on all cylinders, which has not been the case at times as they've adjusted to a new coach in Derek Fisher, injuries to veterans like Alana Beard and Candace Parker, and a 10-game suspension of Riquna Williams.

The Sparks also have incorporated Chiney Ogwumike, as she joined her sister, fellow forward Nneka. Point guard Chelsea Gray, who at 32.6 led the team in minutes played by a wide margin and was second in the league in assists, pulls it all together for Los Angeles.

Pick: Los Angeles. When the Sparks have been bad, it's seemed like five people all playing their own game with no cohesiveness. But when the Sparks have been on the same page, they've been fearsome. They won seven of their last nine games in the regular season and finally seemed to click as a unit. If they play like that, then they'll advance to the semifinals. But if they don't, Seattle can win.

No. 5 Chicago at No. 4 Las Vegas (ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET)

Season series: Aces won 2-1

July 2: At Las Vegas 90, Chicago 82

Aug. 9: Chicago 87, at Las Vegas 84

Aug. 18: Las Vegas 100, at Chicago 85

Rising star alert! Las Vegas' A'ja Wilson and Chicago's Diamond DeShields were the Nos. 1 and 3 draft picks in 2018, and now have their first playoff matchup. Neither team made the postseason last year. DeShields excelled in her playoff debut Wednesday, scoring 25 points. Phoenix couldn't slow down DeShields or the rest of the Sky's offense in a 105-76 Chicago victory.

But the Aces had the top defensive rating in the league during the regular season (95.0). DeShields averaged 18.3 points in the Sky's three games against Las Vegas, shooting just 14 of 44 from the field but 22 of 24 from the foul line. The Aces will try to do a better job of not fouling her.

Wilson missed nine games this year -- including the Aug. 9 loss to the Sky -- with an ankle injury. She returned Aug. 18 against the Sky and scored 25 points to help the Aces secure a spot in the postseason.

When healthy, Wilson made for a very effective combo with center Liz Cambage, who will be the most talented center on the court in this game, but also the most targeted. The Sky's posts will do what they can to body up and frustrate Cambage.

Chicago has the more consistent and experienced backcourt with Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, but Las Vegas' Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum are capable of big offensive performances. And the players off the bench for both teams, particularly Las Vegas' Dearica Hamby, could be key factors.

Pick: Las Vegas. This is tough, because Chicago has continued to get better throughout the season and the Sky will come into Las Vegas with a lot of confidence. Expect a close game that will go to the wire and require some big plays from Wilson or Cambage to seal the victory.
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