The Connecticut Sun had the second-best record in the WNBA this season, yet they begin their playoff journey feeling like an underdog.
With something to prove, the No. 2 seed Sun host the surging No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks in a Game 1 semifinal contest on Tuesday night.
Of the four teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs, Connecticut might be receiving the least amount of fanfare. No. 1 Washington has that unfinished-business thing going after losing in the finals last season, fourth-seeded Las Vegas was a preseason favorite to win it all and Los Angeles is healthy and playing its best basketball.
Though the Sun finished 23-11 and tied for the league's best home record with the Sparks at 15-2, they have never won a title and haven't been to the finals since 2005. Connecticut also lost in the second round of the playoffs each of the previous two seasons.
All that has Connecticut sporting an us-against-the-WNBA-world attitude this postseason. The team even posted a video on its official Facebook page of media comments about how it could again fall short of winning that elusive title. At the end of the day, Connecticut is motivated on one goal.
"We want to bring the first championship to Connecticut," coach Curt Miller told the Hartford Courant as posted on the Sun's official website.
The Sun seemed poise to accomplish it.
"We've been to the playoffs. We can play with any team in the league. We know it," forward Jonquel Jones, who averaged team-highs of 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds, told the Hartford Courant.
The Sun averaged 80.8 points during the regular season and were among the league's best rebounding teams (36.8 per game), so the belief is worthy. Having homecourt advantage in this best-of-five semifinal series will be huge, especially against an L.A. squad that lost four of its final five road games and finished 7-10 away from home.
The Sparks won both home meetings with the Sun in 2019, but if they are to reach the WNBA Finals for a third time in four seasons, they must win at least once at Connecticut. L.A. lost 89-77 in the lone matchup there on June 6. Jones recorded 18 points while Alyssa Thomas (11.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) had 11, 12 rebounds and six assists for the Sun, who led by as many as 21.
"We know (the Sun) are good at home," Sparks coach Derek Fisher said after his team's 92-69 second-round win over Seattle on Sunday. "We know the crowd is going to be into it, but are going to have to lean on our defense."
L.A. has flexed its defensive muscle while allowing an average of 66.3 points during a four-game winning streak - all at home - that included Sunday's win. It also helps that "W" superstar Candace Parker seems to be playing some of her best basketball while averaging 15.4 points in the last five games and 9.3 boards in the last four.
The Sparks can also count on Nneka Ogwumike, who averaged team highs of 16.1 points and 8.8 rebounds during the regular season. She averaged 18.7 and 11 boards in the three games versus Connecticut this season.
L.A.'s Chelsea Gray had 21 points with four 3-pointers and eight assists against the Storm on Sunday.