WNBA Best Bet: Wednesday, August 18

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The only matchup of tonight’s WNBA action features the New York Liberty taking on the Seattle Storm at home. The game tips off at 7:00 pm ET and the spread is currently -1.5 for Seattle at PointsBet Sportsbook with a total of 156.5. After going 3-1 on my first four WNBA bets of the season’s second half, I’m looking at the spread of this matchup for a two-unit play that is my best bet of Wednesday’s WNBA games.

New York Liberty vs. Seattle Storm

After starting off the season hot with a 5-1 record through six games, the Liberty fell back to Earth, going 5-11 over the team’s last 16 games. Despite sitting on the playoff bubble, New York’s loss to Minnesota on Sunday featured a season-low 10 turnovers and provided encouraging signs that the team can turn things around and get back to its early-season form in time for a playoff push. With only ten games remaining in the regular season, the Liberty need to win at least one of two upcoming games against the Seattle Storm to stay in playoff contention. I think they can get the win tonight with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird out for the Storm.

Bird and Stewart combined for 58.2% of the Storm's three-point makes this season and over half of the squad's assists on the year, so Seattle is missing a huge part of the team's offensive attack against New York. Seattle’s star shooting guard, Jewell Loyd, will be active for the team, but could be tired after scoring 26 points on 30 shot attempts in a grueling overtime loss to the Chicago Sky on Sunday. Loyd is second in scoring on the Storm at 17.9 points per game, while grabbing 4.2 rebounds and dishing out four assists per contest.

After defeating the Connecticut Sun to win the Commissioner’s Cup last week, Seattle lost to the Sky, 87-85, without Bird or Stewart. The 16-6 Storm currently sit in a tie for first place but failed to cover the spread in each of the last five games against teams with a losing record. Seattle is also 1-4 ATS in the team’s last five road contests, so the Liberty have an opportunity to snap a three-game losing streak tonight.

Despite sitting in seventh place on the standings, New York is in a good spot to make a playoff run if the team can stay healthy. All-Star Betnijah Laney led the team in the first half and is averaging 18.6 points to go along with five assists and four rebounds per night. Laney and point guard Sabrina Ionescu each rank in the top-10 in assists per game in the WNBA, and New York’s roster is filled with scorers for the team’s top distributors to feed.

Natasha Howard only played in two games for the Liberty before the break due to a knee injury but looked dominant in a 30-point return against the Lynx on Sunday. Howard was traded to the Liberty from Seattle this offseason in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft. Through three games with the Liberty, Howard is averaging 19.7 points and 5.7 rebounds on 57.5/57.1/90% shooting from the field, three-point land and free-throw line, respectively. Howard's stellar efficiency resulted in a 66.4% true shooting percentage, second-best among starters in the WNBA, despite being one of two starters (along with MVP candidate Tina Charles) to shoulder a usage rate above 30%. On the defensive end, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year continued to lock down opponents with New York. Despite a small sample size, Howard ranks in the 98th percentile of defensive Points Per Possession (PPP) overall, with her 0.6 PPP allowed tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the league.

Sharpshooter Sami Whitcomb signed with New York this offseason after three seasons with the Storm and had a huge impact on the team before the break. In her first season with the Liberty, Whitcomb blossomed into one of the best shooters in the league; she's leading the league in three-pointers made per game and total threes on the season -- while shooting at a 43.3% clip from distance -- and has the second-best effective field goal percentage among WNBA starters.Synergy data shows Whitcomb is in the 98th percentile of PPP on spot-up possessions with her 1.417 PPP as the third-best mark in the league this season.

Despite her prowess as a spot-up shooter, Whitcomb can do more than just camp out behind the arc and wait for an open shot. New York's shooting guard leads the team in total rebounds (126) and also ranks in the 85th percentile of PPP on isolation possessions, according to Synergy. On the defensive end, the WNBA Most Improved Player candidate grades in the 88th percentile of fewest PPP allowed against opposing pick and roll ball handlers, so she should be a good matchup for Loyd.

When Whitcomb needs a break defensively, New York can try DiDi Richards on Loyd. The rookie ranks in the 94th percentile of defensive PPP allowed this season and spent time guarding difficult matchups for the Liberty before the break. Fellow rookie Michaela Onyenwere is expected to contend for this season's Rookie of the Year award after winning the league's Rookie of the Month award for May and June. Onyenwere leads all rookies in scoring with 9.6 points per game and contributed to the Liberty's floor spacing by hitting 1.2 three-pointers per game.

Prediction:

New York is the most efficient spot-up team in the league this season according to Synergy, with a league-high 1.02 PPP on spot-up possessions, the most common play type for the Liberty. The Liberty also allowed the second-fewest opposing three-point attempts in the WNBA, so the Storm could struggle to find open shots on the perimeter without Bird or Stewart. I think the three-point shot will be the deciding factor in this matchup, and New York leads the league in three-pointers made per game. I’m backing the Liberty to cover as +1.5 underdogs with a two unit play, and also would consider taking a shot at the live spread or the ML if New York falls behind early.

EDGE: New York Liberty +1.5