Last season, the Sky walked into their WNBA semifinal series against the top-seeded Sun and made a statement.
Led by Courtney Vandersloot’s historic triple-double, the Sky took Game 1 of the best-of-five series and sowed doubt into the minds of many who considered the Sun a lock to make it to the Finals.
By the end of the series, Sun coach Curt Miller was justifying his team’s loss by saying the Sky were playing like the team he picked to win it all in the preseason poll.
This season, the Sun are off to a 10-3 start despite playing without Jasmine Thomas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in May. Meanwhile, the reigning champion Sky (7-4) still are putting the pieces together.
‘‘We’ve been in every game we’ve lost,’’ Sky star Candace Parker said after a two-point loss Wednesday to the Mystics. ‘‘It’s the moments in the middle that we have to fix. We’re 11 games in and have so much room for improvement.’’
The Sky’s four losses this season have come by an average of 4.7 points and can be attributed to several minor issues.
The most common trends in the Sky’s losses are the number of free throws their opponents have taken and the points they’ve given up off turnovers. Opponents have taken 20 or more free throws in three of the Sky’s four losses, and the Sky have averaged 17.5 turnovers — and have allowed 21.8 points off them — in their losses. By comparison, they have averaged 13 turnovers and have allowed about 12 points off them in their seven victories.
The Sky are also second-to-last in the league in percentage of assists on two-point field goals. In their loss May 28 to the Aces, they had only 16 assists and lost by seven points. Through three quarters Wednesday against the Mystics, they had 14 assists and trailed by 17 late in the third quarter. They ended up losing by two after a fourth quarter in which they had six assists on nine field goals.
Also, general manager/coach James Wade has been adamant that the Sky won’t live and die by the three-pointer, but they have shot worse than 30% from behind the arc in their last two losses. The Aces limited them to a season-worst 16% on 5-for-31 from three-point range, and they shot 28.3% from beyond the arc against the Mystics.
‘‘We don’t play at the three-point line, so I don’t care about that,’’ Wade said.
Still, when a team is losing games by an average of less than five points, those shortcomings make all the difference. It’s early enough in the season to chalk them up to the Sky still learning to play with each other, but they bear watching.
The Sky are third in the WNBA standings, but they need to iron out the little things to contend with the Aces and Sun. Fortunately for them, there’s still two-thirds of the season left and they already have the blueprint for bringing it all together at the end.
‘‘We have so many weapons at every position,’’ rookie Rebekah Gardner said. ‘‘As long as we stay in games and keep up our defensive intensity, our offense will come.’’
NOTE: Julie Allemand joined the Sky on Thursday after returning from overseas, and GM/coach James Wade said she will be available for the game Friday against the Sun.