Sky’s ambitions for second half of season start with simply making postseason appearance

“I’m focused on progress,” interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever said. “Of course, we need to make the playoffs. Somehow we need to win a game and make the playoffs.”

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The Sky’s Dana Evans signals after her 3-point basket during a game against the Indiana Fever last month.

The Sky’s Dana Evans signals after her 3-point basket during a game against the Indiana Fever last month.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The mental reset for Sky players during the All-Star break was far more necessary than a physical one.

After a first half muddied by potentially season-ending injuries to guard Rebekah Gardner and forward Isabelle Harrison and a surprise coaching change, players needed some time away in order to miss the game. When they showed up to Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield on Monday, there was a palpable excitement, as if it were the first day of camp.

“This season for us has been [up and down],” guard Dana Evans said. “Being able to sit down, relax and just take your mind off basketball for a while was pretty good.”

How good will be determined Thursday night in Phoenix when the Sky face the Mercury in their first game of the second half. They currently have a loose grip on the eighth and final WNBA playoff spot, one game ahead of the ninth-place Sparks.

Since taking over as interim coach and general manager after the resignation of James Wade on July 1, Emre Vatansever has made it clear he’s taking his job one day at a time. The only goal he has emphasized is a fifth consecutive Sky playoff appearance. From there, he said, anything can happen.

“My priority is making them better every day,” he said. “I’m focused on progress. Of course, we need to make the playoffs. Somehow we need to win a game and make the playoffs. I’m not only talking about flowers and [positive] things. We have to win a game, but also we need to enjoy and see the progress.”

Gauging any kind of progress has been hard from the onset of the season because of the lack of consistency. The Sky’s rotation has repeatedly changed, as have the systems they have run in large part since Wade’s exit.

Although comparisons continue to be made between this team and the 2021 championship team, given the adversity both faced, this team couldn’t be more different. When Candace Parker and Allie Quigley returned in 2021 from early-season ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively, the Sky flipped a seven-game skid into a seven-game winning streak. Gardner and Harrison are far from the players Parker and Quigley are, and their absences aren’t temporary.

“I don’t think [they’ll be back this season],” Vatansever said Tuesday. “But I need to check on that.”

This team appears content with just making the playoffs, and given the upheaval that began in free agency, the season might be considered a success if they can do that.

Vatansever’s plan for locking up a postseason berth will include implementing new tactics and improving how old ones are executed. Already this week, he has made a point to celebrate slight improvements in areas such as transition offense and turnovers.

Eight of the Sky’s remaining 20 games are against the Sparks, Fever, Mercury and Storm — four teams they’ve shown themselves to be better than this year. Two more are against the Lynx, whom they beat in the season opener and trail by one in the league standings. There’s a visible path to the postseason. But 10 months after a semifinals appearance and less than two years after a championship, that’s as lofty as their goals appear to go.

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