Sky’s upcoming stretch can make or break playoff hopes

Since interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever took over for James Wade after his abrupt resignation, the Sky have gone 5-9. Their most recent three-game losing streak has them on the brink of falling out of playoff contention with just 10 games left in the season.

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The Sky’s Courtney Williams.

The Sky’s Courtney Williams.

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The last three-week stretch of the WNBA season exposes teams.

Some find their stride; others stumble. The Sky (12-18) are teetering somewhere in between.

Since interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever took over for James Wade after his abrupt resignation, the Sky have gone 5-9. Their most recent three-game losing streak has them on the brink of falling out of playoff contention with only 10 games left.

“This is basketball,” Vatansever said. “As much as you guys want to try to make it dramatic, there is no drama here. We just need to go out and play. You’re talking about the coach that witnessed a team with a 16-16 record win the championship.”

So, then, that same method can be applied to this team?

“I’m not saying that,” Vatansever said. “I’m just saying there’s an example for us.”

The problem with that example is this Sky team lacks the combination of stars and future Hall of Famers that propelled that 2021 team to the franchise’s first title. Another issue is the Sky’s road to finishing the regular season at .500 is rocky.

Of the Sky’s 10 games, four are against the league’s top three teams: the Aces, Liberty and Sun (two games). They also face the Dream — whom they’ve yet to beat this season — on the road Friday.

The cohesion that other teams are finding at this stage of the season has eluded the Sky, who have only been able to tap into it in spurts.

After starting the season 5-9, including a six-game losing streak, the Sky strung three wins together before following that up with a four-game skid. They’ve since strung together, at most, three wins, which preceded their latest three-game losing streak. It has been a seesaw of failure and success that has them tied with the Sparks for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“We have to show up every game with the same energy,” Courtney Williams said. “As if we’re playing a Dallas or a Vegas. At times we just don’t do that.”

The team hasn’t been able to pinpoint why. But the midseason coaching change and season-ending injuries to Rebekah Gardner and Isabelle Harrison haven’t helped.

“[Injuries and coaching changes] play a part to a certain extent,” Williams said. “But they’re not the ones out there on the court; we are.”

Vatansever has continued to emphasize the four-game margin that separates his team from the fourth-place Wings, the three-game separation from the Dream and the two games that separate them from the Lynx and Mystics, who are tied for sixth. The issue with that is the Mystics are set to get Elena Delle Donne back any day now, the Dream are on the brink of a season sweep of the Sky and the Wings and Lynx have shown more consistency.

The Sky’s upcoming stretch against the Dream, Sun, Storm and Aces could make or break their attempt at a franchise-record fifth consecutive postseason berth.

“Yeah,” Williams said when asked if there was any concern about dropping out of the playoffs. “Anybody that says no, they’d be lying. We’re right there with L.A. on our tails. If we don’t tighten up, our last game is going to be Sept. 10.”

NOTE: Kahleah Copper was absent from practice Wednesday with an illness. Vatansever said his hope is that she’ll be available for the game Friday against the Dream. The team travels to Atlanta on Thursday.

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