The Sky exceeded expectations in the first half of the season as first-year coach James Wade managed to clean up the offense and establish a plan on defense. Now, it’s a matter of sustaining that success for the last 5½ weeks of the season.
The Sky (11-9), who haven’t made a postseason appearance since 2016, are in the midst of one of the tightest playoff races in recent memory. Entering Friday, the eight teams in playoff positions were within 4½ games of each other, and the Sky were in sixth place.
With the race as close as it is, one major slip-up — or a pattern of small mistakes — can lead to the Sky’s demise.
Here are three keys for the second half:
Wade still needs to address the Sky’s defensive inconsistencies and struggles on the road. Eight of their last 14 games are away from Wintrust Arena.
The Sky, who have a 3-6 road record, lost to the league-leading Sun on Tuesday in Connecticut as their comeback from 21 points down fell short in the final minute.
Though Wade was proud of his team’s resiliency in clawing back against the Sun, the Sky can’t afford to dig themselves into holes in the second and third quarters as they have done multiple times this season.
The Sky had the worst defensive unit in the WNBA in 2018, allowing an average of 90.1 points per game.
Wade has stressed the “little things” on defense.
As a result, the Sky have shown signs of improvement. Opponents have been limited to an average of 80.4 points and have scored 90 or more in only four of the Sky’s 20 games.
Wade has implemented a fast-paced, multifaceted offense that puts Courtney Vandersloot in position to be their floor general, making her, Allie Quigley and second-year guard Diamond DeShields key down the stretch.
Similar to last season, the All-Star trio are the heartbeat of the offense.
Vandersloot has followed up a record-breaking season with another astounding performance. She’s on pace to break her WNBA season assist record, averaging 8.4 per game.
One of the players who benefit from Vandersloot’s ability to draw defenders, her quick ballhandling and her no-look passes is Quigley.
Quigley’s quick and precise release makes her a deadly offensive weapon. She leads the league in three-point makes with 55, though she’s sixth in the WNBA in three-point attempts.
The Sky need second-year guards DeShields and Gabby Williams to step up in the second half of the season.
DeShields is averaging 14.9 points, an uptick from last season, but her efficiency has plummeted. After shooting 42.5 percent from the field in 2018, she’s hitting at a 37.5 percent clip.
DeShields needs to make smarter decisions with the ball and play unselfishly.
While confidence doesn’t seem to be an issue with DeShields, it is for Williams.
Williams has admitted that she often -second-guesses herself. That’s hardly a desirable quality for a player who has spent a majority of her minutes as backup point guard this season.
The Sky need Williams to be more -aggressive with the ball, especially when she has open shots.