The WNBA playoffs get underway on Wednesday night with the first game of the evening featuring the Atlanta Dream visiting the Detroit Shock on ESPN2.

Atlanta won three of the four regular season matchups between the two teams and has showcased the East’s best offense nearly all season.  This handicapper looks for the Dream to get the cover on the road and send a message that they have what it takes to knock off the defending WNBA champs.

WNBAWith the WNBA playoff format being a best of three series in the first round, Game 1 becomes almost as intense as Game 7 of the World Series or Stanley Cup playoffs.  The higher seed ends up opening the series on the road and can look forward to two home games following that trip – but neither team wants to drop Game 1 as it puts the next two games as must-win’s for them.

Detroit struggled a lot early this season and fans wondered if they would even make the playoffs with how competitive the East was this year.  By stringing together nine wins in their last eleven games, the Shock shot up in the standings and were able to finish third with the same 18-16 record as the Dream.  However, with Atlanta having won the season series it means the Shock’s only home game of the three matchups in this round will be tonight.

Some may feel that the Shock flipped the electric switch on in the past month and have regained their championship form, but it will still take some serious out-hustling of the Dream to get past them in this first round series.  The home court advantage is all that favors Detroit to win tonight and it will take some special effort on defense to shut down the attack that scoring explosion that the Dream brought around the league this season.  Detroit allowed at least 80 points in all four matchups with Atlanta this season, and although most matchups were close they have not found a way of slowing down the Dream whenever facing them.

Atlanta had a dream of a regular season finishing with an 18-16 record in only their second year as a franchise and were in the middle of a nightly catfight in the East standings for several months.  With six teams battling over four playoff spots, finishing second meant a lot to a team that struggled greatly in their first season last year.  Tonight the Dream looks for a changing of the guard to begin happening in the East and for the torch to get passed to them in this week’s series.

In addition to the 84 points a game that the Dream’s offense put up this season, they have also averaged an East-high of 45% shooting from the field.  The Dream’s lineup features two of the WNBA’s top five shooters in Erika DeSouza and Sancho Lyttle.  DeSouza has been one of the top centers all season this year and also led the East in rebounds this season averaging nine per game.  She also out-rebounded the Shock’s legendary Cheryl Ford in all games against one another this season, and proved she can control the paint whether at home or on the road.

Lyttle has been solid as well, and had one of her best games of the season in Detroit a few weeks ago pulling in 12 rebounds against the Shock.  Along with Michelle Snow who has been a big contributor from the Dream’s bench, Lyttle was an addition to the Dream’s lineup when the Houston Comets folded at the end of last season.

Atlanta has also proven that they were able to still get points on the board without leading scorer Chamique Holdsclaw in the lineup recently.  Holdsclaw was another big offseason pickup for the Dream, but missed the last nine games of the regular season with a knee injury.  She is questionable for a return tonight in Detroit but should she sit again, I still feel the rest of the Dream’s lineup have proven they can step up and get it done.

The line for this game opened at Pinnacle Sports favoring the Shock by 3½ points and the home court is certainly enough to warrant that.  However, I feel both teams will have so much passion tonight with the playoffs starting that the home court advantage may not mean as much as it would in a stretch of regular season games.  Both teams have had three days of rest coming into tonight’s game, and the last time Atlanta came off a long rest was just last week when they crushed the Connecticut Sun at home to clinch their playoff berth.  Although I feel the Dream could win this outright, having a few points in hand with what should be an intense battle going down to the wire will be an advantage.

WNBAWestern Conference playoffs begin with Sparks and Storm tipping off tonight
In the second game of the WNBA doubleheader tonight on ESPN2, the playoffs out West get underway with the Seattle Storm heading south to visit the LA Sparks.  One key factor that has the Sparks as 5 ½ point favorites is the Storm’s Lauren Jackson being out due to a knee injury.  Although the Storm have won a few games with her out of the lineup, tonight’s battle in LA will be a lot different than some of those games as a resurging Sparks team comes into tonight with three straight wins.

If I had to take a side, I would go with the Sparks but the total at 137 ½ may be worth a closer look instead.  With the last two matchups between these two teams going over the total and the number still being around the same as what those totals closed at, most bettors would see some value in the over tonight.  However, both of those games went to overtime and had Lauren Jackson playing in them unlike this evening.  Although some could argue that having Jackson out would mean the Storm struggling a little more on defense where they have been top-ranked almost all season, it’s the offense of Seattle that misses a lot with her out.  Jackson is one of the league’s top three point shooters and frequently draws double teaming from the opposition leaving someone else wide open at times.

Keep in mind also that right behind the Storm’s top-ranked defense this season is the Sparks.  LA has had the league’s number two defense giving up an average of only 71 points a game at the Staples Center this year.  Candace Parker of the Sparks has lead the WNBA in blocked shots averaging over 2 per game this season and had a season high of 6 blocks against Seattle back in July.  The defense statistics also mean a lot coming out of the West since both the Sparks and Storm have to play the Phoenix Mercury twice as much as any team in the East during the season.

Take the under here as both teams try to edge each other out in Game 1 of what should be the lowest scoring series of the playoffs.

Coming up on Thursday: Two more Game 1’s
WNBA playoff action continues tomorrow night on ESPN2 as the Indiana Fever visit the nation’s capital going up against the Washington Mystics, and the Phoenix Mercury take their fire power on the road to San Antonio against the Silver Stars.  Check back then for a preview of those matchups.