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Sun open WNBA playoffs against Sky on Tuesday

A common refrain from many during the COVID-19 pandemic has been how one day blends in with the next, giving life a "Groundhog Day" feel.

There are far, far worse lots in life than spending the last 70 days in a bubble, as WNBA teams have done on the campus of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Still, the "Wubble" environment creates the most surreal postseason environment in league history in what has already been its oddest year.

The playoffs begin Tuesday night with the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun playing the sixth-seeded Chicago Sky in a first round, single-elimination game (7 p.m., ESPN2). The teams split their two regular-season games.

"It does not feel like playoffs," Sun reserve Theresa Plaisance said. "To think that this is the playoffs without a change in environment, without a change in fans, (or) having to worry about going into other arenas and worry about the fans, or looking forward to going back to the Mohegan (Sun Arena). … We're going into a playoff game with this same kind of monotonous feeling of just being in the bubble and doing the same thing every day.

"There has to be an extra emphasis, an extra focus, on really buying in because right now it's do-or-die, win-or-go-home for us. So we need to be playing like that."

"It does feel a little different," Sun starting guard Briann January said. "But at the end of the day, this is do-or-die, this is playoff basketball right now. And I think we have enough people that have been there, know what to expect, know what it takes.

"We have to bring that energy. We have to bring that playoff atmosphere. And we know our fans are supporting us. We have some great fans and I know they're out there and will be watching."

January smiled and raised her left arm and fist for effect.

Connecticut (10-12) is just the third team in WNBA history to make the playoffs after starting the season 0-5. It continues to deal with injuries, just like every other team this late in the season.

Starting point guard Jasmine Thomas missed three games late in the season to plantar fasciitis in her right foot. She also rolled her left ankle in last Monday's win over the Phoenix Mercury.

"I am feeling alright," Thomas said after Sunday's practice. "With plantar fasciitis, it's pretty much just a rest thing, a use issue. Being able to have these last few days (off) has been helpful. (We've) been aggressive with treatments. (I had a) full practice today going hard on both ends of the ball, so I feel good."

Starting forward Alyssa Thomas has been playing with an undisclosed hand injury.

"AT is in a tremendous amount of pain with her hand," head coach Curt Miller said. "She's as big a warrior there is in this league."

Asked if they tried any treatment for Thomas' hand, Miller smirked and said, "For about five minutes she had a splint on (Sunday), but in true AT fashion, she'd rather deal with pain then have some wrap on her hand that doesn't make her feel comfortable. So we were successful for about five minutes."

January has been playing with a dislocated finger on her right hand, too.

Chicago (12-10) has also dealt with its share of adversity after Azura Stevens (left knee) and Diamond DeShields (personal reasons) both left the bubble late last month.

DeShields was an All-WNBA second team pick in just her second season last year. Stevens started in all 13 games that she played. The Sky lost six of its last eight games in their absence.

Chicago has rolled out a bigger starting lineup the last three games with rookie Ruthy Hebard (6-foot-4) taking over at power forward for Gabby Williams.

Hebard has played alongside Cheyenne Parker (6-4), who has started the majority of the season at center after Stefanie Dolson missed seven games due to an ankle injury. Small forward Kahleah Copper rounds out the frontcourt.

The Sky have one of the league's best backcourts in Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, and have even used Williams at the point to give Vandersloot a break.

Vandersloot, an MVP candidate, set a league record for most assists per game for the third straight season (she averaged 10 this year). She had a single-game record 18 in an Aug. 31 win over the Indiana Fever. She averaged 14.8 ppg, was eighth in the league in total minutes, and was the league-leader in win shares, an advanced metric of the number of wins contributed by a player.

"Having Gabby at the one (point guard) creates match-up issues," January said. "Playing two bigs at a time, that's a different look for us. When they have Cheyenne and Stef Dolson (6-5) on the floor together, that's a different look that we've seen before. (Chicago is) such a well-oiled machine.

"Having two bigs (on the floor at the same time), that's going to be tough. We have got stay matched up so we can finish our defense with a rebound. ... With some of their lineups, that's going to be really tough to do."


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