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Basketball may not be on your radar in these dog days of summer — but it should be.
From Las Vegas to Edmonton to Slovenia, here’s what’s going on across the globe:
The WNBA semifinals are underway and it doesn’t get much better than Aces vs. Storm, which pits leading MVP candidates A’Ja Wilson of Las Vegas against Breanna Stewart of Seattle. Las Vegas is also armed with league-leading scorer Kelsey Plum and Most Improved Player Jackie Young — not to mention Coach of the Year Becky Hammon, who left the NBA’s Spurs ahead of the season and proceeded to become one of the most successful rookie bench bosses ever. Seattle counters with retiring legend Sue Bird and eight-time all-star Tina Charles. Head coach Noelle Quinn is also the lead assistant for Canada’s women’s team.
The Storm won the bubbled 2020 title before injuries derailed them last season, while the Aces have been a consistently great regular-season team before struggling in the playoffs. Game 1 of the five-game series saw the Storm steal a three-point win on the road and immediately place the Aces on their heels, so another loss for the home side in tomorrow night’s Game 2 could be a backbreaker.
The other semifinal sees the reigning champion Chicago Sky up against the Connecticut Sun. The Sky are loaded, featuring two-time MVP Candace Parker alongside former Finals MVPs Emma Meesseman and Kahleah Copper. Chicago also went a perfect 4-0 against Connecticut in the regular season — so of course the Sun went on the road and earned a Game 1 victory while limiting the normally explosive Sky to just 63 points. Game 2 in this series also goes tomorrow night. Read more about both series openers here.
And if you’re thinking it’s a bit early for the WNBA to already be in the semifinals, well, you’re right. The league pushed the schedule up this season so players would be free for the World Cup, which begins in Australia in late September. Canada is among 12 teams to qualify and remains ranked fourth despite last summer’s Olympic disappointment. The full Canadian training camp squad — including Kia Nurse, who missed the entire season with a knee injury — is currently gathered in Edmonton, as no Canadian WNBAers are still alive in the playoffs. The roster is a mix of familiar players (other WNBAers include Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa) and fresh faces (17-year-old Cassandre Prosper is among those to watch).
Perhaps the biggest recent NBA move involved a Canadian. RJ Barrett signed a four-year contract extension worth up to $120 million US with New York last night in a deal that ends a sad streak for the woebegone Knicks, who hadn’t brought back a draft pick on a multi-year contract after their rookie deal since 1999. It also helps confirm Barrett’s future with the club, as he had previously reportedly been dangled in a possible trade for Utah all-star Donovan Mitchell, but now becomes much harder to include thanks to the new contract.
WATCH | Canada tops Panama to remain undefeated in World Cup qualifying:
For Team Canada, the timing on Barrett’s deal could have been better. The 22-year-old skipped each of the last two World Cup qualifying windows, fearing injury during negotiations. While Canada won all four games without the former third overall pick, it still missed an opportunity to build the chemistry the organization has said is sorely needed. Last night, with just two NBAers in the fold, Canada demolished Panama to improve to 8-0 in qualifying. It can officially book its ticket to next fall’s World Cup in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines in November, when it hosts Venezuela and Panama.
Across the pond, EuroBasket tips off on Thursday with a startling amount of talent — NBA superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic will suit up, respectively, for Greece, Serbia and Slovenia. While there are no longer qualifying stakes to the tournament, it’s built enough cache that the top countries all take it seriously, and that NBA teams allow players like the aforementioned trio to participate. The AmeriCup is happening around the same time, but it’s basically become a development event. Canada’s lone NBAer in training camp was Raptors guard Dalano Banton, who isn’t part of the core group committed through the 2024 Paris Olympics.