The WNBA Playoffs have officially arrived. The first round begins on Thursday, September 23rd and the second round takes place on Sunday, September 26th. Both rounds are single-elimination winner-take-all. After Sunday, we move to the semifinals where the #1 seed Connecticut Sun (26-6) and #2 seed Las Vegas Aces (24-8) await.
5th seed Phoenix Mercury (19-13) hosts the 8th seed New York Liberty (12-20)
Season Series: Phoenix won 2-1
Liberty 85 @ Mercury 83 - June 13th
Mercury 106 @ Liberty 79 - August 25th
Mercury 80 @ Liberty 64 - August 27th
Game Time: 7:00 PM PDT airs on ESPN
In the one game where Phoenix had all three of their “Big 3” with Taurasi, Griner, and Diggins-Smith, the team won by 27 points. With all three of them scoring over 20 points.
During New York’s lone victory, Diana Taurasi did not play. DT has been dealing with an ankle injury that caused her to miss the last few games of the regular season but the hope/expectation is that she will be ready to go for this playoff game.
It should also be noted that in the game New York won, the Liberty were without both Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu. With both teams ideally healthy, hopefully, we’ll get a close game similar to their first contest against each other.
Betnijah Laney played in all three games against the Mercury and led the Liberty averaging 19.0 PPG in the regular season series.
The Mercury are definitely the favorites in this matchup but if New York gets hot from three with Whitcomb, Ionescu, and Rebecca Allen - plus strong inside games from Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney, the Liberty could pull off the upset.
6th seed Chicago Sky (16-16) will host the 7th seed Dallas Wings (14-18)
Season Series: Dallas won 2-1
Sky 91 @ Wings 81 - June 30th
Sky 91 @ Wings 100 - July 2nd
Wings 80 @ Sky 76 - August 17th
Game Time: 5:00 PM PDT airs on ESPN2
All three games between these two teams were decided by ten points or less which means hopefully we’re in for an exciting contest between the Dallas Wings and Chicago Sky on Thursday.
Candace Parker missed several games this season but she did play in all three against the Dallas Wings. Parker will be key for Chicago if they want to make a deep playoff run. Since losing Delle Donne, Chicago hasn’t necessarily had that one go-to player that can be relied upon in clutch moments. Parker can give them that if she’s on her game.
The Dallas Wings have the offensive firepower to compete against the Sky so it’ll likely come down to which team plays better defense and rebounds the ball. Chicago is the better defensive team but Dallas rebounds the ball better. The Wings outrebounded the Sky 45-32 in their most recent game in Chicago.
Allisha Gray and Isabelle Harrison have stepped up big alongside Arike Ogunbowale in this matchup against Chicago. Gray had 20 points and Harrison had 15 on August 17th. Harrison averaged nearly 17.0 PPG during the three games against Chicago while Gray averaged 17.7 PPG. Ogunbowale was the team’s leading scorer in this series averaging 18.3 PPG. All three will have to play well in order for Dallas to upset Chicago.
3rd seed Minnesota Lynx (22-10) hosts lowest remaining playoff team
The Minnesota Lynx won’t know which team they face on Sunday until both games have been played. They do know there’s one team of the four that they can’t face in the 2nd round and that is the Phoenix Mercury (the highest seed of the first round).
Minnesota can face Chicago, Dallas, or the New York Liberty.
Season Series against Chicago: Split 1-1
Sky 105 @ Lynx 89 - June 15th
Lynx 101 @ Sky 95 - August 21st
Season Series against Dallas: Minnesota won 2-1
Lynx 85 @ Wings 73 - June 17th
Lynx 77 @ Wings 95 - June 19th
Wings 79 @ Lynx 85 - July 7th
Season Series against New York: Minnesota won 2-1
Lynx 75 @ Liberty 86 - May 18th
Liberty 78 @ Lynx 88 - August 15th
Liberty 66 @ Lynx 74 - August 31st
On paper, Chicago appears to be the toughest matchup for Minnesota as they beat the Lynx in Minnesota by 16 earlier this season. Damiris Dantas is out with a Lisfranc right foot injury which could also be concerning for Minnesota. However, they will have Aerial Powers and Layshia Clarendon who both missed some time at different parts of the season.
The Lynx will rely heavily on the post presence of Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier to lead them to victory. Minnesota is deep enough with Kayla McBride, Clarendon, Powers, and Crystal Dangerfield that they should be able to overcome the injury to Dantas.
Their average margin of victory over Dallas was seven points and against New York, it was nine points. The Lynx will be favored in their game but they can’t take anything for granted. Minnesota’s overall record against their potential opponents was 5-3 this season.
4th seed Seattle Storm (21-11) hosts highest remaining playoff team
Seattle held onto their first-round bye after defeating the Phoenix Mercury 94-85 in the final game of their schedule before the playoffs. As the 4th seed, the Storm will host the highest remaining playoff team after the first round is over. That means Seattle will not host the New York Liberty but can face Phoenix, Chicago, or Dallas.
If things go chalk (no upsets) then we will see another rematch between longtime rivals the Storm and Mercury.
Season Series against Phoenix: Seattle won 2-1
Storm 77 @ Mercury 85 - July 9th
Mercury 75 @ Storm 82 - July 11th
Mercury 85 @ Storm 94 - September 17th
Season Series against Chicago: Chicago won 3-0
Storm 85 @ Sky 87 (OT) - August 15th
Sky 73 @ Storm 69 - August 27th
Sky 107 @ Storm 75 - August 29th
Season Series against Dallas: Seattle won 2-1
Storm 100 @ Wings 97 (OT) - May 22nd
Wings 102 @ Storm 105 (OT) - June 4th
Wings 68 @ Storm 67 - June 6th
No matter which team Seattle faces it won’t be easy. The Storm have a combined record of 4-5 against their three potential opponents for Round 2. The obvious matchup Seattle would like to avoid is Chicago who swept Seattle three games to none in the season series. Chicago is the only team to sweep Seattle this season.
In fact, Seattle only lost the season series to two teams this season, the Sky and the Las Vegas Aces (1-2).
With that said, the sweep by Chicago is slightly deceptive in that Seattle lost in OT in Chicago with a chance to win in regulation in a game where they didn’t have Breanna Stewart or Sue Bird. And the first game at home against Chicago, the Storm were leading by 5-8 points throughout the entire game until they completely collapsed in the 4th quarter getting outscored 22-14.
However, there’s no denying that Chicago’s 107-75 (32-point) beat down in Seattle was the Storm’s worse loss of the season. Chicago also creates a lot of matchup problems against Seattle because they have the athleticism to counter Seattle and a ton of offensive firepower both in the post (Candace Parker, Stefanie Dolson, Azura Stevens) and from the outside (Quigley, Vandersloot, DeShields, Copper).
Looking at other potential opponents, the Dallas Wings played Seattle extremely tough in all three games despite only getting one win. The Storm needed an incredible rally in the first game to send the game to OT where they eventually won. In the second matchup, Jewell Loyd hit an absurd three-pointer with less than a second to go to seal the victory. And in the final game between the two, it was Arike who drilled a three in the final seconds to steal a win in Seattle.
While Dallas struggles defensively at times, they have enough offense to compete with anyone in the league. Especially when both Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey are knocking down threes.
In some ways, Seattle’s best matchup is probably the 5th ranked Phoenix Mercury. While Phoenix is certainly more than capable of coming into Seattle and beating the Storm, Seattle can effectively counter a lot of what Phoenix likes to do. And Seattle has a strong understanding of what Phoenix Coach Sandy Brondello wants to do because Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot play on the Australian National team in which Brondello coaches.
The Storm’s one loss to the Mercury this season was in Phoenix and was without Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot due to pre-Olympic commitments. Magbegor and Talbot are two of Seattle’s best weapons off the bench and have also started occasionally this season for the Storm.
In Seattle’s last game against Phoenix just a few days ago, they were leading by 22 points in the 4th quarter before a furious rally by the Mercury cut it to single digits with Seattle ultimately winning by nine. And that was without Breanna Stewart which is certainly the biggest question mark of the playoffs concerning Seattle.
The former MVP was injured on September 7th against the Washington Mystics. The injury has only been disclosed as a “left foot injury” as Stewart went to box out for a rebound, stepped down on her left foot, and immediately sprung off of it in pain. She was ruled out for the rest of the regular season but has not been ruled out for the playoff game as of this writing. Coach Noelle Quinn said that if she is going to play they would look to have her practice either Friday or Saturday before the game.
Seattle’s title aspirations likely fall on the health of Breanna Stewart and whether or not she can return for the playoffs or not.
The four WNBA teams to miss the playoffs this season are the Indiana Fever, Atlanta Dream, LA Sparks, and Washington Mystics.
The Indiana Fever finished with the worst record in the league 6-26 the complete mirror of the #1 seed Connecticut Sun who finished 26-6.
Atlanta went 8-24 on the year. And both the LA Sparks and Washington Mystics finished 12-20. The New York Liberty also finished 12-20 but due to a three-team tiebreaker, they advanced to the playoffs. At 12-20, the Liberty have the worst record of any playoff team in WNBA history. Which could add to the argument that the league should change things up and only have six playoff teams instead of eight and get rid of the single-elimination format.
By making the playoffs the Liberty also potentially cost themselves a top pick in the WNBA Draft. Due to the league now combining records over a two-year period, the Liberty would have had the 2nd best odds to land the #1 overall pick and likely would have wound up with the first or second overall pick in 2022 had the Sparks or Mystics reached the playoffs instead.
Looking at the combined records of the four lottery teams the potential draft order is:
1. Indiana Fever: 12-42 - 44.2% chance to land #1 overall pick
2. Atlanta Dream: 15-39 - 27.6% chance to land #1 overall pick
3. Washington Mystics: 21-33 - 17.8% chance to land #1 overall pick
4. Dallas Wings (via LA Sparks trade): 27-27 - 10.4% chance to land #1 overall pick
The Fever and Dream desperately need to find ways to get better. Indiana has not reached the postseason since Tamika Catchings retired after the 2016 season.
Atlanta has missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons after having the second-best record in the WNBA and reaching the semifinals in 2018. No team went through more chaos than Atlanta who’s head coach left right before the season began. Then their interim head coach left the team during the Olympic break due to health concerns. And their star rookie from 2020, Chennedy Carter, was suspended midway through the season and was never reinstated. Carter was suspended due to lockerroom conflicts and actions detrimental to the team. It is unclear whether she will return to Atlanta in 2022 or if the team will look to trade her this offseason.
The Washington Mystics are in a little bit of a limbo state. They added Alysha Clark in the offseason and with the potential return of Elena Delle Donne were projected to be a title contender in 2021. But it didn’t work out that way. Clark missed the entire season with a Lisfranc foot injury and Delle Donne needed another back surgery and only played in a few games before being shut down for the remainder of the season. Emma Meesseman also sat out the season in order to put all her efforts into the Belgium National team for the Tokyo Olympics. To make matters worse, Coach Mike Thibault tested positive for COVID19 at the end of the season.
Tina Charles led the WNBA in scoring this season but otherwise, this was a very disappointing season in DC. I expect the team to give it one more go in 2022 with a lot of the same lineup. Hopefully, bring Meesseman back and hope that Clark and Delle Donne are fully recovered from their injuries. If the team has a similar showing in 2022, then it may be best to look to start rebuilding around some of their younger players like Ariel Atkins.
For a third consecutive year, the Dallas Wings will have multiple first-round picks in the WNBA Draft thanks to their excellent trade with the LA Sparks during draft week this year. Dallas has the youngest roster in the league and they really don’t need more young players on the team considering they barely played a lot of their rookies this season (namely Awak Kuier and Chelsea Dungee). Look for Dallas to try and trade one or both of these picks for more veteran help this offseason, especially if they don’t move up and land the #1 or #2 overall pick.
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