As we head into the 2022 WNBA playoffs, which begin Wednesday, the foremost storylines from the begin of the season are still in play. Will the Chicago Sky come to be the first franchise to repeat as WNBA champion for the reason that 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks? Will the Las Vegas Aces supply their franchise its first identify below first-year instruct Becky Hammon?
Can the Connecticut Sun, within the franchise’s twentieth season inside the kingdom of Connecticut, finally ruin via to a championship? Could legend Sue Bird, who will retire at season’s quit, help lead the Seattle Storm to a 5th title? Or may want to Elena Delle Donne, who neglected all of 2020 and maximum of 2021 with again issues after having led the Washington Mystics to the 2019 championship, help them win it all once more in 2022?
These 5 teams all completed with as a minimum 22 victories — led by the No. 1 seed Aces and No. 2 seed Sky every with 26 — and may be seen as possible contenders for the crown. The other 3 playoff teams — the Dallas Wings, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury — all could experience very good about triumphing a sequence.
The WNBA has lower back to an all-collection playoff layout this season, after six years of unmarried-removal first- and 2nd-spherical video games. The first round’s pleasant-of-3 series provide the higher seed the first two video games at home. However, a cut up could permit the decrease seed to host the decisive Game three.
The semifinals and WNBA Finals are still exceptional of five, and will give us a few epic video games. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Alexa Philippou and M.A. Voepel spoil down the first round and offer predictions.
(1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (eight) Phoenix Mercury
Game 1: Phoenix at Las Vegas, 10 p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPN)Regular season: Las Vegas gained three-zero
These groups met last year in a totally aggressive semifinals series, which Phoenix gained in five games. But the difference between where both groups are now is large. The Aces have been at or near the pinnacle of the league all season underneath Hammon; the most effective query become in the event that they will be the No. 1 seed. A’ja Wilson is one of the favorites for the MVP award, and the rest of the crew is playing very well, too.
The Mercury had been thru the wringer this year with so many troubles. Brittney Griner’s imprisonment in Russia due to the fact February. Tina Charles leaving the group in late June. Diana Taurasi’s quad damage that has brought about her to overlook the remaining 5 games and leaves her questionable for the playoffs. Skylar Diggins-Smith leaving the crew for private motives in the ultimate week of the everyday season.
“We’re excited to be alive,” first-12 months Phoenix teach Vanessa Nygaard said about the Mercury making the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season. “The pressure’s not on us. We’re glad to be in.”
What X factor or one-on-one matchup will maximum impact the series?
Las Vegas won the three regular-season games — all in May — towards Phoenix with the aid of a mean of 16.7 factors. It has been three months considering the fact that their ultimate assembly: a one hundred-eighty Aces victory May 21. Las Vegas’ Dearica Hamby is presently out injured, but the Aces nonetheless beat Seattle 109-100 on Sunday in a recreation that had no implications for either but felt like a playoff recreation.
So it is hard to look the individual matchups going Phoenix’s way on this series. But Diamond DeShields has WNBA championship enjoy from final year with Chicago, and the Mercury will need plenty from her. We will see if guarding DeShields is commonly Jackie Young’s defensive assignment.
The Mercury couldn’t come nearer than 12 points against the Aces even when Taurasi, Diggins-Smith and Charles have been inside the lineup. All credit goes to the scrappiness of Phoenix, particularly the way players like Sophie Cunningham, Shey Peddy, Brianna Turner, Jennie Simms and Megan Gustafson have fought to get into the postseason in opposition to the percentages. But this series must now not be near. — Voepel
(2) Chicago Sky vs. (7) New York Liberty
Game 1: New York at Chicago, eight p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPN2)Regular season: Chicago won three-1
Facing Chicago will experience very familiar to Liberty instruct Sandy Brondello. She was Phoenix’s instruct closing 12 months while the Mercury misplaced the WNBA Finals to the Sky. Chicago received the everyday-season collection against New York 3-1, and has seemed all season to be capable of defending its identify. However, August has supplied a few issues. The Sky lost simply four video games blended in June and July, but misplaced 3 this month. But the Sky appeared like themselves in prevailing eighty two-sixty seven at Phoenix in the everyday-season finale Sunday.
Things looked bleak for New York in July; the Liberty lost 4 in a row and five of six right after the July 10 All-Star Game. But going five-2 in August changed into enough for the Liberty to earn their 2d consecutive playoff berth. Sabrina Ionescu leads the team in scoring and assists, and she and Natasha Howard integrate for nearly 14 rebounds in step with recreation. The past due-season go back of Betnijah Laney has helped the Liberty; she had knee surgery June 1 and changed into back on court for a sport Aug. 6.
What X element or one-on-one matchup will most effect the collection?
Everyone may have their eyes at the elite perimeter duel among guards Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot of Chicago, two gamers able to triple-doubles. But the indoors is in which the Liberty ought to discover a way to sluggish down the Sky to have a threat of prevailing the series. With Emma Meesseman joining Candace Parker in Chicago this season, that has come to be a fair larger energy for the Sky.
The Liberty are deserving in their playoff spot, and credit score is going to Brondello for directing them via a few rough patches this season. When the Liberty click offensively, they’re a variety of a laugh to look at. But Chicago has the league’s fourth-pleasant protecting score and, at 14-4, the Sky had the league’s great report at domestic this season. — Voepel
(3) Connecticut Sun vs. (6) Dallas Wings
Game 1: Dallas at Connecticut, eight p.m. ET Thursday (ESPNU/NBA TV)Regular season: Dallas gained 2-1
The Sun took care of commercial enterprise via securing the No. three seed, but their matchup won’t be ideal: The Wings beat them in two of 3 conferences at some point of the ordinary season.
The Wings may be with out top scorer Arike Ogunbowale (stomach damage) through the primary spherical of the playoffs, but they’ve faired decently with out her, going four-2, which include Sunday’s 116-88 beatdown over the Sparks. Across the remaining seven video games (together with the only in which Ogunbowale got hurt), the Wings’ 113.eight offensive score is 2nd-pleasant inside the league, and their 3.eight internet score ranks 5th. Also amazing: Satou Sabally (ankle) has ignored all however eleven games for Dallas this season, and Isabelle Harrison (shoulder) became dominated out Sunday.
“They’re young and dynamic and may clearly score the basketball, possibly rating greater points out of gadget or unassisted than all people else within the league,” Sun educate Curt Miller stated Sunday. “You have proficient 1-on-1 players. They’re long, they may be athletic, they pose problems.” The Sun — who went eleven-3 since the All-Star ruin — are looking to in the end cross the end line after achieving the semifinals or in addition every of the remaining 3 years within the playoffs. For the 1/3 time in three seasons, they have needed to manage with out a starter: Jonquel Jones in 2020 (decide-out), Alyssa Thomas in 2021 (who ultimately back from an Achilles’ tear just in time for the postseason) and Jasmine Thomas (ACL) in 2022. Bria Hartley, a late-season addition, additionally tore her ACL three video games into her quick-lived stint with the group.
The Wings are acting inside the postseason for the second one consecutive season, however have not received a playoff game since the franchise moved from Tulsa to Dallas.
What X element or one-on-one matchup will maximum effect the series? Natisha Hiedeman vs. Marina Mabrey. Mabrey has stepped up vastly with Ogunbowale out, scoring as a minimum 15 points in all however one of the last seven games and 20-plus three times. She also dropped 20 in advance this season versus Connecticut. Hiedeman, meanwhile, has been an X thing this summer time. The Sun will appearance to her to get going from deep, like she did Sunday in opposition to the Lynx (four-for-8), and for her to preserve her personal defensively in opposition to a strong Wings backcourt.
Another matchup to look at is down low among Jonquel Jones/Brionna Jones vs. Teaira McCowan. After a quiet begin to her profession in Dallas, McCowan has discovered a stride this season, averaging 17.4 factors and 11.6 rebounds throughout the remaining seven video games. Between the two of them, the Joneses have put together an all-WNBA-quality season (Jonquel) and surefire bid for Sixth Player of the Year (Brionna). — Philippou
(4) Seattle Storm vs. (5) Washington Mystics
Game 1: Washington at Seattle, 10 p.m. ET Thursday (ESPN2)Regular season: Seattle received 2-1