With the 2022 WNBA Playoffs about to start, Above the Break is taking a spin through each first-round series catching you up on everything you need to know.
After months of competitive basketball and a battle for the final two seeds that went down to the last day of the regular season, the WNBA postseason has arrived. Eight teams will compete for the title.
Sadly, this year’s postseason won’t feature the Minnesota Lynx, which means that the stellar career of Sylvia Fowles has ended. Fowles is arguably the greatest center in league history — at worse, she’s No. 2 behind Lisa Leslie — and someone who has been a perennial presence in the postseason.
The season is also over for the Dream, Fever and Sparks.
Let’s preview each of the first-round playoff series, plus talk a little about the new format this year.
The WNBA Playoffs have eliminated the one-and-done format
Nothing seems more frustrating than playing an entire season of basketball and then having to play a one-game playoff series in the first round. Did your team go cold from three? Did someone get hurt in pregame? Too bad: lose that one game and you’re out.
This year, the WNBA decided to eliminate that, opting instead to go with a 3/5/5 format for the playoffs. The first round is a best-of-three format, with the higher seed hosting the first two games and the lower seed hosting the third game.
This new format offers some interesting possibilities. The lower seed getting the chance to host the final game of the series is particularly interesting, as it gives a whole new meaning to the idea of “stealing” home court. If that lower seed manages to win one on the road, they get to host that deciding Game 3.
But it also gives the higher seed a chance to get two wins at home and then not need to go on the road at all. It’ll be interesting to see if the teams that win 2-0 in the first round end up with a slight advantage in their next series, as they’ll be fresher and won’t have to deal with any potential travel issues.
Now that the format is out of the way, let’s get to the actual series.
WNBA Playoffs: No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs No. 8 Phoenix Mercury
Season Series: LVA 3-0
Of all of the first-round series, this is the one that looks the most lopsided on paper, largely because it’s the only series where one team won every regular-season meeting.
The Mercury are also in a bit of a pickle right now, because they don’t have a lot of healthy players. Diana Taurasi suffered a quad strain that’s kept her out since Aug. 2. Skylar Diggins-Smith isn’t currently with the team. In the team’s season-ending loss to the Sky, Jennie Simms played 34 minutes and the team’s leading scorers were her and Megan Gustafson with 12 points each.
Phoenix has some offensive firepower still with Sophie Cunningham’s shooting and Diamond DeShields’ Diamond DeShieldsness, but beyond that, it’s hard to see much of a path to a series win here.
Vegas has some similar depth concerns to Phoenix, but the starting lineup is significantly more talented. There’s former MVP A’ja Wilson, who has a chance to add another MVP award and a DPOY this year. There’s Kelsey Plum, who averaged 20.2 points per game and shot 42 percent from 3 this year. There’s Chelsea Gray. Jackie Young. There isn’t Dearica Hamby, who is out for at least another week with a knee contusion, but there is Kiah Stokes, who provides a reliable veteran presence at the 5.
Vegas should be able to end this series in Vegas.
WNBA Playoffs: No. 2 Chicago Sky vs No. 7 New York Liberty
Season Series: CHI 3-1
I don’t think any of these playoff teams have the lows that the Liberty have. There are nights when this team looks completely lost. Where they look like they should be in the race for the league’s worst record instead of being the No. 7 seed.
But as the season has gone on, we’ve seen less and less of those lows. New York has played really well lately, winning three in a row to finish 16-20 and grab a playoff spot. After a 1-7 start, New York really turned things around, thanks in large part to the signing of Crystal Dangerfield and Marine Johannes, who brought some additional playmaking to the backcourt and allowed Sabrina Ionescu to settle into a more comfortable role at the 2.
The Liberty even managed to steal one from the Sky in July, winning 83-80 behind 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists from Ionescu.
But Chicago is Chicago. Last year’s champions went 26-10 this season, which includes an 83-50 win over New York early in the season. The Sky don’t have a hole in their lineup. Candace Parker is great on offense and defense, and the team can always pair her with one of Emma Meesseman or Azura Stevens. Kahleah Copper provides a ton of energy at the 3. Courtney Vandersloot is the league’s best point guard and her wife Allie Quigley is there to drain 3s.
Chicago can have the occasional defensive lapse because of the way they exert energy offensively, but I’m not sure how much that matters in this series. There’s a clear edge for Chicago on both ends of the floor.
WNBA Playoffs: No. 3 Connecticut Sun vs No. 6 Dallas Wings
Season Series: DAL 2-1
This is the only series in which the lower seed actually won the regular season series, but will that matter in the postseason?
Two of those games were in May, when the Wings had Satou Sabally healthy and were still starting Isabelle Harrison at the 5. The teams split those two games.
The most recent meeting was in July, with Dallas winning 82-71. Arike Ogunbowale scored 20 in that one, but she’s out for at least the first round of the playoffs with a hip injury.
Dallas ended the regular season strong without Ogunbowale, prompting questions about if the Wings might be better without her. There’s compelling evidence to suggest they could be better off running things through center Teaira McCowan, like the fact that the Wings won six of their last eight games with McCowan playing at least 26 minutes in each game.
But with Connecticut having the size to match McCowan, I think Dallas will really miss Ogunbowale’s shot-making. Sure, she can get a little too shot-happy, but if the Sun can use Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones to take away McCowan at the basket, Dallas will need to rely on their outside game. Marina Mabrey and Allisha Gray are both wildly talented players, but the playoffs are when you most need someone like Arike who can take those big shots.
The Sun, meanwhile, won three in a row to end the season. Alyssa Thomas has taken on so much responsibility for this team this season, including absorbing some of the playmaking that was lost when Jasmine Thomas went down for the season. Thomas might not have working shoulder labrums, but she can still bully her way to the bucket and get points.
WNBA Playoffs: No. 4 Seattle Storm vs No. 5 Washington Mystics
Season Series: SEA 2-1
There are five teams that have a realistic chance to win this year’s championship. This is the only series to feature two of those teams.
Seattle and Washington should be the best first-round series. You can make a good argument that both of these teams should have won more games this season if not for injury issues. Elena Delle Donne spent a good bit of time resting for Washington to ensure she stayed healthy for the playoffs, with the team going 18-7 in the 25 games that Delle Donne played. They were 22-14 overall, meaning half of the team’s losses came in the games she missed.
As for Seattle, Breanna Stewart missed a couple of games, and the Storm lost both.
These teams last met on July 31, with the Mystics winning 78-75. Stewart scored 23 points in the loss, while Delle Donne had 17 in the win. Ariel Atkins led Washington with 23 points.
At full strength, the Mystics are tough to beat. Delle Donne and Atkins provide the offensive firepower, while Natasha Cloud, Shakira Austin and Alysa Clark offer some strong defense to complement EDD and Atkins. Myisha Hines-Allen is one of the better bench players in the W.
Seattle has the name recognition though. Jewell Loyd. Tina Charles. Sue Bird. The Storm are a team of players who either are stars or once were stars.
The biggest question down the stretch for this team was how Tina Charles would work. After she was bought out by Phoenix, Charles signed in Seattle. For most of her career, she’s been her team’s first or second option, but in Seattle, she’s had to adjust to being the third option. I was concerned that role wouldn’t fit her, but Charles has looked solid in it. Add in Sue Bird still being a reliable ball-handler in her final WNBA season and you can see why this team is so dangerous.
So, who wins this series? Seattle should be considered the favorite based on their regular season play, but if Delle Donne really has been saving her best for the postseason, watch out.