After an exciting regular season and wire-to-wire races for the final two postseason berths, the 2022 WNBA playoffs begin on Wednesday when the No. 7 seed New York Liberty visits the No. 2 seed and defending champion Chicago Sky (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and the No. 8 seed Phoenix Mercury no. 1 take on the Las Vegas Aces (10 p.m. ET, ESPN). The first round continues on Thursday. , ESPN2).
This season’s playoffs feature a new format, eliminating single-elimination games and best-of-three first-round series for top teams and best-of-five for the semifinals and WNBA Finals.
While the Aces established themselves as the best team in the regular season — thanks to a late push to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the final day of play and win the Commissioner’s Cup championship in July — the title race looks set. Wide open as before. The Sky are best after winning it all last season and have all the tools to become the first WNBA franchise in two decades to repeat. The Hurricanes and Mystics know what it takes to win a championship, but the Suns have been hanging up the banner and knocking on the door for the past three years. Then there’s plenty of young talent to make sure lower seeds like Freedom and Wings don’t go down without a fight.
ESPN’s MA Voppel, Kevin Pelton and Alexa Filippo answer the most important questions heading into the first round and give their predictions on which team will ultimately cut down their nets in September.
Mystics-Storm was unanimously considered a first-round matchup by our staff. What’s the top storyline you’re looking forward to in the series?
Philip: With a healthy Elena Delle Donne, the Storm could be a semi-final or final series – it was indeed a final in 2018. Instead, we get a first-round matchup between many of the same classes. Combining three of the last four titles (Washington in 2019, Seattle in 2018 and 2020). Many players have something to contend with or to prove: whether Delle Donne is at the same level of play she was before she was hit with back issues; that Tina Charles could win a WNBA title to solidify her status as one of the W’s all-time greats; All the while, Sue Bird added another feather to her cap and rode off into the sunset with a fifth WNBA title to her name.
Pelton: Can the Mystics get enough offense in this battle against two of the top three defenses in the WNBA in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions? Washington has posted an offensive rating of 96 just once in the three head-to-head games, not coincidentally the only win for the Mystics. Washington was 16-4 this season with an offensive rating of 100 or better and 6-10 failing to reach that mark, so this could determine the outcome.
Voppel: How big a streak will Seattle guard Jewell Lloyd have? She is coming off a season-high 38 points in the regular-season finale against Las Vegas after scoring just one point against the Aces on Aug. 7. Lloyd makes the Storm even more dangerous when he scores well. But she’s up against a secret defense that’s especially tough on opposing guards.
Chicago will become the first WNBA team to repeat since 2001-02 … if?
Pelton: The Sky will play like they did in June and July, going 18-4 after a slow start as Kahleh Copper made a late comeback from overseas. Things shook out in August, with Chicago going 3-3 to fall out of the No. 1 seed.
Voppel: The Sky’s biggest strengths are their attacking flow and depth, and they are a pretty good defensive team as well. If they maintain their potential and play aggressively, they have a good chance of repeating as champions.
Philip: The Sky’s identity revolves around their efficient offense, as Voppel said, but it will be interesting to see how they fare consistently against some high-powered teams like the Aces or the Hurricanes. Their offense is to click late (both matches will be in the finals). Note: During their playoff run last year, Sky’s 94.2 defensive rating was the best of any team in the postseason.
Who is the best team in the division? And now that there are no more single-elimination games, which team will benefit more from the new playoff format?
Philip: It’s the Aces who are riding a four-game winning streak in the postseason, beating the Tide (twice), Dream and Sky — twice without a sixth seed. Year Dearica Hamby most of that stretch.
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I generally liked the idea of the inclusion of single-elimination games at the beginning of the playoffs, but this Washington team only had to get through two of them to reach the semi-finals, a soft performance that could have ended its season, is ridiculous; Who knows if the Mystics will get past Seattle, but now they have a fairer shot at a spot in the semifinals.
Voepel: The Aces look like they’re on a mission and they definitely look locked in, so they’re probably the hottest team. The series format is best for the league as a whole, and Seattle should be relieved the season isn’t down to just one game against Washington.
Pelton: In terms of season-long performances, the Tide is pretty hot. Yes, Seattle lost twice to Las Vegas in the final eight days of the season, but in between the storms, they delivered two of their most impressive performances of the season, beating Chicago and Minnesota in the Lynx’s key game. Seattle’s defense has been strong all season; Only at the end of the year will the attacks intensify.
As for the biggest advantage, I’d say the Mystics fly across the country to host Phoenix and then face the rest of the wave in a single-elimination game.
What’s the most exciting matchup in the #WNBAPlayoffs? 🤔 @RebeccaLobo joins @LaChinaRobinson to give her thoughts and share her story to watch the entire post-chapter. pic.twitter.com/8AckwSoVMY
— espnW (@espnW) August 15, 2022
Who could be the breakout player of the postseason?
Pelton: Rebecca Gardner. If you wait to watch the playoffs, you might not know that the 32-year-old rookie is playing a key role for the defending champions. Gardner deserves selection to the All-Rookie and All-Defensive teams, and her value against small ball handlers could be a key role for her as we head into the postseason.
Philip: For the record, I’m not sold on Liberty being able to upset the sky, but we’ll see some memorable performances from Sabrina Ionescu this postseason, especially since Liberty has not one, but two confirmed games in 2021. get out And I wouldn’t be surprised if French product Marin Johannes breaks out with crazy 3-point shooting for New York as well.
Voppel: Dallas guard Marina Mabrey helped hold the wing together while Arik Ogunbowale was sidelined with an injury. She had a career-high 31 points on Aug. 8 as they clinched their playoff berth and averaged 20.9 points in seven games in August for Dallas. The Wings will have a hard time trying to knock off the Suns, but Mabry may have a chance to show Dallas just how capable she is of shooting and passing this season. She can only get one series to do this, so maybe that’s not a “breakup”. But like Phoenix’s 2019 second-round pick Sophie Cunningham, Mabry deserves credit for not only defying the odds and earning a roster spot in an incredibly tough league, but actually contributing to her team’s success.
Which higher seed is least likely to lose 1 game?
Voppel: None of the higher-seeded teams want to be in a position to win Game 3 on the road, but Seattle could find it especially tough in Washington, D.C. Try to shut down any thoughts the Mystics may have about dominating the series.
Filippo: Voppel said that in addition to the Seattle-Washington series — with Seattle’s league-leading attendance, the Hurricanes don’t want to skip any games at Climate Promise Arena — the Suns are looking to take care of business at home. The Wings are a tough matchup for them and Connecticut will be looking to avoid swinging the series in Dallas. The Suns have the most regular season home wins since 2017 and will certainly look to capitalize on that record.
Pelton: The answer is definitely the Hurricanes because any of the other three top seeds are consistent favorites even if they win Game 3 on the road. Even so, I think losing 1 game at home will be a mental barrier for the Suns in the playoffs, where the team’s history is shorter than expected.
Which teams will meet in the WNBA semifinals?
Pelton: Las Vegas vs. Seattle; Chicago vs
Philip: Las Vegas to Seattle; Chicago vs
Voppel: Las Vegas vs. Seattle; Chicago vs
Which teams will meet in the WNBA Finals?
Pelton: Las Vegas vs
Filippo: Las Vegas vs. Chicago
Voepel: Las Vegas in our Chicago
Which team will win the 2022 WNBA Championship?
Pelton: Las Vegas
Filippo: Las Vegas
Who will be the final MVP of the WNBA?
Pelton: Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas
Filippo: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas
Voepel: Candace Parker, Chicago