NEW YORK - After a wild regular season, the WNBA postseason gets underway with a pair of first-round games.
Top seeds Washington and Connecticut don’t play for another week, as the teams earned double byes to the semifinals. Los Angeles and Las Vegas don’t play until Sunday against the winners of Wednesday night’s games.
The first round, single elimination round matches Chicago welcoming Phoenix, and Seattle hosting Minnesota.
The Mercury will head into the Windy City short-handed as they will most likely be without Diana Taurasi. Phoenix’s star guard has missed most of the season with back and hamstring injuries. She’s listed as doubtful for the opening game.
“Hopefully we can win and get her ready for Sunday,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said on Tuesday. “But at this stage, I don’t envision Diana playing.”
Taurasi has been the ultimate competitor in do-or-die WNBA playoff elimination games, going 13-1 in her career, with her lone loss coming against Seattle in the semifinals last season. The Mercury have gone 6-0 in the single elimination format since the WNBA first introduced it in 2016. Phoenix is used to playing without Taurasi this season, and Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner have had outstanding seasons, as well as guard Leilani Mitchell.
Chicago is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Sky are led by guard Courtney Vandersloot, who became the first player in WNBA history to have 300 assists in a season. While experience is on the Mercury’s side, the Sky have won all three games between the teams this season. That includes a 27-point win last week.
In the second game of the night, Minnesota will visit the defending champion Storm. Both teams have been a bit surprising this season considering the players they’ve been missing. Seattle has played this season without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart, who has been out with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. The Storm have also been missing Sue Bird for the entire year after she had knee surgery in May.
Seattle has found other players to step up in the absence of the two stars. Natasha Howard has had an incredible season, playing well at both ends of the court.
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve had to find a way to restructure the franchise after four key pieces to the Lynx’s dynasty were missing. Lindsay Whalen retired, Rebekkah Brunson sat out because of a concussion and Maya Moore decided to take the year off. Add to that Seimone Augustus missed the first half of the season while recovering from knee surgery and Reeve had a mostly new roster this season.
The one mainstay from the championship run was center Sylvia Fowles, who had another strong season. She was complemented by first-round pick Napheesa Collier, who is a leading candidate for rookie of the year.
Here are a few things to watch for in the playoffs:
RESTING TIME: Washington and Connecticut will have time to heal up and be ready for the semifinals. For the Mystics, it’s a chance to get a few more days for Kristi Toliver to recover from a bone bruise that has sidelined her for the last few weeks. For the Sun, it’s a chance to play a best-of-five series in the playoffs instead of a single-elimination game in which the team hasn’t fared well, losing the last two years to Phoenix.
PLAYOFF NEWBIES: The Las Vegas Aces were the preseason pick by the WNBA’s general managers and coaches to win the league this year. Coach Bill Laimbeer has said all along it’s a three-year plan for the team and this is just the second year. The Aces earned a bye on the final day of the regular season and have the talent to make a deep playoff run. They are led by the dominant front court of A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage.
ROUNDING INTO FORM: The Los Angeles Sparks have been nearly unbeatable at home this season, winning 15 of 17 contests. With Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray and the Ogwumike sisters leading the way, the Sparks have playoff experience and depth. The key though might be the play of Riquna Williams. Los Angeles’ guard was suspended for 10 games because of a domestic violence arrest. She provides the team with a consistent outside shooting presence and has the ability to create her own shot.