By: Lyndsay Helfrich
With a fun-filled WNBA regular season coming to a close this past Sunday, the postseason has finally arrived. Now that the field is set, here is a look at each of the matchups in the best-of-three first round.
No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs No. 8 Chicago Sky
Game 1: Sky at Aces, September 13 (10 p.m. ET)
Game 2: Sky at Aces, September 17 (3 p.m. ET)
Game 3: Vegas at Chicago, September 20 (10 p.m. ET)
How they got here: The defending champs kick off their title defence against the 2021 champion Chicago Sky at home as significant favourites. Las Vegas had a dominant season, setting a new WNBA record for wins with thirty-four, losing at home only once the entire season. They feature a talented core of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, and reigning MVP A’ja “M’VP” Wilson, posing a tough challenge for all who seek to win the title.
On the other side of the court, we have the former champion Chicago Sky, continuing their five-year playoff streak. While the Sky do not have the same overwhelming top-end talent, they still have a strong group of players in Courtney Williams, Marina Mabrey, Kahleah Copper, Elizabeth Williams and Dana Evans. Their season did not go the way they wanted, finishing with an 18-22 record and plenty of tumult, but they are not just happy to be here, they came to compete.
Vibe Check: The Aces are, and should be, overwhelming favourites to win this series, but the Sky are not liable to just roll over. Las Vegas beat Chicago in all four of their matchups through the season but showed some signs of vulnerability in the latter part of the season since losing Candace Parker to injury. The three-game format also lends itself to the possibility of an upset – anything can happen in one or two games. Chicago is gritty and will test the defending champs, but the Aces are likely to take the series in the end.
No. 2 New York Liberty vs No. 7 Washington Mystics
Game 1: Mystics at Liberty, September 15 (7:30 p.m. ET)
Game 2: Mystics at Liberty, September 19 (7 p.m. ET)
Game 3: Liberty at Mystics, September 22 (8 p.m. ET)
How they got here: The New York Liberty became a heavy favourite immediately after having potentially the biggest offseason in franchise history by massively upgrading their talent, bringing in Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot to surround young star Sabrina Ionescu. The talent coup paid off, with the Liberty finishing the season with 32 wins, securing the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup along the way. After entering the playoffs as the seventh seed last season, the Liberty are riding high and feeling confident this year behind their MVP candidate in Stewart and the always competitive and sharp shooting Ionescu.
The Mystics are returning to the playoffs for the fifteenth time in their history, two seeds lower than last year’s standings but looking more dangerous. Washington had a difficult season, losing star Elena Delle Donne and prized second-year player Shakira Austin (among others) to injury for long stretches, but looking promising when healthy. Despite their low seed, the Mystics are an experienced, deep, and talented team with Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Delle Donne, Austin and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Brittney Sykes.
Vibe Check: The Liberty have an immense amount of talent and finished with only eight losses, but they are potentially the most at risk of higher-seeded teams of being upset. Aside from the Commissioner’s Cup win, they are untested in the playoffs with this group of players and have looked vulnerable at times as a result, even while posting the best net rating (13.4) since the All-Star break. They split their four games against Washington this season with two wins and two losses, including losing their final regular season game against the Mystics by 16 points. Washington has the size, continuity, defensive prowess and championship experience to seriously challenge the Liberty and could push them to the brink.
No. 3 Connecticut Sun vs No. 6 Minnesota Lynx
Game 1: Lynx at Sun, September 13 (8 p.m. ET)
Game 2: Lynx at Sun, September 17 (1 p.m. ET)
Game 3: Sun at Lynx, September 20 (8 p.m. ET)
How they got here: After losing arguably their best player in Jonquel Jones to the Liberty and their long-time head coach to the Los Angeles Sparks over the offseason, the Sun were expected to take a step back this season. Unfortunately for everyone else in the league, that did not happen and first-year head coach Stephanie White’s squad is sitting pretty at the top of the standings with a record of 27-13. Alyssa Thomas, a human Swiss army knife and the engine of this team, has thrived with the exit of Jones, averaging nearly a triple-double. Despite losing key players like Brionna Jones to injury for the season, Connecticut has been rolling behind Thomas, scoring engine DeWanna Bonner, and the sharpshooting Natisha Hiedeman. White has changed the team’s offensive identity by having them shoot more threes while managing to retain their defensive grit.
After missing the playoffs last season and seeing the retirement of franchise/league legend Sylvia Fowles, Cheryl Reeve’s young Lynx squad is looking to make some noise. After starting the season 0-6, the Lynx have fought their way into the postseason on the backs of 3x All-Star Napheesa Collier, the walking bucket herself in Kayla McBride and promising rookies Diamond Miller (#2 overall) and Dorka Juhasz (#16 overall). Collier and McBride carry the bulk of the load but the rookies have shown growth through the season and Reeve has a plethora of options on her bench to tap into, including veterans Tiffany Mitchell, Aerial Powers, and Bridget Carleton.
Vibe Check: Minnesota has shown a ton of promise this year despite their slow start and, but they did not show well against Connecticut this season, going 1-3. Connecticut has been cooking all along, riding an MVP calibre campaign from Alyssa Thomas, who led the WNBA in assists while recording six triple-doubles. The Lynx have a Hall of Fame coach in Reeve, but this Sun team is an experienced and well-oiled machine – only time will tell how much of a challenge Minnesota will be.
No. 4 Dallas Wings vs No. 5 Atlanta Dream
· Game 1: Atlanta at Dallas, Sept. 15 (9:30 p.m. ET)
· Game 2: Atlanta at Dallas, Sept. 19 (9 p.m. ET)
· Game 3: Dallas at Atlanta, Sept. 22 (10 p.m. ET)
How they got here: After entering the 2022 postseason as the sixth seed, the Wings have secured home-court advantage in 2023 against Atlanta. Powered by the electric scoring machine Arike Ogunbowale and Most Improved Player candidate Satou Sabally, the Wings have managed to put it all together this season under first-year coach Latricia Trammell. They are finally looking like the dangerous team their roster talent has suggested they should be.
As for Atlanta, this is their first appearance in the playoffs since 2018. The past five years have been a rollercoaster for the Dream, featuring an ownership change and plenty of roster changes – the only player left on the roster from 2018 is veteran guard Monique Billings. After showing promising growth behind rookie phenom Rhyne Howard and veterans like Cheyenne Parker last season, the Dream brought in utility guard and defensive stalwart Allisha Gray and have shown impressive growth in their second season under coach Tanisha Wright.
Vibe Check: Atlanta lost all three of their matchups against Dallas this season, getting outscored in the paint by 18 points and outrebounded by 23 rebounds in their three matchups. While Howard can go toe-to-toe with Ogunbowale and scorch any defender in her sights, Dallas simply has a ton of size that is difficult to contend with. The Wings are the tallest team in the WNBA with Teaira McCowan (6’7”), Sabally (6’4”) and Natasha Howard (6’2”) as their starting front court, along with two players taller than 6’5” (Kalani Brown and Awak Kuier) coming off the bench. Dallas has struggled with consistency on defense and that could lead to opportunities for Atlanta to get some early offence, but the deciding factor in this series will be how Atlanta handles the Wings’ gigantic front court and how well they can shoot from the perimeter.
What looks to be an electrifying first round kicks off on Wednesday with the Lynx in Connecticut to face the Sun followed up by the Aces kicking off their title defence. Intermission Sports will have you covered as the WNBA Playoffs continue.