WNBA East Playoff Preview
Chicago and New York clash in an Eastern Conference matchup, while Connecticut and Washington look to take down Western Conference foes.
The playoffs are upon us, and with the changes that have been made to the first round of the postseason, we’re being treated to a lot more games than we have been in previous years. Four teams are representing the Eastern Conference in the playoffs, and with Chicago and New York facing off in the first round, at least one team from the East will make it to the semifinals. Here’s a look at what the Chicago Sky, New York Liberty, Connecticut Sun, and Washington Mystics are up against this week.
Can the New York Liberty Complete the First Round Upset This Year?
Chicago Sky (2) vs. New York Liberty (7)
The Chicago Sky have played some good basketball this season. They won 26 out of 36 of their regular season games—a franchise record—made the Commissioner’s Cup Finals, and improved on their sixth place finish from last year. The Sky have also had several impressive individual performances from players, with Candace Parker just being named to the AP All-WNBA first-team while Courtney Vandersloot was named to the AP All-WNBA second-team and Rebekah Gardner was named to the AP All-WNBA rookie team.
The New York Liberty had a slow start to their year—going 1–7 through their first eight games—but they managed to turn their season around and qualified for their second consecutive playoffs. In her third season in the league, Sabrina Ionescu was named to the AP All-WNBA first-team and is looking a lot more comfortable with her role on the team. New York might be catching the Sky at the right time. Chicago struggled during the final month of the WNBA season. They went 3–3 in August, which was an unusual sight for a team that lost a total of four games in June and July.
These two organizations have already met four times this season, with Chicago winning three of the contests. Aside from a 30-point win in the first matchup however, the matchups between these two teams have been very competitive. The Liberty have come a long way from their early season blowout loss (notably adding Marine Johannès to their roster), and demonstrated that they can come from behind to win a game during their 83–80 victory on July 23. So while the Sky are the favorites to win this series, you can’t completely count New York out.
The Liberty almost pulled off an upset over the Phoenix Mercury during the first round of the playoffs last year, and if they can win just one game on the road, they will gain home court advantage for the third and final matchup of the series—something that James Wade is not happy about.
“We worked all year to have home court advantage,” Wade told ESPN after practice on Thursday. “If you have a bad game, then home court advantage goes to the lower seed. You always want the deciding game, if there’s a Game 3, to be at the higher seed’s home. I’m not a fan of it at all; I don’t think any coaches are.”
Chicago is attempting to become the first team since the Los Angeles Sparks (2001, 2002) to win back-to-back WNBA championships, and they will start their playoff journey on August 17.
The first game of the series is on August 17 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN 2. Canadian viewers can tune into the game on Sportsnet. The second game of the series is on August 20 at 1:00 PM ET on ESPN.
Have the Connecticut Sun Learned From Their Previous Playoff Experiences?
Connecticut Sun (3) vs. Dallas Wings (6)
For the second year in a row, players on the Connecticut Sun have walked away from the WNBA regular season with some serious hardware. Brionna Jones was unanimously named the AP Sixth Woman of the Year, Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas were named to the AP All-WNBA second-team, and Thomas also earned the AP Comeback Player of the Year honors.
These players will now be looking to carry their regular season success into the playoffs. After being upset by the Chicago Sky in the 2021 postseason, Curt Miller will be making sure that his team is ready for this matchup against a talented Wings roster.
The Connecticut Sun have only lost multiple games against four teams this season, and unfortunately for them, the Dallas Wings are one of the teams that handed them multiple losses.
The Sun lost their first and last contests against Dallas. The good news for Connecticut is that their 30-point blowout win on May 26 demonstrated that they are capable of making adjustments to their game-plan after a loss. The Wings defeated the Sun 85–77 on May 24, and in the span of 48 hours, the coaching staff and players were able to come up with a strategy that completely shut down Dallas in their next matchup. As this is a three-game series, Connecticut will have the opportunity to make similar adjustments if they find themselves down one game.
The X-Factor in this series is Satou Sabally. Sabally has not been healthy for most of this season, but when she is able to play, her teammates call her a “unicorn.” She is a dynamic player who can impact the game on both ends of the floor. While Teaira McCowan has been a key part of the Wings’ success since the all-star break, she is not the greatest on the perimeter. Since the Sun have the duo of Jonquel and Brionna Jones who can dominate in the paint and stretch out to three, Dallas is going to have to come up with a defensive solution to their style of play if Sabally is not available to play.
The first game of this series will take place on August 18 at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN U and NBA TV. The second game of the series will take place on ABC at 1:00 PM ET.
Will the Mystics Finally Get Their Parade?
Seattle Storm (4) vs. Washington Mystics (5)
Since the Covid-19 pandemic stopped Washington from having a parade after their 2019 championship, Mystics fans want this to be the year that they are able to celebrate a win on the streets of D.C.
Seattle and Washington have faced each other three times this season, and Seattle came out on top in the season series. While the Storm won their first contest against the Mystics by more than 10 points, the two most recent games between these teams were decided by a total of 8 points. Seattle is 4–1 in games decided by three or fewer points, and their one loss in that category was against the Mystics who defeated them 78–75 on July 31.
These two teams have identical records (22–14), and are evenly matched in most statistical categories. Here’s a breakdown at the last ten games for each team:
Mystics: 7–3, averaging 80.9 points, 34.3 rebounds, 20.4 assists, 7.1 steals and 4.2 blocks per game while shooting 44.7% from the field. Their opponents have averaged 75.4 points per game.
Storm: 5–5, averaging 87.7 points, 34.6 rebounds, 24.0 assists, 7.3 steals and 3.0 blocks per game while shooting 46.6% from the field. Their opponents have averaged 85.3 points per game.
While Seattle is known for its ability to score, the Mystics’ strength lies in their defense. When a team’s top two players (Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud) regularly demonstrate the importance of being active on both ends of the floor, it’s only natural that the rest of the team follows suit.
Delle Donne and Cloud have both performed well in their matchups against the Storm this year. In their three regular season meetings, Delle Donne averaged 19.6 points per game (2.4 points above her season average), while Natasha Cloud averaged 9.6 assists (2.6 assists above her season average). The Mystics are going to need both players to have big performances in this series and for them to also create opportunities for their teammates. Ariel Atkins was the high-scorer during Washington’s sole win over Seattle, and with the Storm having so many players who are capable of 20+ point performances, the key for the Mystics is going to be to find ways to get their whole team involved in scoring.
The Storm are 13–5 in home games, so Washington has their work cut out for them. Seattle already averages the best attendance in the WNBA, and with it being Sue Bird’s last season, it is likely that both games will be played in front of a sold out crowd.
Natasha Cloud did injure her knee during Washington’s last game, and while she has made it clear that she is going to play during this series, it is something to keep an eye on.
Here’s a fun fact: The Mystics are the only team to have swept the Las Vegas Aces this season. If the Mystics defeat the Storm in this series, it is very likely that they will be playing the Aces in the next round of the playoffs. So, if Washington makes it through the first round of the playoffs, they have a pretty good chance of playing in another WNBA Finals.
The first game of the series takes place at 11:00 PM ET on August 18 on ESPN2. The second game at 5:00 PM ET on August 21 on ESPN.