The twentieth WNBA regular season has come and gone with the blink of an eye, even with the Olympic break, where Team USA—which included four Lynx players—brought home the gold in August. We have quickly arrived at the playoffs where the real test begins with a new format for the postseason, one that has its own nuances each team must deal with. Let’s go over them, shall we?
- The top eight teams in the league make the postseason regardless of conference.
- There are now four rounds.
- The first two rounds are single elimination games.
- The next two rounds, the semifinals and finals, are five game playoffs (2-2-1 format).
- Teams are re-seeded after each round.
- In the first round, the five-seed hosts the eight-seed and the six-seed hosts the seven-seed.
- In the second round, the three-seed will host the lowest seed from the first round. The four-seed will play the highest seed coming out of the first round.
- The Lynx will host the lowest seed making it out of round two and the Sparks host the higher seed.
So what does this all mean? Well, the Lynx (one-seed) and the Sparks (two-seed) are fortunate enough to avoid the nerve-inducing single-elimination rounds. Having five games to prove how good they actually are is a huge advantage for them. This also means the two have to wait 10 plus days since their last game to play and they won’t know their opponents until the second round ends due to re-seeding.
Some may argue that the teams making it out of the single-elimination rounds have some sort of upper hand. They get to keep any sort of rhythm they may have had at the end of the year and benefit from one or two tune-up games before facing one of the behemoths, who are biding their time.
I contend that the WNBA gave them the double-byes because they know who sells games better to casual fans and this new format accelerates the postseason to the good stuff. We’ll get to see two rounds that could go potentially five games, when previously that could only happen in the Finals. However, the edge goes to the top dogs with this format. They get time to rest with the assurance that they’re playing two home games, where Minnesota (15-2) and Los Angeles (14-3) dominated opponents.
If you think this break for the Lynx will cause them to come back to earth, you’re not paying attention. They have won 13 of their last 15 games going back to before the Olympic break and are the best coached team in the league. Call me biased but you can’t deny she has the highest winning percentage in WNBA history, and she will have had 10 days to prepare her game plan and work out any kinks the team has had. It would be shocking if they were knocked out by one of the bottom six teams in a five-game series.
On the other hand, the Sparks are 6-7 in their last 13 games and have recently struggled with teams they were dominating early in the season, ultimately losing yet again to the Lynx, along with that the top seed. Not exactly an inspiring stretch. Still, they have Nneka Ogwumike, the AP Player of the Year and MVP favorite, former two-time MVP in Candace Parker, and sharpshooter Kristi Toliver, so don’t count them out at all.
Those two are the favorites, but there are others in the mix that could pull off the upsets. Here’s a snapshot of the seeding of the playoffs:
One-Seed: Minnesota Lynx (28-6)
What more can be said about this team? They rank second in both offense and defense in terms of points per game, thanks to their four Olympians and deep bench. They play so well together as a team as they were second in assists per game (20.0) but if their post-break play is any indication, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles are about to go off.
Two-Seed: Los Angeles Sparks (26-8)
Two of their losses at home were handed to them by, ahem, look up. That bodes well for the good guys if those two eventually meet in the finals, which is very likely considering their body of work. They struggled late in the year but don’t expect that to continue.
Three-Seed: New York Liberty (21-13)
Tina Charles was the early favorite to win MVP as she has led the league in points and rebounds per game almost the entire season. Ogwumike has surpassed her, as she is the best player on a better team and when you combine that with her efficiency the New York forward fell behind. Sugar Rodgers has proven deadly in the past but the Lynx wouldn’t see their former player until the finals if they were to meet up.
Four-Seed: Chicago Sky (18-16)
Last year’s MVP Elena Delle Donne could be out the rest of the year after having thumb surgery, putting serious doubts on their chances of winning it. They went 3-3 to end the season since she got injured in a blowout against the Mystics, including an overtime win over Minnesota, but things don’t look good if she cannot return.
Five-Seed: Indiana Fever (17-17)
Tamika Catchings looks to win one more championship before she retires at the end of this year. The Fever are hoping for a return to the finals to avenge their loss last year, taking the Lynx all the way to game five.
Six-Seed: Atlanta Dream (17-17)
Tiffany Hayes made a critical mistake in picking up her seventh technical foul against Minnesota in the last game of the season. It means she is suspended for the first game against Seattle and Angel McCoughtry will need to carry this team to the second round.
Seven-Seed: Seattle Storm (16-18)
Breanna Stewart is already a superstar and will obviously win Rookie of the Year honors. Throw in one-year vet Jewell Lloyd and Seattle has the future looking pretty good. The seasoned Sue Bird probably wants to win now though and they have saved their best play for last this year, winning five of their previous six games.
Eight-Seed: Phoenix Mercury (16-18)
GMs around the league tabbed them the favorites to win it all before the year started and they ended up just sneaking into the postseason. It makes me a little nervous that they are the bottom seed because if they can figure it out and win the next two games, the Lynx biggest rival will be coming back to try to avenge the three losses early in the season.
The playoffs start today so let me know who you’ve got in the matchups tonight, and who you do or don’t want to see when Minnesota finally gets to play next Wednesday.
(8) Phoenix at (5) Indiana - 5 PM CT, ESPNews
(7) Seattle at (6) Atlanta - 7 PM CT, ESPNews