WNBA playoffs 2022: Can Sky repeat? Will Sue Bird go out with ring? What to know from storylines to TV schedule
The 2022 WNBA playoff field is set with the Las Vegas Aces leading the way at the No. 1 seed. The reigning champion Chicago Sky are the No. 2 seed. The first-round games will tip off on Wednesday and Thursday in the new format approved by the league's Board of Governors in November. There are no longer single-elimination games or byes for the top two seeds. Here are all the details you need to know.
When are the WNBA playoffs?
The WNBA playoffs tip off on Wednesday and run through Sept. 20, at the latest. They are early this year so players can join their national teams for the FIBA World Cup in Sydney, Australia.
What is the WNBA playoff format?
The new format does away with single-elimination games, first-round byes and reseeding in-between rounds.
Teams will play a best-of-three series in the first round with the first two games at the higher seed and a Game 3, if necessary, at the lower seed. The semifinals and Finals will be best-of-five in a 2-2-1 format starting at the higher seed.
The matchups are No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed and No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 on one side of the bracket. Winners will play in the semifinals. The other is 2-vs.-7 and 3-vs.-6, with winners meeting in the other semifinal. The WNBA does not seed by conference but rather by overall record.
Who is playing in the WNBA playoffs?
No. 1 Las Vegas Aces (26-10) vs. No. 8 Phoenix Mercury (15-21)
No. 2 Chicago Sky (26-10) vs. No. 7 New York Liberty (16-20)
No. 3 Connecticut Sun (25-11) vs. No. 6 Dallas Wings (18-18)
No. 4 Seattle Storm (22-14) vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics (22-14)
WNBA TV playoffs schedule
All times are ET.
Round 1, Games 1
New York at Chicago, 8 p.m. on ESPN2
Phoenix at Las Vegas, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Dallas at Connecticut, 8 p.m. on ESPNU and NBATV
Washington at Seattle, 10 p.m. on ESPN2
Round 1, Games 2
New York at Chicago, noon on ESPN
Phoenix at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. on ESPN2
Dallas at Connecticut, noon on ABC
Washington at Seattle, 4 p.m. on ESPN
Round 1, Games 3 (if necessary)
Chicago at New York, 8 p.m. on ESPN2*
Las Vegas at Phoenix, 10 p.m. on ESPN*
Seattle at Washington, 7 p.m. on ESPN2*
Connecticut at Dallas, 9 p.m. on ESPN*
*If both Games 3 on each night are necessary. If there is only one Game 3, it will be played at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
Who won the 2021 WNBA championship?
The Chicago Sky pulled off a historic run to win the 2021 title as the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. They defeated the No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury in four games, winning it back home at Wintrust Arena where Mercury star Diana Taurasi reportedly broke a door.
Chicago became the first team in the league's 25-year history to win the title without being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. The Sky and Mercury were the first teams seeded outside of the top three to reach the Finals since the playoff format changed in 2016.
The Storm (2020, '18), Mystics ('19) and Mercury ('14) each won in the past decade. The Dallas Wings franchise has three championships as the Tulsa Shock. The Aces, Sun and Liberty have never won a title, though New York has the most Finals appearances without a championship (four).
Who is the betting favorite?
The No. 1 seed Aces are favored at BetMGM at +135. The rest of the field, in order: Sky +250, Storm +500, Sun +500, Mystics +1100, Liberty +5000, Wings +5000, Mercury +8000.
What are the 2022 WNBA playoff storylines?
There are a few big storylines that could impact every team in the field.
How will the new format go after the change last year? There could be issues voiced by fans and players alike if a first-round series goes to a Game 3, because the lower seed will have the home-court advantage. It could also mean extensive travel ahead of a pivotal game.
Will health and safety protocols take away key players? Teams are still flying commercial up until the WNBA Finals and there's the added complication of late-summer travel (schools in the northeast, for example, aren't in session yet) as well as COVID-19. Players have also been out for non-COVID illnesses, such as Jackie Young dealt with leading up to Sunday's game against Seattle.
Can the Sky repeat, and if not, is their window closed? Head coach and general manager James Wade is a favorite for Executive of the Year for his free agency moves that added 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, overseas star Rebekah Gardner and Belgian point guard Julie Allemand to an already stacked roster. But older players are considering retirement and the 2023 free agency window will again be busy.
Will Sue Bird go out with a ring? Bird is playing her final games of a 21-year career in the WNBA and going for her fifth WNBA championship. No matter when Seattle is bounced from the postseason, next year's roster is bound to look very different with 2018 league MVP Breanna Stewart on the free agency market again.
And again this year, can Connecticut break through? The Sun are perennial favorites but have hit road blocks. In 2021, it was being without Alyssa Thomas and facing a Sky team firing on every cylinder. Connecticut reached the semifinals the past three seasons.
Who is the favorite in the first-round matchups?
No. 1 Aces vs. No. 8 Mercury
Season series: Aces, 3-0
Aces notes: Dearica Hamby (9.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 26.5 mpg) is out with a bone bruise in her knee. She might be able to return for the semifinals.
Mercury notes: Diana Taurasi (right quad), Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal/suspended list) and Brittney Griner (wrongfully detained in Russia) are all out for Phoenix. Taurasi and Diggins-Smith combined to average 36.4 of the team’s 81.1 points per game (45%).
What to expect: The Aces swept the Mercury by an average margin of 16.7 points when they played the entirety of their season series in May. The league-leading Aces offense can get ahead of a team in a hurry and it could get out of hand quickly against a heavily depleted Mercury squad. Two of the Aces’ seven 100-point outings were against Phoenix and that was with 6-foot-3 center Tina Charles still on the Phoenix roster.
The Las Vegas players are also out to avenge their semifinals loss to the No. 5-seeded Mercury last year. Phoenix advanced with a three-point Game 5 victory in Vegas.
No. 4 Storm vs. No. 5 Mystics
Season series: Storm, 2-1
Storm notes: Head coach Noelle Quinn recently returned from health and safety protocols, the biggest concern Seattle has had on its injury report. Seattle has to fly the most of any WNBA team because they’re alone in the northwest.
Mystics notes: Point guard Natasha Cloud (10.7 ppg, 7 apg, 3.6 rpg) exited the season finale on Sunday with a knee injury and did not return, but the team insisted it was purely precautionary. Myisha Hines-Allen (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 19.3 mpg) should be ready to return after missing two games while in health and safety protocols.
What to expect: … that this might go to a Game 3 back in the District. The Mystics have the best defense in the league (75.9 ppg) and the Storm are third (78.4 ppg). They each average around 82 points a game. It's as close as the seeds suggest and a rematch of the 2018 WNBA Finals that pits two of the past three champions against each other early.
Each still has their MVP in Storm forward Breanna Stewart (21.8 ppg leads league) and Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne (17.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg). It’s also the potential final game for Bird and Briann January, who announced her retirement ahead of the season.
No. 2 Sky vs. No. 7 Liberty
Season series: Sky, 3-1
Sky notes: Courtney Vandersloot went down hard in Sunday’s game and appeared to be in pain when she went to the bench area. But though the Prime Video broadcast kept reiterating she hadn’t come back and even said she was in the locker room, reporters at the game noted she was moving fine and never left the Sky’s bench. Chicago was already in the middle of a blowout and no starters had returned to the game at that point.
Liberty notes: The Liberty injury report was clean on Sunday, a rarity for this group. Betnijah Laney is back after meniscus surgery and Natasha Howard’s ankle injury doesn’t appear to be as serious as it first looked.
What to expect: Chicago is still a favorite here, but it could be a closer affair than most might expect from a 2-vs.-7 series. The Sky crushed the Liberty by 33 points in the first week of the season when only one New York player cracked double-digits. Han Xu, a 6-10 center, barely did it with 10 in nine minutes off the bench.
But the last three games have been far closer (two, three and eight-point margins) and the Liberty are healthier than they’ve been at any point this season.
In the backcourt, it will be a battle of triple-double stars in Sabrina Ionescu (6.3 apg, ranking third) and Vandersloot (6.5, second). New York will face more of a problem in the frontcourt against Candace Parker and Emma Meesseman. The two combine for around 26 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, 2.5 steals and two blocks a game.
It’s also a rematch of coaches in the Sky’s James Wade and Liberty’s Sandy Brondello, who led the Mercury to the Finals last season.
No. 3 Sun vs. No. 6 Wings
Season series: Wings, 2-1
Sun notes: Connecticut’s title hopes took a hit when point guard Jasmine Thomas sustained an ACL injury weeks into the season. Natisha Hiedeman has stepped up into the role well since. The Sun are also without Bria Hartley (ACL).
Wings notes: All-star guard Arike Ogunbowale (19.7 ppg, 1.5 spg, 31.4 mpg leads team) will miss at least the first-round series after undergoing hip surgery on Aug. 9, but teammates have stepped up in her absence the last week. Forward Satou Sabally has also remained out with an ankle injury. She’s played in only 11 games. And Isabelle Harrison (8.7 ppg in 18.4 mpg) did not play on Sunday with a shoulder injury.
What to expect: It is the only matchup in which the lower seed won the season series, which is a tough draw for the Sun in the first round. The first matchup was the day the Sun learned of Thomas’ prognosis and two days later they blew the Wings out by 31.
The Sun have the best net rating (9.5) behind the second-best offense (105.8 ortg) and second-best defense (96.3 drtg), per WNBA Stats. The Wings are barely in the positive (0.2) because of a fourth-worst defensive rating (104.3).