NEW YORK (AP) — There was much hype before the WNBA season about the stellar teams in Las Vegas and New York.
Neither disappointed, finishing 1-2 in the standings with the defending champion Aces having the best record in the league at 34-6. New York was right behind. Now the two begin the postseason with history on the line.
A’ja Wilson is hoping to lead Las Vegas to a second straight title, something that hasn’t been done since the Los Angeles Sparks won in 2001 and 2002. AP Player of the Year Breanna Stewart, who came to New York in the offseason as a free agent, hopes to bring the Liberty their first championship.
It won’t be easy for either team as the postseason, which begins Wednesday night, is full of other really talented teams — including Connecticut and Washington — that have championship pedigrees. There’s also a host of hungry newcomers including Dallas and Atlanta looking to make long playoff runs.
Las Vegas opens up against Chicago and Connecticut hosts Minnesota on Wednesday night in the postseason openers. New York plays Washington and Dallas goes against Atlanta on Friday night in Game 1 of their series.
For the second consecutive season, the playoff format for the opening round will feature the better seeded team hosting the first two games of the playoffs with the lower seed hosting the decisive third game if it’s necessary. The four winning teams will then play a best-of-five semifinals and finals.
There’s a lot of time between games in each round, which could help the Aces, who don’t have the deepest bench. Las Vegas returned its same starting five that won the franchise’s first championship last season. The team looked in great shape to repeat with the additions of Candace Parker and Alysha Clark, but Parker suffered a broken foot midway through the 40-game regular season and is still sidelined by it.
New York had a windfall in the offseason adding Stewart and Jonquel Jones as well as stellar point guard Courtney Vandersloot. That trio, along with returning stars Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, made the Liberty into an instant title contender. It took New York a bit of time to get used to each other before the Liberty started clicking and finished the season with eight wins in their final 10 games.
Here are a few other tidbits from this year’s postseason:
LOOKING TO ADVANCE: The Dallas Wings franchise hasn’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 2009 when the team was in Detroit in 2009. The Wings have built a solid foundation under first-year coach Latricia Trammel led by All-Stars Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally. That talented pair has a strong cast with them including Natasha Howard and 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan giving the fourth-seeded Wings a really solid frontcourt. Standing in the way is the Atlanta Dream, who are back in the postseason for the first time since 2018. Atlanta hopes to show it’s on the way back to being the franchise which played in the Final three times in four years from 2010-13.
EXPERIENCE MATTERS: The third-seeded Connecticut Sun and No. 7 Washington Mystics seem to be almost forgotten about with all the hype surrounding the Aces and Liberty. Connecticut made it to the WNBA Finals last season before falling to Las Vegas. Washington, which had one of the most injured-plagued season in WNBA history with players missing over 200 games combined, is mostly healthy now and returns six players from the 2019 championship team, including stars Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. The Mystics split the regular season series with New York and aren’t intimidated by the Liberty.
BIG TURNAROUND: The Minnesota Lynx started the season with six straight losses before getting going and becoming the second team ever to qualify for the postseason after starting 0-6. No coach left has won more titles than Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx have a solid core led by Napheesa Collier and rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhasz.
UPSET MINDED: The Chicago Sky finished the season strong winning five of their final six games to make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Kahleah Copper is the lone starter left from the 2021 WNBA championship team, but she has a lot of help. Courtney Williams has championship experience from her time with the Connecticut Sun. She knows that anything can happen in the postseason.
“It’s a different game,” she said. “The playoffs are a whole other ball game. It’s pretty much 0-0.”
TRENDING UPWARDS: Thanks in part to the Aces and Liberty, the WNBA had its most-watched regular season in 21 years. Viewership was up 21% across its national TV partners. Attendance was up 16% from last season, and averaged attendance — 6,615 — was the league’s highest since 2018. Total attendance was the league’s highest in 13 years.