The countdown to the WNBA’s 20th season is officially on.
And the landmark anniversary is not just a reason to celebrate the past 19 years; after Thursday’s schedule release, it’s also a time to look forward to the league’s bright future — a future that will come in full focus starting with a marquee Opening Night.
Here are 20 dates to highlight on the 2016 WNBA schedule (part 4):
July 23 – August 24: Break for Summer Olympics
All eyes will turn to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the month as the U.S. Women’s National Team aims for its sixth straight gold medal. Which WNBA stars make the cut for the roster and which take the lead on the world’s stage? Follow the storylines at WNBA.com, before the home stretch back in the States.
September 2: Mercury, Sun Tip Off Labor Day Weekend
The Sun have one of the league’s youngest rosters; the Mercury have a core of perennial playoff participants and former champions. In 2015, that mix produced late-game drama as the teams played one of last season’s classic games at Mohegan Sun Arena, culminating in Leilani Mitchell’s game-winning, buzzer-beating three.
This time around, Phoenix and Connecticut open a 10-game Labor Day weekend slate across the league. The Mercury visit the Liberty the following day for another East-West showdown.
September 13: Mystics Return to the Garden
New York and Washington played one of the great first-round series of all-time during last year’s playoffs, including a double-overtime Game 1; pitting two of the league’s most well-balanced teams, led by top frontcourts in Tina Charles/Kiah Stokes (Liberty) and Emma Meesseman/Stefanie Dolson (Mystics), is a proven recipe for drama.
In this late-season matchup at the Garden, who’s going to get the boost in the potential battle for playoff seeding?
September 16: Finals Rematch in Indiana
Nearly four months after their first matchup of 2016, the Lynx and Fever will face off the week before the playoffs start. What kind of shape will they be in? Which team will look primed for a return trip to the Finals?
September 18: Last Day of the Regular Season
The league’s new playoff format for the 2016 season could add even more intrigue to one of the biggest days on the calendar. Conference seeding no longer matters in playoff positioning; the teams with the eight best records will move on. The No. 1 seeds also mean more than ever as teams try to avoid the single-elimination early rounds, and we’ll likely see more inter-conference duels than ever before.
If the playoff race comes down to the wire, September 18 could be a make-or-break day. That’s a real possibility, considering that last season, just three and four games separated the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds in the East and West, respectively, and the four lottery teams (Atlanta, Connecticut, Seattle and San Antonio) could be much-improved.
Circle Dallas-Indiana on this four-game Sunday slate; Tamika Catchings will be playing her final regular-season game in front of what is sure to be a fired-up home crowd.