Six weeks removed from the conclusion of its historic 20th season, the WNBA is looking toward the future with the release of its 2017 schedule. The WNBA’s 21st season is set to tip off on May 13, with the regular season concluding on Sept. 3.
Below are five key dates that feature marquee matchups that should not be missed. For more details on the upcoming schedule, including a full list of games set to broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2, click here.
1. Opening Day – Saturday, May 13, 2017
San Antonio Stars at New York Liberty, 3:00 PM ET, League Pass
The 2017 season opens with three games, beginning with the New York Liberty hosting the San Antonio Stars and the first look at the No. 1 pick in the 2017 Draft (barring a trade, of course). The Stars are coming off a 7-27 season that gave them the greatest odds of landing the top pick in the Draft Lottery and their number came up. Who that pick will be and who will be the coach for this team are still questions that have to be determined. Whoever that top pick is, she will waste no time in getting her career started as the Stars play in the season’s opening game. She will join last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up Moriah Jefferson and two key players returning from injury – last year’s leading scorer Kayla McBride, plus point guard Danielle Robinson.
Meanwhile, the Liberty finished last season with the best record in the East (21-13), but were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round. MVP runner-up Tina Charles, who became just the third player in WNBA history to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding in the same season, is ready to lead the Liberty back to the Finals.
Seattle Storm at Los Angeles Sparks, 5:00 PM ET, ESPN
While the season opens in New York, the marquee game of the day will take place on the West Coast as the 2016 champion Los Angeles Sparks begin their title defense against the Seattle Storm. Prior to the game, the Sparks will enjoy a celebration of their 2016 season by raising their third WNBA championship banner to the Staples Center rafters and receiving their championship rings. Once the celebration is over, the action on the court will feature some of the league’s top talent, including reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike, Finals MVP Candace Parker and Rookie of the Year Breanna Stewart. This game will feature five No. 1 overall draft picks, beginning with Seattle’s Sue Bird (2002), Parker (2008), Ogwumike (2012), Jewell Loyd (2015) and Stewart (2016).
Atlanta Dream at Connecticut Sun, 7:00 PM ET, League Pass
Opening day concludes with two-time WNBA scoring champion Angel McCoughtry leading her Atlanta Dream into Connecticut to face All-Star Alex Bentley of an up-and-coming Sun squad that finished just outside of the playoff picture a year ago.
2. Finals Rematch #1 – Thursday, July 6, 2017
Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN2
WNBA fans will have to wait nearly two months from the opening of the season before they get the first of three rematches between last year’s Finalists, the L.A. Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx. They were the top two teams all season long in 2016 and thanks to the new playoff format were able to square off on the grandest stage. The teams traded wins all season long, with the Sparks getting the final victory thanks to a Nneka Ogwumike put-back shot with 3.1 seconds remaining in the decisive Game 5. The Sparks and Lynx gave WNBA fans everything they could ask for in that Finals matchup and they will enter the 2017 campaign as the favorites to meet there once again. This is the first of three regular season meetings and it takes place at Target Center in Minnesota, the same place where their classic series from last season ended.
Future Finals Rematches
- August 11, 2017: Los Angeles at Minnesota, 8:00 PM ET, League Pass
- August 27, 2017: Minnesota at Los Angeles, 7:00 PM ET, League Pass
3. The Rivalry Continues – Friday, June 30, 2017
Minnesota Lynx at Phoenix Mercury, 10:00 PM ET, League Pass
In each of the last four seasons, either Sylvia Fowles or Brittney Griner has won Defensive Player of the Year honors. If we go back to 2011, before Griner entered the league, the two have won five of the last six awards, with DPOY legend Tamika Catchings sneaking in one final honor in 2012. While Catchings holds the all-time lead with five DPOY awards, Fowles became just the third player to win the award three times as she was the runaway choice in 2016. Fowles was the anchor of the league’s top-rated defense (96.4 points per 100 possessions) and her win ended a two-year run from Griner, who has led the league in blocks per game in each of her four seasons in the WNBA. However, the Mercury defense slipped to the bottom third of the league last year, which contributed to them nearly missing the playoffs after entering the season at title favorites. For the Mercury to get back to their championship form, their defense must improve. When they won the title in 2014, they led the league in defensive efficiency at 93.9 points per 100 possessions. Can Griner help her team get back to that level of defense this season?
Outside of the defensive matchup in the middle, this game is the latest in a rivalry steeped with playoff history going back to Minnesota’s breakout season in 2011. These two teams have met in the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, with the winner advancing to the WNBA Finals. In their first four meetings, the winner of that series also went on to win the title, but that streak was broken in 2016 after Minnesota knocked off Phoenix to get to the Finals but fell to Los Angeles in five games.
4. A New Era in Indiana – Saturday, May 20, 2017
Connecticut Sun at Indiana Fever, 7:00 PM ET, League Pass
For the first time since 2001, the Indiana Fever will open a season without Tamika Catchings on the court. The five-time Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 MVP, and 2012 champion/Finals MVP has been the face of the franchise since she made her debut in the Hoosier state in 2002. Fifteen years later, the Fever are set to begin a new era without Catchings on the court and with a new coach patrolling the sidelines. Pokey Chatman comes to Indiana after spending the last six seasons as the head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky. She led the Sky to four straight playoff berths and will look to keep Indiana’s WNBA-record streak of 12 consecutive playoff berths alive in her debut season. This Saturday night contest will mark the team’s 2017 home debut following two road games to open the year.
While the Fever have been a playoff staple for the past dozen years, the Connecticut Sun have failed to make the postseason in each of the last four seasons. However, missing the playoffs leads to high draft picks, and the Sun have a core of young and talented players looking to make the leap this season. The Sun finished the 2016 campaign strong, winning 11 of their final 18 games as they finished 14-20 on the year. Can they continue to build on that momentum in 2017? This early-season matchup against a perennial playoff team is a great test.
5. MVP Showdown – Friday, August 18, 2017
Los Angeles Sparks at Chicago Sky, 8:30 PM ET, League Pass
There are only six active players that have won WNBA Most Valuable Player honors and three of them will be on the court in this game. That includes the last two winners – L.A.’s Nneka Ogwumike (2016) and Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne (2015) – as well as the Sparks’ Candace Parker, who won the award in 2008 and 2013. This game is also a homecoming for Parker, the only active player with multiple league MVPs, as she grew up in nearby Naperville, Ill. Chicago is also the hometown of Sky guard Cappie Pondexter and while she does not have a regular season MVP on her resume, she was named Finals MVP back in 2007 when she led the Phoenix Mercury to their first championship.
While Ogwumike ran away with the MVP in 2016, claiming 31 of the 39 first place votes, both Delle Donne and Parker finished in the top five of the voting. Unfortunately, Delle Donne was unable to play when these two teams met in the semifinals of last year’s playoffs after needing thumb surgery late in the regular season. Without their leading scorer – Delle Donne finished less than a tenth of a point behind league-leader Tina Charles at 21.5 points per game – the Sky were unable to knock off the eventual champions in the playoffs.