We’ve arrived at the WNBA Playoffs after a remarkable regular season in which postseason positions weren’t decided until the very last games were in the books.
Now, for the next few days comes the drama of win-or-go-home.
Let’s look at some of the top storylines for these early rounds, as playoff action begins Tuesday on ESPN2.
There will be no Finals matchup repeat.
Minnesota and Los Angeles are meeting in a first-round, single-elimination game Tuesday night (10:30 PM ET, ESPN2) at the Staples Center. Who would have thought when this season started?
One of the two teams that has comprised the Finals matchup in each of the past three years will go home after its first game. This rivalry has been built to such intensity over the past few years, but a single-game elimination to keep playing in 2018 will vault it to new heights. Expect a no-holds-barred matchup between teams that have never been afraid to get physical with one another.
It’s a tight turnaround from Sunday’s regular-season finales, and the biggest questions may be around who will get to play. Is Rebekkah Brunson ready to return after missing the past two games on concussion protocol? Is Nneka Ogwumike good to go after missing Sunday’s season finale in Connecticut, still apparently suffering the after-effects of the illness that cost her a handful of games before the All-Star break? As of Tuesday, she is listed as questionable. It will be perhaps the most compelling first-round matchup in the short history of this format.
New blood at the top
Seattle and Atlanta have byes until the semifinals by virtue of the fact that they finished with the top two seeds in the league standings. Last season, Seattle was eliminated in the first round, while Atlanta failed to make the playoffs.
With either LA or Minnesota out after the first round, this is going to be a new-look WNBA postseason in at least one major way.
How will the Storm and the Dream react to being in the driver’s seat for the first time? The Storm have only one member of the roster – point guard Sue Bird – who was on the team back in 2010 when Seattle last won a title. Jewel Loyd and Breanna Stewart have only played in one WNBA playoff game. The Dream, haven’t been to the Finals since 2013, and will be making a run without Angel McCoughtry, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Will Phoenix rise again?
For the past two years, the Phoenix Mercury have figured out the secret to winning elimination games and reaching the semifinals.
Can they now figure out how to get back to the championship series for the first time since 2014? This year’s version of the Mercury is alternately inconsistent and very dangerous. But DeWanna Bonner’s return has been a huge boost, Diana Taurasi is playing some of the best basketball of her career and Brittney Griner, is well, Brittney Griner.
Phoenix won two of three against Dallas this season, and has the edge in experience. The post matchup between Griner and Liz Cambage is going to be something to see.
The grand finale
We already know that it’s the final WNBA postseason of Lindsay Whalen’s WNBA career.
How long will it last? Will the Lynx earn their way to giving their fans in Minnesota another chance to see their hometown hero play? And is Whalen the only veteran player making her last go-around? Players such as Alana Beard in Los Angeles, and Brunson and Seimone Augustus in Minnesota have considered retirement. Fans need to appreciate the legends while we have them on the floor.
Who can take over a game?
In these first two single-elimination games, the list of game-changers is long and distinguished.
Liz Cambage is capable of utter domination in her first WNBA playoffs.
Griner knows what needs to be done to win the postseason, as does Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles and L.A.’s Candace Parker.
But there are others equally capable. The Sparks’ guard Chelsea Gray has a postseason history of big performances, and Dallas’ star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith can light up a box score.
The Waiting Game
Meanwhile, No. 3 seed Washington and No. 4 seed Connecticut will happily take the opportunity to get some hard-earned rest and watch to see who they will host on Thursday in the second round.
The Mystics have won eight of 10 and have the second-best home record in the league at 12-5.
And Connecticut comes into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak and a long memory of last year’s disappointingly early playoff exit.