Select Team

Inside The W With Michelle Smith: ‘Burning Questions – Playoff Edition’

After a compelling 2019 WNBA regular season filled with breakout performances and new narratives, the playoffs have arrived, with first-round, single-elimination matchups on Wednesday.

And that means it’s time for another episode of “Burning Questions,” Playoff Version.

Is this Washington’s title to lose?
Certainly seems that way. The Mystics are going after their first-ever WNBA title with a hunger that hasn’t waned at any point through this season. Washington put up six games with at least 100 points. They lost consecutive games at only two occasions in the season, a two-game losing streak in June and a three-game losing streak without likely MVP Elena Delle Donne on the floor in July. They enter the playoffs with 17 wins in their last 19 games. They posted a 43-point win over No. 2 seed Connecticut, a 29-point win over No. 3 seed Los Angeles and a 29-point win over No. 4 seed Las Vegas. They have been dominant and consistent and balanced. Washington would have to suddenly struggle offensively in order to get into trouble. They haven’t done that all season, and it’s tough to see them doing it now.

Who is in the best position to challenge the Mystics?
Heading into the Playoffs, that looks like the Los Angeles Sparks. Thanks to finishing with the No. 3 seed, the Sparks wouldn’t have to face Washington until the Finals series. L.A. will need to win a second-round single-elimination game at home, but a run of 14 straight wins at Staples Center bodes well for them. Candace Parker’s game is rounding into postseason form. She has scored in double figures in four straight games and has put up at least 20 points in three games since August 20. The Sparks have at least four consistent scorers in Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray, and Riquna Williams and Chiney Ogwumike poised to make a big postseason contribution. Los Angeles looks poised for a long run.

Is Las Vegas ready for the playoff spotlight?
This franchise has never been to the playoffs as the Aces, having last experienced the postseason in 2014 as the San Antonio Stars. And barely any of the players were on the roster to experience that. But this is an Aces team that stumbled to the regular-season finish with four losses in six games and almost failed to nail down a first-round bye. On top of that, the Aces will play Sunday’s single-elimination game in the second round away from their home floor at the Thomas and Mack Center. With a slim margin in a single-elimination playoff game, the Aces are going to need to rediscover what works for them – getting the ball down low to Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson to go with some perimeter scoring from Kayla McBride – in a hurry.

Who could disrupt this playoff scenario?
Picking Minnesota here. The Lynx are a different team than in year’s past, but they still have Cheryl Reeve, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles and all that championship experience between them. Odyssey Sims has had a strong season in a big role and Napheesa Collier’s all-around play has been consistently impressive. They come into the playoffs with five wins in six games, a five-game winning streak ending in the season finale at Los Angeles. Before the Lynx can turn into a postseason darkhorse, however, they are going to have to go up to Seattle and beat the Storm in a single-elimination game and Seattle has a 3-1 advantage over Minnesota this season. But if the Lynx’s can play defense, they have a good shot to cause some trouble in the next few weeks.

Can Connecticut rewrite its playoff history?
Two years in a row of great regular-seasons followed by single-elimination losses in the Playoffs. The Sun did what they needed to do and they hung on to keep the No. 2 seed and the bye to the semifinals. So, no matter what happens now, their fate can’t be decided by any single game. First things first, the Sun must shore things up defensively. They lost two in a row to close the regular-season schedule, giving up an average of 106.5 points in those two games to Chicago and then Indiana (with starters playing limited minutes). Can’t do that in the playoffs.

Who is most likely to be a hero?
There are a few good candidates here. L.A.’s Chelsea Gray is always a clutch performer. And then there’s Seattle speedy catalyst Jordin Canada, or perhaps Chicago’s Diamond DeShields, who has scored in double figures in 24 straight games for the Sky.