WNBA playoffs 2022 predictions and biggest first-round questions

After an exciting common season and down-to-the-wire struggle for the ultimate two postseason berths, the 2022 WNBA playoffs tip off Wednesday when the No. 7 seed New York Liberty go to the No. 2 seed and defending champion Chicago Sky (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and the No. 8 seed Phoenix Mercury tackle the No. 1 Las Vegas Aces (10 p.m. ET, ESPN). The primary spherical continues Thursday with the No. 6 seed Dallas Wings going through off towards the No. 3 Connecticut Solar (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU/NBA TV) and the No. 4 Seattle Storm internet hosting the No. 5 Washington Mystics (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

This season’s playoffs characteristic a brand new format, eradicating single-elimination video games and byes for high groups in favor of best-of-three first-round collection and best-of-five battles for the semifinals and WNBA Finals.

Even because the Aces established themselves as the very best crew within the common season — due to their late push to safe the No. 1 total seed on the ultimate day of video games and by successful the Commissioner’s Cup Championship in July — the title race appears as vast open as ever. The Sky solely obtained higher after successful all of it final season and have all of the instruments to turn out to be the primary WNBA franchise to repeat in twenty years. The Storm and Mystics each know what it takes to be champions, whereas the Solar have been knocking on the door of hanging a banner for the previous three years. Then there’s the decrease seeds, just like the Liberty and Wings, who’ve copious younger expertise to make sure they will not be taking place with no struggle.

ESPN’s M.A. Voepel, Kevin Pelton and Alexa Philippou reply essentially the most pertinent questions heading into the primary spherical of video games and make their predictions for which crew will in the end reduce down the nets in September.

Mystics-Storm is unanimously regarded by our workers as essentially the most aggressive first-round matchup. What is the high storyline you are watching within the collection?

Philippou: With a wholesome Elena Delle Donne, the Storm-Mystics could possibly be a semifinals and even Finals collection — in reality, it was the Finals matchup in 2018. As an alternative, we get a first-round matchup between most of the similar items that mixed to win three of the previous 4 titles (Washington in 2019, bookended by Seattle in 2018 and 2020). So many gamers have one thing to struggle for or to show: Delle Donne that she’s the identical caliber of participant she was earlier than her onslaught of again points; Tina Charles that she will win a WNBA title to solidify her standing as one of many W’s all-time greats; all of the whereas, Sue Hen may add yet one more feather to her cap and journey off into the sundown with a fifth WNBA title to her identify.

Pelton: Can the Mystics discover sufficient offense on this battle of two of the WNBA’s high three defenses by way of factors allowed per 100 possessions? Washington cracked a 96 offensive ranking simply as soon as within the three head-to-head matchups, not coincidentally the Mystics’ solely win. Washington was 16-4 this season with an offensive ranking of 100 or higher and 6-10 when failing to achieve that mark, so this might decide the result.

Voepel: How large of a collection will Seattle guard Jewell Loyd have? She is coming off a season-high 38 factors towards Las Vegas within the regular-season finale after scoring only one level towards the Aces on Aug. 7. When Loyd is scoring nicely, it makes the Storm a lot extra harmful. However she will likely be going towards a Mystics protection that’s significantly robust on opposing guards.

Chicago will turn out to be the primary WNBA crew to repeat since 2001-02 if … ?

Pelton: The Sky play like they did in June and July, going 18-4 after a gradual begin with Kahleah Copper returning late from abroad. Issues have been shakier in August, with Chicago going 3-3 to drop out of the No. 1 seed.

Voepel: The Sky’s largest strengths are their offensive move and their depth, and so they’re additionally a fairly good defensive crew. In the event that they play offensively to their functionality, they’ve a very good likelihood to repeat as champions.

Philippou: The Sky’s identification revolves round their smooth-rolling offense, as Voepel talked about, however it’ll be attention-grabbing to see how they fare of their defensive execution in a collection towards some high-powered groups just like the Aces and even the Storm given how their offense is clicking as of late (each these matchups can be within the Finals). Of be aware: Of their playoff run final yr, the Sky’s 94.2 defensive ranking was the very best of any crew taking part in within the postseason.

Who’s the most well liked crew coming into the playoffs? And which crew advantages essentially the most from the brand new playoff format now that there aren’t single-elimination video games?

Philippou: It is fairly actually the Aces, who’re driving a four-game win streak coming into the postseason with wins over the Storm (twice), Dream and Sky — all of the extra spectacular contemplating they have been with out two-time Sixth Lady of the Yr Dearica Hamby most of that stretch.

I usually preferred the thought of single-elimination video games being included early within the playoffs, however the thought of this Washington crew having to get by means of two of them simply to achieve the semifinals, the place one fluky efficiency may have ended its season, is laughable; who is aware of if the Mystics will get previous Seattle, however now they’ve a extra truthful shot of incomes a spot within the semifinals.

Voepel: The Aces have on a mission and undoubtedly seem locked in, so they’re most likely the most well liked crew. The collection format is greatest total for the league, and Seattle has to really feel relieved that its season would not come all the way down to only one recreation towards Washington.

Pelton: Relative to season-long performances, the Storm are available in hottest. Sure, Seattle misplaced twice to Las Vegas within the season’s remaining eight days, however in between the Storm delivered two of their most spectacular performances of the season to win at Chicago and blow out Minnesota in a key recreation for the Lynx. Seattle’s protection has been stout all season; solely late within the yr has the offense stored tempo.

As for the largest profit, I will say the Mystics, who would’ve been internet hosting Phoenix after which flying throughout the nation to face the rested Storm in a single-elimination recreation.

Who could be the breakout participant of the postseason?

Pelton: Rebekah Gardner. If you happen to’ve been ready for the playoffs to tune in, you may not understand {that a} 32-year-old rookie is taking part in a key function for the defending champs. Gardner merited choice each to the All-Rookie and All-Defensive groups, and the worth of her size towards smaller ball handlers may imply a key function for her as we get deeper into the postseason.

Philippou: For the report, I am not offered on the Liberty with the ability to upset the Sky, however we’d see some memorable performances from Sabrina Ionescu this postseason, particularly contemplating the Liberty have two assured video games as an alternative of 2021’s one-and-done outing. And I would not be shocked if French product Marine Johannes goes off with some loopy 3-point capturing for New York, both.

Voepel: Dallas guard Marina Mabrey has helped maintain the Wings collectively whereas Arike Ogunbowale has been out with an damage. She had a career-high 31 factors on Aug. 8 after they clinched their playoff spot and has averaged 20.9 factors in Dallas’ seven video games in August. The Wings may have a tough time making an attempt to knock off the Solar, however Mabrey may have an opportunity to point out how a lot her capturing and passing abilities have meant to Dallas this season. She may solely get one collection to do that, so perhaps that is not “breaking out.” However like fellow 2019 second-round decide Sophie Cunningham of Phoenix, Mabrey deserves credit score for defying the chances and never simply incomes a roster spot in an extremely robust league, however actually contributing to her crew’s success.

Which increased seed can least afford to lose Recreation 1?

Voepel: Not one of the higher-seeded groups need to be within the place of getting to win Recreation 3 on the street, however Seattle may discover that particularly daunting in Washington D.C. The Storm would love nothing higher than to dominate their first-round opener and attempt to shut down any concepts the Mystics have about gaining the higher hand within the collection.

Philippou: Except for the Seattle-Washington collection as Voepel talked about — with Seattle’s league-leading attendance, the Storm will not need to drop any recreation at Local weather Pledge Area — the Solar will likely be seeking to deal with enterprise at house. The Wings are a tricky matchup for them and Connecticut will likely be seeking to keep away from the collection shifting to Dallas. The Solar have essentially the most regular-season house wins since 2017 and can absolutely look to make the most of that monitor report.

Pelton: The reply is unquestionably the Storm since any of the opposite three increased seeds would nonetheless be favored within the collection regardless of having to win Recreation 3 on the street. Nonetheless, I feel shedding Recreation 1 at house can be a psychological hurdle for the Solar given the crew’s historical past of shorter-than-expected playoff runs.

Which groups will meet within the WNBA semifinals?

Pelton: Las Vegas vs. Seattle; Chicago vs. Connecticut

Philippou: Las Vegas vs. Seattle; Chicago vs. Connecticut

Voepel: Las Vegas vs. Seattle; Chicago vs. Connecticut

Which groups will meet within the WNBA Finals?

Pelton: Las Vegas vs. Connecticut

Philippou: Las Vegas vs. Chicago

Voepel: Las Vegas vs. Chicago

Which crew will win the 2022 WNBA championship?

Pelton: Las Vegas

Philippou: Las Vegas

Voepel: Chicago

Who would be the WNBA Finals MVP?

Pelton: Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas

Philippou: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas

Voepel: Candace Parker, Chicago



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