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WNBA releases 36-game 2022 schedule tipping with Candace Parker's Sky vs. Sparks

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The WNBA will expand to a 36-game season in its 26th year, squeezing it between the NCAA championship game in April and the 2022 FIBA World Cup in September.

Four games will tip off the season slate on Friday, May 6, the league announced on Thursday along with details for the 2022 campaign. The regular season will run until Aug. 14 with the playoffs to follow in a new format previously announced by the league. All 12 teams will play on the final day of the regular season.

The league is coming off its 25th anniversary season in which it experienced huge gains in TV viewership, merchandise sales and social media interest. A complete TV and streaming schedule will be released at a later date, the league said.

WNBA 2022 key dates

Free agency: Teams can negotiating with free agents on Jan. 15. Signed contracts can begin on Feb. 1.

Draft: April

Season start: Friday, May 6

All-Star weekend: July 9-10

Commissioner's Cup: Tuesday, July 26. All games completed between May 6-July 7.

End of regular season: Aug. 14

WNBA opening weekend schedule

The opening night of the season will feature a handful of treats for fans.

Friday, May 6

Los Angeles at Chicago — The reigning champion Chicago Sky will open their title defense against the Los Angeles Sparks, star Candace Parker's former team. Parker did not play in either game against the Sparks last season.

Las Vegas at Phoenix — The Mercury survived a Game 5 against the Aces in the 2021 semifinals to reach the Finals. The Mercury parted ways with longtime head coach Sandy Brondello earlier this week.

Minnesota at Seattle — A rivalry for opening night in Seattle, where the Storm will likely return to their renovated digs at Climate Pledge Arena. This game could look very different than 2021 with Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles potentially mulling retirement, free agency questions, and Napheesa Collier taking time off due to pregnancy.

Indiana at Washington Washington Mystics star and former MVP Elena Delle Donne has played only 52 minutes since winning the championship in 2019. The Fever are hoping to receive the top pick in the 2022 draft.

Saturday, May 7

Connecticut at New York — The powerhouse Sun squad and reigning MVP Jonquel Jones, who is a free agent, will face Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and reigning Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere.

Atlanta at Dallas  Arike Ogunbowale and the Dallas Wings will open their season against the Atlanta Dream, a franchise that is experiencing an overhaul this offseason.

Sunday, May 8

Los Angeles at Indiana

Seattle at Las Vegas

Washington at Minnesota

WNBA Finals rivalry returns

Arguably the most anticipated matchup for 2022 is a WNBA Finals rematch between the Sky and Phoenix Mercury. The Finals went to four games and featured chippy play. It was highlighted by a viral photo of the Sky's Kahleah Copper, who is a free agent, standing over the Mercury's Sophie Cunningham, also a free agent.

The teams will meet three times this upcoming season: Tuesday, May 31 in Chicago; Saturday, July 2 in Chicago; and Sunday, Aug. 14 in Phoenix.

WNBA fitting in more games to 2022 schedule

Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson, left, and forward/center Candace Parker, celebrate their 2021 WNBA Championship during a rally at Millennium Park on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson, left, and forward/center Candace Parker, celebrate their 2021 WNBA Championship during a rally at Millennium Park on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

It is the first time teams will play a 36-game schedule (18 home, 18 away), though that was the plan for the 2020 season following the new collective bargaining agreement that January. But COVID-19 forced the postponement of the season and sent the league into a bubble where it played only a 20-game schedule.

The 2021 season was a shortened 32 games. Previously teams played a 28-game schedule in the first seasons of the league that grew to 32 and finally 34 from 2003-19.

The 2022 season presented difficulties for fitting it all in as players will be joining their national teams for the World Cup that begins Sept. 22 in Sydney. To reduce travel, and presumably fit games in safely for players, the league will once again to a "series" model of scheduling. Teams will play twice in the same city consecutively.

The second Commissioner's Cup will be played at the end of July, adding another game to the calendar. The 2021 schedule included a monthlong break for the Tokyo Olympics and the Cup tipped off the league's return in mid-August. The Seattle Storm soundly defeated the Connecticut Sun, the league's hottest team heading into the break, and it drew questions on if it was smart to put the game after such a long break.

Each team will play 10 "Cup" games within their conference in the first month of the season. The teams with the best record in each conference will meet in the title game with a cash prize on the line.