WNBA playoffs 2019: How to watch and who to keep an eye on for all 8 teams

Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne (11) passes the ball during the first half of an WNBA basketball game against the Seattle Storm, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics have the No. 1 seed in the 2019 WNBA playoffs. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner are the WNBA’s two best scorers through the 2019 regular season and will each lead their team into the playoffs from opposite directions.

Delle Donne’s Washington Mystics, the early favorites for the title, cruised throughout the second half and clinched the top seed, sending them directly to the semifinals after a historic offensive year.

Griner’s Phoenix Mercury, strapped with the loss of superstar Diana Taurasi much of the season, eked into their seventh consecutive postseason with a No. 8 seed and will hit the road for the postseason’s entirety. They’re accustomed to it.

The playoffs begin Wednesday with two single-elimination games. A look at how to watch, who to watch and what to watch.

When do WNBA playoffs start?

The first round is Wednesday with two single-elimination games.

No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks and No. 4 Las Vegas Aces have byes into the quarterfinals, which are single-elimination games held on Sunday, Sept. 15.

The No. 1 Washington Mystics (26-8) and No. 2 Connecticut Sun (23-11) have double-byes into the semifinals, which is a best-of-five series as is the final.

The semifinals are scheduled to begin Sept. 17 and the finals set for Sept. 29. It’s the fourth season of the current playoff format.

How to watch the WNBA playoffs

The first round will air on ESPN2 on Wednesday night. ESPN has the rights to the postseason.

The No. 6 Seattle Storm will host the No. 7 Minnesota Lynx, who they’ve defeated three out of four times this season. That game airs at 10 p.m. ET.

The No. 5 Chicago Sky will host the No. 8 Phoenix Mercury in the early game at 8 p.m. ET.

Keys to the playoffs for all 8 teams

No. 1 Washington Mystics (26-8)

The Mystics are the league’s best scoring offense in 2019. They have won eight games by at least 25 points, the most in one WNBA season in history, and won by nearly 12 points on average. They average more 3-pointers per game (9.3) than any team since 2003 and went 14-2 in the second half of the season.

Their hold on being the title favorite is very much intact.

Six-time WNBA All-Star Delle Donne is a leading candidate for league MVP. The 6-foot-5 center is the first WNBA player to join basketball’s 50-40-90 club, shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 97.3 percent from the free-throw line. She averages a second-best 19.5 points per game.

Kristi Toliver, who missed nine games with a knee bruise, is expected back for the playoffs. The Mystics have not won a title and finished as runner-up to Seattle last season.

No. 2 Connecticut Sun (23-11)

To put how far away the Mystics are into perspective, the Sun have a point differential of nearly four points per game, a full eight fewer. The Sun locked in home-court advantage with a devastating 15-2 record at Mohegan Sun Arena, tying a franchise record set in 2011.

Jonquel Jones, a Bahamas native who is raising money for the island, leads the league in rebounds per game (9.7) and averages 14.6 points to lead the Sun.

Courtney Williams, Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas are all averaging double-digit points, as well, with Shekinna Stricklen not far behind at 9, to complete the starting five.

The Sun, alongside the Mystics and Aces, are one of the better teams from behind the line. Connecticut is also in search of its first title after finishing runner-up in back-to-back seasons (2004-05).

No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks (22-12)

The Sparks also built success at home. They're 15-2 at Staples Center with the league’s best defense under first-year head coach Derek Fisher, but only 7-10 on the road and they haven’t fared well against teams above .500.

In recent weeks, the team has gotten healthy and started to break out behind an experienced group.

Nneka Ogwumike continues to lead with the Sparks with a team-best 16.2 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. Chiney Ogwumike was traded to L.A. ahead of the season, and the sisters are each shooting around 50 percent from the field to lead the fifth-highest scoring squad in the league.

Future Hall of Famer Candace Parker missed the first part of the season with a hamstring injury and has seen a dip in production during her 12th season. The two-time MVP led the Sparks to the 2016 title, their first since back-to-back championships in 2001-02.

Chelsea Gray, voted one of the most underrated players by her peers in a poll by The Athletic, put on another show in the Sparks’ finale. She averaged 14.5 points and 5.9 assists per game this season and is nearly automatic from the free-throw line (91.7 percent).

No. 4 Las Vegas Aces (21-13)

The Aces, a favorite to win the title after acquiring Liz Cambage before the season, went a mere 8-7 after hosting the All-Star Game. They clinched a bye in the finale against the Mercury on Sunday and are in the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Las Vegas has one of the league’s best defenses, holding teams to an average 78.5 points per game (down from 87 in 2018) with an average 16 seconds per possession to take a shot. The 6-foot-8 Cambage and 6-foot-4 A’ja Wilson dominate the post and are both in the top 10 in points per game.

Wilson, the 2018 Rookie of the Year, missed almost a month with a high ankle sprain but returned in mid-August.

Kayla McBride is the Aces’ third All-Star. It was the first time since 2009 any team had three of the top 10 vote-getters for the All-Star Game.

No. 5 Chicago Sky (20-14)

The Sky offense runs through Courtney Vandersloot’s league-leading 9.2 assists per game, far outpacing everyone else. As a whole, the team is one of the best, scoring an average 84.6 points per game (second in the league) at a 44.8 percent shooting clip (third).

Diamond DeShields paces the scoring with an average 16.2 points. Allie Quigley is a force from behind the arc, hitting a league-leading 80 3-pointers and shooting 44.2 percent (second).

The Sky are in search of the team’s first WNBA title and the second berth in a finals. Chicago, led by Delle Donne in what was her second season, lost to the Mercury in 2014.

No. 6 Seattle Storm (18-16)

The reigning champions took multiple blows to their repeat hopes weeks before the season. MVP Breanna Stewart suffered a torn Achilles while playing in the EuroLeague championship and superstar Sue Bird underwent knee surgery in May. The Storm confirmed last week Bird, 37, will not suit up until 2020.

The Storm struggled with turnovers and have the worst-performing offense of any in the postseason, averaging around 74 points per game. Only the Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings averaged fewer.

But they did lead the league in steals and have found a way to win without the talent and experience from their injured stars.

Natasha Howard has stepped up and led the Storm with 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game after averaging a career-high 13.2 and 5.5, respectively, in her first season in Seattle.

Jewell Lloyd and Jordin Canada, taking on more responsibility with Stewart out, are producing much of the rest of the offense.

No. 7 Minnesota Lynx (18-16)

The Lynx entered the season with significant questions marks as they seek to continue their dynasty. Those questions are answered.

UConn grad Napheesa Collier is the favorite for Rookie of the Year honors and has been even better in the second half. She’s one of only six players in history to have at least 400 points, 200 rebounds, 80 assists and 60 steals in a single season.

Center Sylvia Fowles adapted in her 11th season, shown statistically by Five Thirty Eight, and is finding success at mid-range. She has the league’s best field-goal percentage at 58.8 and is second all-time in rebounds in league history.

Odyssey Sims paces the offense with a team-high 14.5 points and 5.4 assists per game. All three have played in every game and the team is second in field-goal percentage (45.1).

Beginning with their first franchise championship in 2011, the Lynx have won the title in every odd year since.

No. 8 Phoenix Mercury (15-19)

The Mercury also made the playoffs despite the loss of key talent. Taurasi, the league’s all-time scoring leader, missed almost the entire season after back surgery. She returned in late August and has played only six games, but her experience alongside teammates Griner and DeWanna Bonner can’t be overlooked.

Griner led the league with 20.7 points per game behind a second-best 56.4 percent shooting. Bonner is fifth in points per game with 17.2.

The trio dropped a tough series against the Storm in the 2018 semifinals that felt more like a final and are 6-0 in elimination games the last two seasons. The Mercury are after their fourth championship, which would tie the Lynx for the record. They last won in 2014.

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