Even Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer didn’t think his squad would perform this well, telling reporters in a post-game video call on Sunday that the Seattle Storm would be the “cream of the crop” in the 2020 WNBA season. Yet while the Storm are still a championship favorite, it’s Laimbeer’s Aces who swiped the No. 1 seed and its advantages on the final day of play.
“Who’d have thunk it? We end up with the best record of the league for the regular season,” said Laimbeer, pausing for a wide-eyed look of surprise. “Yeah, I think a pretty good accomplishment for our basketball team. Where we started the season with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of new faces, and to have this kind of success so far to date, we’ll take it.
“We realize that we’ve won nothing. There’s a long way to go, but we put ourselves in a position to get into a series with only four teams remaining and that’s an accomplishment in itself.”
The seven-week, 22-game season at IMG Academy in Brandenton, Florida, was a sprint. The Aces and Storm, led by respective MVP candidates A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, will both benefit from a full week off until the semifinals, while the other six teams play in single-elimination games.
Here is how to watch every game on TV, who is in and what to watch for when the playoffs tip off on Tuesday.
Who is in the 2020 WNBA playoffs?
1. Las Vegas Aces (18-4)
2. Seattle Storm (18-4)
3. Los Angeles Sparks (15-7)
4. Minnesota Lynx (14-8)
5. Phoenix Mercury (13-9)
6. Chicago Sky (12-10)
7. Connecticut Sun (10-12)
8. Washington Mystics (9-13)
How do I watch the WNBA playoffs?
ESPN holds the rights to the WNBA postseason and is airing every game on its platform. It will be one of the most national TV friendly playoffs in the league’s 24-year history with four games scheduled on ABC.
The first and second rounds are single elimination and will air on ESPN2. They can also be streamed at espn.com/watch.
Tuesday, Sept. 15: First Round
No. 7 Connecticut Sun at No. 6 Chicago Sky, 7 p.m. ET
No. 8 Washington at No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, 9 p.m. ET
Thursday, Sept. 17: Second Round
Lowest-seeded winner at No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks, 7 p.m. ET
Higher-seeded winner at No. 4 Minnesota Lynx, 9 p.m. ET
The semifinals begin Sunday, Sept. 27 with games at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN) and 3 p.m. ET (ABC).
What to watch for in each team
This was far from a typical season for any team. Many, such as the Aces, played without stars due to opt-outs and others, such as the Mercury, dropped down to seven players on the roster due to injuries and “wubble” exits.
1. Las Vegas Aces
Went well: Laimbeer put it simply to reporters on Sunday: A’ja Wilson (20.5 PPG ranks second; 8.5 RPG, seventh; 3.4 APG; 1.5 SPG) should be the league’s MVP and Dearica Hamby (12.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG) should repeat as the sixth woman of the year. The Aces also added Angel McCoughtry (14.4 PPG).
They rank first in scoring (88.7 PPG), second in offensive rating (107.3) and second in defensive rating (97.2). The Aces are first in rebounding (37.4).
How far can they go? All the way. The Storm are their stiffest competition and they beat them twice. But Bird missed the first, an eight-point win, and both she and Stewart missed Sunday, when the Aces won by a bucket. The one thing that could really trip this team up is if the Sky get through to the semifinals. Unless the Mystics pull two absolute stunners, the Aces would pull the Sky no matter what as the top seed. Those games have been heated and gone Chicago’s way.
2. Seattle Storm
Overcame: Head coach Dan Hughes stayed back in Seattle due to being at high risk for COVID-19. And while the Storm got back veteran Sue Bird, she missed 11 games due to a bone bruise in the knee she had surgery on in 2019. That included the final two games. Stewart, the 2018 MVP who looked even better after Achilles surgery, also missed the final two games with a foot injury.
Went well: Stewart didn’t miss a beat in her return and is the MVP conversation averaging 19.7 points (ranking fourth), 7.8 rebounds (10th), 3.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Jewell Loyd (14.8 PPG), Alysha Clark (9.7 PPG) and Natasha Howard (9.6 PPG) were all on the 2018 championship squad and the bench has starting experience from last season.
The Storm rank second in scoring (87.5 PPG), first in offensive rating (108.3) and first in defensive rating (93.3).
How far? All the way presuming Bird and Stewart are back in the starting lineup by the semifinals. The Storm may have come in as the favorites, but they’ve lost to the Aces twice — albeit without their regular starting five together.
3. Los Angeles Sparks
Overcame: Point guard Kristi Toliver opted out of the season and star forward Nneka Ogwumike missed a handful of games with a back issue late last month.
Went well: Candace Parker is having an MVP caliber year (14.7 PPG, 51.0 FG%, 9.7 RPG, 4.6 APG) and point guard Chelsea Gray is still their “point gawd” (14.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.5 SPG). Along with Ogwumike, the three took L.A. to the 2016 and ’17 Finals.
The Sparks are second in league shooting percentage (48.1), but are middle of the pack in offensive rating. Their defensive rating ranks third (100.2)
How far? The Sparks took an unceremonious exit from last year’s playoffs and Parker told the Tea with A and Phee podcast she and head coach Derek Fisher have spoken and moved on. They should make it into the semifinals, but four of their losses are to the Storm and Aces.
4. Minnesota Lynx
Overcame: Sylvia Fowles was in the MVP conversation when she suffered a calf strain in mid-August and missed the rest of the season. Coach Cheryl Reeve is optimistic she’ll return for the playoffs. Karima Christmas-Kelly left the bubble with a ruptured Achilles and Odyssey Sims missed the first half of the season while home with her newborn son.
Went well: Reigning rookie of the year Napheesa Collier (16.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.3 APG) stepped up in the absence. The Lynx have a surprise rookie of the year leader in Crystal Dangerfield (16.2 PPG). She could become the first player drafted in the second round to win the award and the second player drafted lower than sixth to do it.
How far? The Lynx season will likely end in the semifinals, if they make it there. Minnesota, as with most of the league, hasn’t fared well against the Storm and Aces (0-4). While they’ve kept in it with Las Vegas, they have been blown out in both Storm matchups.
5. Phoenix Mercury
Overcame: The Mercury played with seven on the roster at times and remain without center Brittney Griner, who left the bubble for personal reasons, and guard Bria Hartley, who tore her ACL. Phoenix rattled off six consecutive victories, finishing the schedule on a 7-2 run, to come back from below .500 and reach the playoffs.
Went well: The highly celebrated new “Big 3” performed up to expectations with all finishing in the top 10 scoring. Diana Taurasi is fifth overall (18.7 PPG, 4.5 APG), Skylar Diggins-Smith is eighth (17.7 PPG, 4.2 APG) and Griner ranks ninth (17.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG over 12 games). Taurasi is playing incredible ball after telling off a ref and wearing Kobe Bryant’s No. 8.
How far? Taurasi and Diggins-Smith have been on a mission the second half of the season with incredulously deep 3-pointers and jaw-dropping buzzer beaters. But losing Griner down low is a problem and if the others aren’t on, it won’t go well. They should get through the Mystics, creating a close matchup with the Lynx.
6. Chicago Sky
Overcame: The Sky started strong, but lost four in a row before a season-ending victory over the Dallas Wings. They are without Azurá Stevens (injury) and Diamond DeShields (personal reasons). It’s been up-and-down for the Sky since they left the wubble.
Went well: Point guard Courtney Vandersloot set the WNBA all-time assists record and came oh-so-close to being the first player to average 10.0 assists per game. Though she’s listed as having that much, she actually averaged 9.95 (219 over 22 games). Kahleah Copper (14.8 PPG) and Cheyenne Parker (13.4) had career-best years and Allie Quigley continued her sharp-shooting (15.4).
How far? The Sky started the year strong, but are arguably the most downward trending team of any in the playoffs. The first-round game with the Sun will be tough and this Chicago squad knows better than most how all it takes is a final-seconds heave to be bounced.
7. Connecticut Sun
Overcame: Jonquel Jones opted out for the 2019 runner-up team and Briann January missed time due to testing positive for COVID-19. The Sun are only the third team in league history to reach the playoffs after a 0-5 start. More incredibly they did it in only 22 games when a regular season is more than 30. Bria Holmes suffered a knee sprain last week and is out while point guard Jasmine Thomas missed some games due to plantar fasciitis.
Went well: They bounced back from a 1-6 start with defense and rank fourth overall (101.1). Veteran DeWanna Bonner settled into her new surroundings to finish third in league scoring (19.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG). Alyssa Thomas still did AT things despite a possible hand injury with 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
How far? The Sky-Sun matchup is a good one to tip off what should be an exciting, potentially unpredictable 2020 playoff schedule. They split their two games with the margin a total of 10 points.
8. Washington Mystics
Overcame: A lot. The reigning champions are missing 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Latoya Sanders and free agent signee Tina Charles. Aerial Powers also missed most of the schedule with a hamstring injury, leaving three of last season’s eight top scorers on the active roster.
Went well: It took time, but the Mystics came back from a 2-13 stretch behind Myisha Hines-Allen (17.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG) — named the final Eastern player of the week — and Aerial Atkins (14.8 PPG, 41.1 3P%).
How far? The Mystics rattled off four straight wins to barely eke into the playoffs. They won’t lie down in a first-round battle with the Mercury, but don’t expect much for a team looking toward 2021.
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