In just two weeks from today, the WNBA postseason will start. There are lots of changes from last year and still three playoff spots to be decided. To help you understand where the WNBA is at, we’re answering all your questions.
It seems like the playoffs are early.
Is that a question?
Are the playoffs early? And if so, why?
The playoffs are early. It’s not your imagination. The FIBA World Cup, basketball’s world championship and a key qualifier for the Olympics, starts Sept. 21. WNBA players will be on not just Team USA, but on teams from around the world. The WNBA season started a bit earlier and was compressed to allow players to get to Australia in time for the games.
Has anything else changed with the playoffs?
So much! Previously, the playoff format included two rounds of single-elimination and the top two seeds getting byes into the semifinals. Last season, the Sky and Mercury knocked out higher-seeded teams in the quarterfinals, paving the way for the Sky to win the franchise’s first championship. The playoffs were thrilling, but how fair was it for the Lynx and Storm, the better-seeded teams, to only get one game?
The WNBA approved a new format in November. The top eight overall teams in the league qualify. Unlike the NBA, the playoffs are not broken down by geography. Now, there are no byes, and the playoff is a traditional bracket with the number one seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, and so on. There are now three rounds instead of four, and most importantly, no more single-elimination rounds. The first round will be the best of three, and the semi-finals and finals remain the best of five. Even eliminating a round means the chance at up to eight more games.
Who is already in?
The Sky, Aces, Sun, Storm and Mystics have all qualified in that order.
So do they just take it easy now?
Not exactly. Playoff seeding and home court advantage are still on the line, so the top five have plenty to play for. Getting in the top four means home court advantage for the first round, which has a 2-1 format. A team can sweep their opponent and not have to travel, and considering that the WNBA flies commercial, not traveling is a very big advantage.
Who will take up the other three spots?
This is the biggest question that will be answered in the next week and a half of basketball. Six teams – the Wings, Mercury, Sparks, Dream, Lynx and Liberty – are all vying for those three spots. Their records are tight, as only two games separate the Wings, in sixth place, with the Liberty, in 11th.
Normally, this would be a spot where the most important games in the next week and a half would be pointed out. But with half the league fighting for seeding, and the other half fighting just to get in the playoffs, literally every game is a must-win.