WNBA playoff preview: Seattle Storm look to defend title against seven strong contenders

Who will hoist the WNBA championship trophy? We’re about to find out.

The 2021 WNBA playoffs start on Thursday, with eight of the league’s 12 teams duking it out for a chance at a title. They’ll battle in an exciting format that has featured plenty of surprising upsets, breakout performances and everything in between in the past.

After playing the entirety of the 2020 season in the “Wubble,” WNBA legend Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm went on a dominant run and emerged as champions. This season, the Storm’s path to a repeat could be halted after just one game.

Wait, there’s single elimination? 

Yes and no. 

The WNBA adopted a new playoff format in 2016, abandoning conference seedings in favor of seeding the best teams from No. 1 to No. 8. 

The first matches will feature the fifth seed vs. the eighth seed and the sixth seed vs. the seventh seed. The higher seeds host each game in a win-or-go-home matchup for a chance to advance to … another one-game playoff.

In the next round, the third seed hosts the lower of the two remaining seeds, while the fourth seed hosts the higher seed left. The winners of those games advance to play in best-of-five series against the top two seeds.

Since the defending champion Storm are the fourth seed, they will play a single-elimination home game and could end up out of the playoffs early. While the fans have enjoyed the excitement, not everyone involved is a huge proponent of the format.

Which teams are playing and what are they seeded?

Here’s a list of every team that made the playoffs and their respective seeds.

1. Connecticut Sun, 22-6
2. Las Vegas Aces, 24-8
3. Minnesota Lynx, 22-10
4. Storm, 21-11
5. Phoenix Mercury, 19-13
6. Chicago Sky, 16-16
7. Dallas Wings, 14-18
8. New York Liberty, 12-20

Previewing the first-round matchups

Two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker, playing her first season with the No. 6 Sky, will try to lead her team to victory in a win-or-go-home matchup against Arike Ogunbowale and the No. 7 Wings.

Parker’s presence is extremely important to Chicago, as the Sky went 1-8 without her in the lineup. While she last won a title in 2016, the Naperville, Illinois native is attempting to bring her hometown team its first WNBA title.

The Wings have been in rebuilding mode the past few years and are finally putting it together under new coach Vickie Johnson. The team is boosted by its young core — including leading scorer Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally.

Sabally’s former college teammate Sabrina Ionescu, 2020 Most Improved player Betnijah Laney and the No. 8 Liberty will visit Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and the No. 5 Mercury in the second of two first-round matchups.

New York is making its first playoff appearance since 2017 and is still seeking its first WNBA title. The team barely scraped into the playoffs after an eight-game losing streak nearly doomed its chances, but a victory over the Washington Mystics gave New York a playoff berth.

For Phoenix, three-time WNBA champion Diana Taurasi — one of the best players in WNBA history — has been nursing an ankle injury since Sep. 6, and it’s unclear if she’ll be able to play. The Mercury are 7-2 in win-or-go-home matchups since 2016.

Other players to watch?

The probable league MVP favorite is the Sun’s Jonquel Jones, who is putting up 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Jones, who chose to sit out the 2020 season due to COVID-19, had a tremendous season to lead Connecticut to the No. 1 seed and its best regular-season record in franchise history. 

Is this the year the Sun win their first WNBA title?

Not if the Aces’ A’ja Wilson — the 2020 MVP — has anything to say about it. Wilson’s season has been just as prolific as years past and Las Vegas appears more potent with a resurgent season from former No. 1 overall pick Kelsey Plum, who has become a bench specialist.

Bird’s Storm teammate Breanna Stewart is one of the most dominant players in women’s basketball history and is still averaging 20.3 points per game despite a career-low effective field goal percentage. Stewart already has two WNBA titles, and helped the Storm blow out the Sun for the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup trophy. However, should Stewart continue to be sidelined with a left foot injury, her teammates will hope to step up in her absence.

Sylvia Fowles — who has averaged double-figures in scoring every single season of her career (she’s in her 14th year!) and Napheesa Collier led a Lynx team that has continued to be a title threat year in and year out despite losing the retired Maya Moore. This year’s Minnesota team also added Kayla McBride and 2019 WNBA champion Aerial Powers, both of whom helped round out a solid roster.

How to watch

ESPN networks will televise every game of the playoffs, and here’s how the schedule breaks down.


(7) Wings at (6) Sky, 8 p.m. ET ESPN2

(8) Liberty at (5) Mercury, 10 p.m. ET ESPN2


TBD at (3) Lynx (Single Elimination)

TBD at (4) Storm (Single Elimination)

Tuesday, Sept. 28

TBD vs. (1) Sun (Best of Five)

TBD vs. (2) Aces (Best of Five)

Sunday, October 10

WNBA Finals begin (Best of Five)

Get more from Women’s National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *