The first round of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs starts on Thursday (Manila time). It will be a best-of-three series between the four matchups. The higher seed will host the first two games and if necessary, the third game will be hosted by the lower-ranked seed. Winners will advance to the best-of-five semifinals and the WNBA Finals will begin on October 9.
Will the Las Vegas Aces repeat? Will the New York Liberty reign supreme with their super team? Who will be the underdog that exceeds expectations? Let’s break down the matchups:
No.1 Las Vegas Aces (34-6) vs. No.8 Chicago Sky (18-22)
Storylines: The Aces are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Sparks achieved the feat in 2001 and 2002. They were the top seed last season en route to the franchise’s first title. This year, they have been a juggernaut who now have the confidence of a defending champion. Unfortunately, we won’t see the 2023 Aces at full strength, though. Future Hall of Famer Candace Parker played only 18 games for Las Vegas this season before undergoing surgery on a fractured foot.
For the Sky, a midseason major shakeup has not dampened the competitive nature of the 2021 WNBA champions. Back in July, coach James Wade left the team to become an assistant with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors Emre Vatansever replaced him as the head coach and general manager and has done a tremendous job in keeping the team competitive.
Who to watch out for:
Aces: An MVP candidate in A’ja Wilson is already a lot to handle for any team. Add the star power of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young, the Aces are as explosive as ever. Not to mention, they also have last year’s Coach of the Year Becky Hammon. But an important piece to the Aces’ chances to repeat is Alysha Clark. The veteran has all the intangibles you would expect from a two-time champion. She’s arguably the best defender outside of Wilson, guarding both perimeter and post players. Bench production has not been the Aces’ best weapon and anything that Clark can give would be a huge boost.
Sky: The Aces have a big four but the Sky have their own big three in Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey, and Courtney Williams. Copper is a proven playoff performer as highlighted by her 2021 Finals MVP. Amid all the changes that happened in Chicago, Copper put up career numbers in points (18.7) and 3-pointers made (1.8) this season. Mabrey has fit seamlessly and her 15.0 points per game is also a personal best of her young career. The veteran Williams, meanwhile, still provides a solid scoring punch, but what’s different about her as a Sky is her increased role as a playmaker with a career-high 6.3 assists. All three have to shoot lights out to give Chicago a puncher’s chance against the reigning champs.
No.2 New York Liberty (32-8) vs. No.7 Washington Mystics (19-21)
Storylines: New York, one of the original WNBA franchises, has a strong chance to earn its first-ever title. The Liberty became instant contenders after acquiring two former MVPs, Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart. They also added one of the best passers of all time in Courtney Vandersloot. They embraced the hype and met all expectations as a team with championship aspirations.
The Mystics were considered dark horses to the title after Las Vegas and New York formed their super teams. Unfortunately, a mountain of injuries plagued them all year and a number of them are still recovering. Stars Elena Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins are thankfully back in the lineup after missing a huge chunk of the season. Meanwhile, Shakira Austin’s status is unclear after re-aggravating her hip injury. The Mystics, though, will be without Kristi Tolliver who is out for the rest of the season after an ACL injury.
Who to watch out for:
Liberty: New York’s success relies heavily on its stars. If Stewart puts up monster numbers, that’s a pretty good barometer of how deep the Liberty can go in the playoffs. That being said, Sabrina Ionescu’s shooting might be the team’s x-factor. The 2023 WNBA 3-point champion led the league with 3.6 triples per game while shooting 44.8 percent from distance. In addition, New York’s deep bench will be vital. Don’t be surprised if the likes of Marine Johannes, Stefanie Dolson, and Kayla Thornton headline a playoff victory.
Mystics: Washington’s roster may be hobbling its way to the postseason, but not Brittney Sykes. She’s had a breakout year in her first season with the Mystics, tallying 15.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.1 steals. Amid all the injuries, she’s been an absolute bright spot on both ends of the court. She’s also coming off a buzzer-beater against the Liberty to close the regular season.
No.3 Connecticut Sun (27-13) vs. No.6 Minnesota Lynx (19-21)
Storylines: After the departures of Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas, and head coach Curt Miller, there was little expectation coming out of Connecticut. But enter MVP candidate Alyssa Thomas, whose numbers of 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists jump out of the page. She took the team on her shoulders and muscled her way to help the Sun reach the playoffs for a seventh straight season. The Sun are not a super team but they do have interesting pieces that can give any team a run for their money.
The Lynx’s post-Sylvia Fowles era is off to a good start by getting into the postseason. Any franchise needs direction and a north star and it seems that responsibility belongs to Napheesa Collier. The three-time WNBA All-Star is in her first full season back after her pregnancy and she’s looked deadly as ever.
Who to watch out for:
Sun: Alyssa Thomas will be guarded heavily throughout this postseason which means DeWanna Bonner will have to step up. Credit to Bonner, she’s having another strong season in Year 14. Her 17.4 scoring average has been the most since the 2020 season when she put up 19.7 points per game. Bonner will have to be the Robin to Thomas’ Batman.
Lynx: Minnesota has a star-in-the-making in Diamond Miller. The 2023 second overall pick wasted no team in incorporating her game into the Lynx. She brings a lot of versatility and athleticism that gives the team another angle of attack and complements Collier’s game.
It’s also worth noting that Jessica Shepard’s status is uncertain heading into the playoffs because of an ankle injury. She’s been reliable at the center position all year. Hopefully, she’ll come back sooner than later as her presence will be needed against a Sun team that likes to attack with Thomas and Bonner.
No.4 Dallas Wings (22-18) vs. No.5 Atlanta Dream (19-21)
Storylines: Dallas is another team that can fly under the radar and pull off a few surprises this postseason. The Wings have boasted young talent in the last few years and now is a good chance to finally break through. Arike Ogunbowale has been the team’s unequivocal star but the improved play of Satou Sabally and Teaira McCowan shouldn’t go unnoticed. With veteran Natasha Howard and a new direction under coach Latricia Trammell, the Wings have the potential to finally advance to the second round for the first time since the franchise moved to Dallas.
The Dream, meanwhile, are out of the doldrums and into the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Rhyne Howard put together another all-around season following her Rookie of the Year. Aside from Howard, the Dream have two first-time All-Stars in Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker. Unlike their previous seasons where they lacked the star power and talent to keep up with other teams, the Dream pulled off a lot of stirring wins this season.
Who to watch out for:
Dallas: Ogunbowale is undoubtedly the headliner but make sure to keep a close eye on Satou Sabally. This has been a career year for the 25-year-old with averages of 18.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. In comparison, she only played 11 games last year because of injuries and ended up with just 11.3 points, 4.8 boards, and 2.1 dimes. A Most Improved Player candidate, Sabally is finally healthy and her performance this season is a testament to her work and dedication.
Dream: Allisha Gray adds a little bit of spice to this matchup. Gray spent her first six seasons with Dallas and was one of the team’s dependable players. With the Dream, she became an All-Star and is enjoying the best season of her career offensively. It would be poetic for Gray if she puts up monster numbers against her former team. Not to mention, she might be one of the players tasked to shadow Ogunbowale in this series.