At the end of last season, Napheesa Collier was in Uncasville, Conn., trying to help the Lynx secure a playoff spot. She had given birth to her daughter, Mila, less than three months prior.

There were no expectations for Collier to be back on the court. Even she knew it was a little bit crazy. But Collier wasn’t doing it for herself — she was doing it for Sylvia Fowles, who was playing in her last regular season game before retirement. Collier wanted to be there for the teammate who had been there for so much of her early career.

So, on Aug. 14, 2022, Collier played in her fourth and final game of the season. She had given birth on May 25, and tiny Mila was in attendance in the arms of Collier’s mom, as visual proof of just how quickly she returned to the court.

That game marked the start of a new chapter for Collier in a lot of ways. The Lynx lost and didn’t make the playoffs, but it was still a special moment. They celebrated Fowles, a two-time WNBA champion and one of the foundational players of the Lynx’s dynasty of the past decade, and she passed the baton onto Collier. The new face of the Minnesota Lynx.

A year and a month later, Collier was back in Connecticut, sitting on the podium addressing media members after her team’s 90-60 blowout loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Sun. Unlike when she returned to play with Fowles, there were expectations. A lot of them.

But Collier was ready for those expectations the moment she assumed her role as Minnesota’s veteran leader. This season, after the Lynx started 0-6, they battled their way to the playoffs, largely thanks to Collier, who enjoyed a career-best season while averaging 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. On Sunday, Collier helped the Lynx stave off elimination with an 82-75 win over the No. 3 Sun, before falling in the deciding game in Minnesota on Wednesday night, 90-75.

“I knew that Phee was going to be pivotal to our ability to find success, and maybe in a season that people didn’t necessarily think that we could find success,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “She’s probably exceeded the expectations.”

And with expectations comes accountability.

Last week, Collier answered questions, dejected but determined. In the locker room, following a loss in which Collier recorded 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks, Reeve said her 26-year-old star was the most upset out of anyone.

“I’m disappointed in myself, obviously not how I want to come out for our first playoff game,” Collier said. “So I just have to learn from it and do better next game. That’s the beauty about a series is that we get another crack at it.”

It’s not that Collier didn’t have the ability to answer questions like that before. In fact, Reeve named her a captain during her second season in the WNBA. But there was always someone with more experience and, in turn, more accolades that the team would look to when things got tough. During her first season, it was Seimone Augustus; for every year after that, it was Fowles. Now and into the future, it’s Collier’s responsibility.

In Games 2 and 3 of the series against Connecticut, Collier answered her own charge, doing everything she could to try to force the upset. On Wednesday night, she set a new playoff career mark with 31 points on 11-for-19 shooting despite being double- and sometimes triple-teamed. After the game, Sun coach Stephanie White said Collier would be a WNBA MVP one day, and Reeve praised the forward for putting “the team on her back repeatedly this season.”

“(Reeve) saw me as our next franchise player, which obviously I’m so honored to be that,” Collier said. “They were trying to prepare me early for that role and putting me in positions to grow as a leader.”

Minnesota’s No. 2 draft pick, rookie Diamond Miller, was in a similar position this year. Playing in her first WNBA playoffs, the rookie said she sought advice from Collier before taking on Connecticut in Game 1 last week.

Miller played in plenty of postseason games at Maryland, but the WNBA playoffs, Collier told her, are a whole different level of basketball. She encouraged Miller to enjoy the moment and not let it get too big.

Collier tried to create a locker room culture like the one she came into as a rookie, averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game on her way to being named 2019 Rookie of the Year. One where players like Miller and Minnesota’s other rookie, Dorka Juhász, felt comfortable.

“I’ve just tried to tell them that not everything is a life-or-death situation, because as rookies, I feel like they can’t put it into perspective,” Collier said. “You have a bad game, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad player.”

Her Rookie of the Year season was just four seasons ago, but for Collier, it feels like much longer. At that point, she was fresh out of college, in a lot of ways feeling like a kid herself. This year, she was packing a diaper bag between games for her 1-year-old daughter.

Collier attends a Lynx game last year with husband Alex Bazzell and daughter Mila after giving birth. (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Being a mother changed her in ways Collier didn’t necessarily expect. Everything she does on the court as a player and a leader was always inside of her, but Mila has made her different off the court. Now, Collier is more vocal for causes she cares about, both inside and outside of the WNBA.

One of those causes is the way the WNBA treats moms.

A month ago, Skylar Diggins-Smith revealed on social media that she wasn’t allowed to use the Phoenix Mercury’s facilities while away on maternity leave. Earlier in the season, the Las Vegas Aces came under scrutiny after Dearica Hamby accused them of trading her because she was pregnant.

Under the current CBA, teams are required pay players on maternity leave their full salaries, the value of which still counts against the salary cap. That’s a rule Collier wants to see change.

“My salary hurts the team if I’m not playing,” she said. “So, in the future it’s really plausible to see people getting kicked off teams — that’s what Dearica accused Vegas of. It’s plausible that teams won’t want to hire players in relationships, or who have spoken about wanting kids because it’s going to come off the cap. So, making sure that that doesn’t happen in our next CBA, I think is really important.”

The league also offers monthly stipends to help with childcare, but Collier would like to see that increase in the future.

“I think we’ve made huge strides,” Collier said of the current CBA, which was ratified in 2020 during Cathy Engelbert’s first year as WNBA Commissioner. “It’s kind of like buying your first house. It’s amazing, but it shows you everything you like about it and everything that needs to change.”

Collier is becoming more vocal about issues outside of the WNBA as well. In the future, she wants to get more involved in gun safety causes, something she thinks about every time she and Mila leave the house.

Mila is only 1, but her safety at school is already at the forefront of Collier’s mind.

“It’s just so heartbreaking that it feels like people in power don’t care how many children die from this,” she said. “It’s the number one cause of death in kids in the United States. It’s just insane and mind-boggling. So, it’s definitely something that I want to get more involved in and just kind of use my platform for any way that I can help make change.”

Mila also inspired the creation of Unrivaled, a 3×3 league that Collier is launching with fellow UConn graduate Breanna Stewart.

The idea came from a discussion Collier had at the dining room table with her husband, basketball skills coach Alex Bazzell. He brought up the possibility of forming another league, and Collier ran with it. Getting Stewart involved was only natural, and from conception to launch, Unrivaled came to fruition in a matter of months.

The 3×3 league, which will run during the WNBA offseason from January to March, will feature 30 players and provide them with another opportunity to play professionally without going overseas. Players’ salaries for the 10-week season are expected to be competitive with top WNBA and overseas salaries. The league will officially launch in 2025, Collier said Thursday, and be based in Miami.

(Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

Collier liked the idea for Unrivaled both because of the WNBA’s prioritization rule and because of her family. She’s no longer in a place in her life where going to a different country for a few months every year is plausible or desirable. She’s always been a homebody, but now with Mila, it’s more of a priority to stay home. Plus, she wants to help create opportunities for her peers, while also capitalizing on the rising interest in women’s sports.

“This is not a passing (fad),” Collier said of the recent momentum behind women’s sports and the WNBA, which just recorded its most-watched regular season in 2021 years and the highest average attendance for a season since 2018.

“And we want to be able to make money off that too, and monetize the hard work that we’re putting in and what we think is a great product. So that’s why we’re really excited that all the players are going to have equity in it. We’re really excited about the salary that we’re going to be offering. I’m really hoping to make a difference in our sport.”

She also hopes that difference leads to even more growth for women in sports, of course with Mila in mind.

Collier, 26, always liked the idea of being a young mom in the league. She looks up to the bond that Candace Parker has with her daughter Lailaa, who was born early in Parker’s WNBA career.

“I don’t want her to just hear these stories about me,” Collier said of her daughter. “I want her to grow up experiencing them.”

And she hopes Mila looks back on those experiences with pride.

“I just want to be a good role model for her in every aspect of life,” Collier said.

When Breanna Stewart signed with the New York Liberty during the 2023 offseason, she instantly rocketed the franchise into contention.

After 26 years of existence, one of the WNBA’s founding teams has yet to win a title. But when Stewart joined Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot as key additions in New York this season, suddenly that first championship seemed not just possible, but likely.

To New York, Stewart brought her immense talent and a winning culture, having won two WNBA championships and two Finals MVP awards with the Seattle Storm. The Liberty needed both, and Stewart has been even better than advertised.

Early in the season, as Jones nursed an injury and the Liberty learned to play together, Stewart kept them afloat, coming out of the gate with 45 points in her home debut. Now, Stewart is one of three leading candidates for the WNBA MVP award — to be announced on Sept. 26 — and New York is poised for a championship run.

Stewart is averaging 23 points per game, a mark that is both second in the WNBA this season and a career-high for the 29-year-old during her seven-year career. She’s also averaging 9.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, doing a little bit of everything for the Liberty. The forward finished second to Jewell Loyd for the 2023 scoring title and all-time single-season record, recording 919 total points this season. On Tuesday, she was named AP Player of the Year, beating out A’ja Wilson by one vote.

Stewart also makes her teammates better, something that drew Vandersloot, a 2021 WNBA champion and five-time All-Star, to sign with New York and add another piece to the “superteam” puzzle.

“I think she is one of the best players in the world,” Vanderlsoot said of Stewart, after a Liberty win over the Sun in June. “She makes my job easy. She elevates my game, holds me to a high standard. That was a huge part of my decision to come here. I wanted to play with someone who would do that. She does that on a nightly basis. She is just special. She just performs every single night.”

The No. 1 overall pick of the Storm in 2016, Stewart helped the team win titles in 2018 and 2020 while also being named WNBA MVP in 2018 after averaging 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals that season. This year, Stewart is better in every category than she was in 2018.

This historic season in New York only adds to Stewart’s legacy and that of the Liberty, which was the goal from the day she signed. Winning another MVP award — especially over the likes of Wilson, the Las Vegas star and reigning MVP, and triple-double leader Alyssa Thomas — would make her move to the city that much sweeter.

“I decided to go to New York because I want to continue to be great,” she told ESPN at the time of her signing. “And I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard. And I feel like why not go to the biggest market in all of sports. And I’m really excited to go after their first championship.”

The quest for a championship starts Friday, as the No. 2 seed Liberty take on the Washington Mystics in the first round. New York finished the regular season with a 32-8 record.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Aerial Powers’ future in Minnesota is up in the air. But in the WNBA playoffs, coach Cheryl Reeve expects Powers to be ready to perform off the bench for her team, she said Tuesday.

The 2023 season has been an unexpected one for Powers, who is earning $201,984 from the Lynx but is averaging less than 10 minutes per game. The 29-year-old forward is in the final year of her three-year contract, and she will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

In Game 1 of Minnesota’s first-round playoff series against the Connecticut Sun, Powers played 14 minutes in the 90-60 loss. She recorded 4 points (all at the free-throw line), 3 rebounds and 1 block, and she also had 3 turnovers.

The Lynx will face the Sun again at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, and they will need a win to avoid elimination. Before Tuesday’s loss, Reeve said that the Lynx will need help from their bench, including Powers, if they want to pull off the series upset.

During the 2022 season, Powers had cemented herself as a starter and a big piece of the Minnesota attack. She started in 31 games and led the Lynx in scoring with 14.42 points per game. This season, though, she has barely seen the floor.

Powers battled an ankle injury early in the season, but once she got healthy, her minutes didn’t increase. The guard is averaging 9.8 minutes per game – the lowest of her career – and scoring 5.2 points per game – also the lowest in her career.

The Michigan State product expressed her frustration with the situation on Twitter a few weeks ago, saying that she was looking forward to her fans watching her play “with another organization” next season.

Despite the limited minutes, Powers has scored in double-digits five times this season. One of those performances came against the Sun in an 87-83 victory on July 30. She finished with 14 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and a block in 23 minutes of playing time.

“When she gets her opportunity, hopefully she has similar success,” Reeve said Tuesday, referring to the July 30 game. “I suspect she will have their full attention. In that game, she had a great first half, and then they put the kibosh on that. They got pretty aggressive with it.”

The Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty have dominated the headlines and conversations since last year’s playoffs. On the court, the Aces and Liberty have had similar success, earning the top two seeds in the 2023 postseason.

Six other squads, though, are ready to challenge the superteams, starting with four intriguing first-round matchups. Just Women’s Sports has insights and predictions for each three-game series.

(1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (8) Chicago Sky

Defending champion Las Vegas set a WNBA regular-season record with 34 wins in 40 games. And after ending the season on a four-game winning streak, the Aces are in prime position to start the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Sky made the postseason against all odds in a season that saw the departure of their head coach and general manager, James Wade, who left for an assistant coaching position in the NBA. Chicago needed a late-season push to edge out the Los Angeles Sparks for the final playoff spot, and they got it by winning four of their last five contests.

These two teams are in completely different places, and while the Sky should be proud of their resilience in even making the playoffs, this series should be dominated by the Aces.

The teams played three times in the regular season, with the Aces taking all three matchups, 93-80, 107-95 and 94-87. In each matchup, Las Vegas had a different leading scorer, with the team’s four stars – A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum – all hitting double-digits each time. Chicago will have to find a way to limit one or two of those scorers to have a chance against the potent Las Vegas offense.

Prediction: Las Vegas in 2

Chicago's Alanna Smith and Las Vegas' Jackie Young go after a loose ball. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(2) New York Liberty vs. (7) Washington Mystics

This series shows the importance of the fight for the No. 1 seed. Neither the Aces nor the Liberty wanted to play the Mystics.

Washington may be a No. 7 seed, but the team ranks much higher in terms of talent. Injuries throughout the season prevented the Mystics from ever getting on a roll, but when healthy, they boast Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Shakira Austin, Ariel Atkins and Brittney Sykes in the starting lineup.

Washington is certainly feeling good about itself after beating New York, 90-88, in the final game of the regular season. Yet while the Mystics can challenge the Liberty, New York is the better team and should win the series – though it may take three games to do so.

The Liberty also come into the playoffs on a high, despite the loss to Washington. They started the regular season with a ton of talent and ended it as a cohesive team that looks hard to stop in a playoff series.

Sabrina Ionescu has been particularly tough for the Mystics to stop, as she’s been New York’s leading scorer with 20-plus points in three of their four regular-season meetings. Washington needs to lean on a stellar defensive performance across the court, but particularly from Sykes and Cloud to defend New York’s guards. After that, it will be up to Austin and Delle Donne to slow down Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones. So a lot needs to go right for Washington. Ultimately, even healthy, it will be challenging for Washington to contend with New York’s talent across all five positions.

Prediction: New York in 3

(3) Connecticut Sun vs. (6) Minnesota Lynx

The Sun and the Lynx played four times this season, with Connecticut holding a 3-1 advantage, but the series featured several close games. Two of the Sun’s wins came by 10 points and 5 points.

Led by MVP candidate Alyssa Thomas and her 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per contest, Connecticut has been consistent all season. Slowing down Thomas is the first challenge the Lynx will have to tackle. She runs the court for the Sun, and no squad has had an answer for that. Meanwhile, DeWanna Bonner is having the best season of her career, averaging 17.4 points per game. Her length also provides a challenge for Minnesota’s defense.

Meanwhile, the Lynx are peaking at the right time. They started the season 0-6 but have turned their season around. Napheesa Collier has been a huge part of that success, averaging 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. She was huge in the most recent matchup, finishing with 30 points.

The Lynx have come a long way, particularly with the development of rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász, and they have the ability to make this series interesting. But ultimately, the one-two punch of Thomas and Bonner is too big of a challenge to overcome, and the Sun should take this series.

Prediction: Sun in 3

Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas goes up for a shot against Minnesota's Napheesa Collier. (David Berding/Getty Images)

(4) Dallas Wings vs. (5) Atlanta Dream

Dallas and Atlanta come into the playoffs as two similar squads — not in the way they play, but in their ability to beat anyone on a given night. Both these teams are bursting with talent, and when things go right, they go really, really right.

Yet while the Wings continue to mesh, the Dream struggled down the stretch. Still, if Atlanta puts everything together, it can compete with Dallas, though the Dream are 0-3 in the regular-season series.

To have a chance against the Wings in the playoffs, Rhyne Howard, Cheyenne Parker and Allisha Gray will all need to have big games, and Atlanta will likely need a lift from someone unexpected as well.

Dallas will lean on its big three – Satou Sabally, Arike Ogunbowale and Natasha Howard – to do most of the scoring. But the team’s inside presence is where the Wings can separate themselves. Both Teaira McCowan (6-7) and Kalani Brown (6-7) can do damage on both ends, and alongside the length of Awak Kuier (6-6), they make it difficult for opponents to attack the rim.

Prediction: Dallas in 2

The WNBA’s 2023 end-of-season awards have been debated all season long. The MVP category has naturally received the most attention because of the nature of the award and the tight race among the three frontrunners: Alyssa Thomas, Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson.

As a WNBA media voter, I submitted my selections for all of the major awards toward the end of the regular season. After a full-season review and careful consideration, these were my choices.

Most Valuable Player

Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

The MVP award came down to a three-player race between Wilson (Aces), Stewart (Liberty) and Thomas (Sun). All three have compelling cases that made this the most difficult category to vote for. To me, though, Thomas’ overall importance to her team and her ability to impact every aspect of the game gives her the edge.

Thomas accomplished something this season that no other player in WNBA history has done, recording six triple-doubles in 2023. Her ability to impact the game can’t be understated, as she does everything for the No. 3 Sun.

She leads Connecticut with 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game, and she is first in the WNBA in rebounds and second in assists.

When 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones was traded to New York in the offseason, it was hard to imagine Connecticut being the third-best team in the WNBA heading into playoffs, yet here they are. That’s because of Thomas. She runs Connecticut’s offense and guards every position on defense.

Teammate DiJonai Carrington summed up Thomas’ performance well after her third triple-double of the season: “I don’t want any of y’all to get used to and normalize what she’s doing out there, for real. Like, that’s not normal.”

It’s not normal, it’s historic. And that is worthy of the MVP award.

Coach of the Year

Sandy Brondello, New York Liberty

(Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

In her second year with New York, Sandy Brondello took the Liberty from a 16-20 record to a 32-8 record. During the offseason, the Liberty saw an influx of talent with the additions of Stewart, Jones and Courtney Vanderlsoot. But Brondello’s coaching can’t be discounted simply because she now has more tools. Sure, the new talent is a large part of the franchise’s improvement, but it’s not the only piece.

Brondello was able to take a team that early in the season looked like a collection of stars who didn’t know how to play together, and turn it into a cohesive unit that is a favorite to win the WNBA title. Brondello found a way to maximize the talent of her starting five and use her bench unit wisely to elevate the whole team.

Sixth Player of the Year

DiJonai Carrington, Connecticut Sun

(M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There were several strong candidates for Sixth Player of the Year: Dana Evans helped the Sky overcome in-season adversity and sneak into the playoffs, and Alysha Clark changed the complexity of Las Vegas on both ends of the court when she entered games. But for me, the award should go to Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington.

Early in the season, Carrington’s role was unclear and she played limited minutes. But the third-year player stayed the course and became a valuable part of the Sun playing their way to the 3-seed. In 17.2 minutes per game, she’s shooting 37% from long range and averaging 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

Carrington brings an energy to both ends of the floor when she’s subbed in. Coach Stephanie White often chooses to leave her in during close game situations down the stretch, summing up her impact.

Most Improved Player

Jordin Canada, Los Angeles Sparks

(Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

It was an up-and-down season for the Sparks as they narrowly missed the playoffs, but Jordin Canada was a constant bright spot. In her second year with Los Angeles, the 28-year-old established herself as a point guard to build around.

Canada improved in every stat category this season, with career-high averages in points (13.3), assists (6.0), rebounds (3.1) and steals (2.3). Her 3-point shooting also saw a massive increase, going from 14% to 33%.

Canada has a hand in every Sparks possession when she’s on the court, both offensively and defensively. She averages 2.8 steals per 40 minutes, the best mark in the WNBA, and was also in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.

Rookie of the Year

Aliyah Boston, Indiana Fever

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

This award has been Boston’s to lose all season. While Lynx guard Diamond Miller made a push when she returned from injury, Boston was steady from her first game to her last, earning her my vote.

The No. 1 draft pick averaged 14.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game for the Fever. She was also incredibly efficient when shooting the ball, making 57.8% of her attempts, the third-best mark in the league.

Though her team missed the playoffs, they improved drastically from last season, and Boston was a big part of that. Rookie of the Year is likely the first of many awards Boston will win throughout her career.

Defensive Player of the Year

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wilson earned my vote for the second year in a row because she continues to change the way opponents play against the Aces. Her presence in the paint is enough to make players shy away from driving to the lane, and when they dare to challenge her, Wilson leads the league in shot-blocking with 2.2 per game.

Wilson isn’t just a shot-blocker, either. She knows how to defend without fouling, averaging only 2.1 fouls per game, while pulling down the third-most defensive rebounds in the league. She also has good hands defensively and can extend outside the paint with 1.4 steals per game.

All WNBA First Team

Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty
A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings
Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

With less than a week left in the WNBA regular season, seven teams have clinched playoff spots, three have been eliminated, and two squads are competing for the eighth and final spot.

Here’s how the playoff picture looks as the regular season heads to the finish line.


Las Vegas Aces

The Aces set a WNBA record with 30 wins this season and currently have the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. The Aces are guaranteed to finish with the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but with four of their six losses coming in August, Las Vegas has been in jeopardy of losing the top spot to New York.

In the first 40-game season in WNBA history, the Aces are beginning to show cracks in their depth. Head coach Becky Hammon pulled her starters with 3:04 remaining in a loss to Washington on Aug. 26, admitting afterward that the Aces “weren’t winning that game” because of fatigue. The team has responded in the past week, winning two in a row to remain one game ahead of New York in the standings. If the Aces win their last two games, they’ll clinch the No. 1 seed; if the Aces and the Liberty end the season in a tie, the Aces need Minnesota (19-19) to finish at .500 or above to win the tiebreaker.

New York Liberty

The Liberty also have a playoff spot locked up and are currently on a seven-game win streak in an effort to overtake Las Vegas for the No. 1 seed.

In the event of a tie, the tiebreaker goes to the team with the better record against teams that finished the year at .500 or above. As mentioned above, Minnesota is the key to this equation: The Aces are 3-0 over the Lynx this season, and would win the tiebreaker if the Lynx — with games against Chicago and Indian remaining — finish at .500 or above. Unlike the Aces, the Liberty’s depth is one of their biggest strengths.

Connecticut Sun

Though often overlooked, the Sun have been a surprising contender this season — due in large part to triple-double queen Alyssa Thomas — and have the No. 3 seed secured. With two regular season games remaining, they have no more room to move up or down at this point and will look toward the playoffs.

Dallas Wings

The Wings punched their playoff ticket with a win over Indiana on Friday. They could have locked up the No. 4 seed with a win in either of their last two games, but they’ve since suffered a loss to Indiana in overtime and a one-point loss to New York on Tuesday. Dallas, currently one game ahead of Minnesota, has two more games to secure the four seed and homecourt advantage in the first round.

Minnesota Lynx

The Lynx have enjoyed quite the turnaround after an 0-6 start to the season. They’ve pushed their way into the middle of the pack thanks to a career-best scoring season from Napheesa Collier and the development of the team’s rookies, notably No. 2 draft pick Diamond Miller and second-round pick Dorka Juhász. With two straight wins to start September, the Lynx clinched a playoff berth and are currently holding onto the No. 5 seed. The 2023 Lynx are just the second team in WNBA history to lose at least their first six games and still make the postseason.

Washington Mystics

The Mystics have struggled with consistency this season, largely due to injuries. They’ve won more than two games in a row just once, but with the return of Elena Delle Donne, they clinched a spot in the playoffs with a win over Phoenix on Tuesday. They had just eight players available in that game and continue to manage injuries, including veteran Kristi Toliver’s torn ACL, but they’ll make their sixth postseason appearance in seven seasons as the current No. 7 seed.

Atlanta Dream

After the Dream went on a seven-game winning streak in July, August wasn’t so kind to Tanisha Wright’s squad. They went 3-8 and fell down the standings as a result. Their early-season success helped secure them a playoff spot regardless, with a win over Seattle on Wednesday night pushing them over the line. Atlanta currently owns the No. 6 seed, with the tiebreaker advantage over Washington. The Dream’s postseason appearance will be their first in five years.

Diana Taurasi and Phoenix will miss the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)


Seattle Storm

In the Storm’s first season without Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd had an incredible individual campaign, leading the WNBA in scoring. But as a team, the Storm struggled mightily and were officially ruled out of playoff contention for the first time in seven consecutive seasons.

Phoenix Mercury

The Mercury were also eliminated last month, marking the first time since 2012 that the franchise won’t make a postseason appearance. Despite Diana Taurasi’s historic season and Brittney Griner’s triumphant return, this result was not wholly unexpected. The Mercury are still attempting to right the ship after firing head coach Vanessa Nygaard earlier in the season and competing without Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is on maternity leave.

Indiana Fever

Indiana held an outside shot of making the playoffs into September, before losing to Dallas on Sept. 1 and being officially eliminated. The Fever will enter the offseason with plenty of bright spots to build on, most notably Rookie of the Year frontrunner Aliyah Boston.

The 2021 WNBA champion Chicago Sky are in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Still fighting

Los Angeles Sparks

After enjoying a six-game win streak in August, the Sparks have gone 1-4 in their last five games to put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. L.A. has struggled with injuries, including a non-COVID-related illness that has sidelined Lexie Brown for the majority of the season. They have a shot at sneaking into the postseason in head coach Curt Miller’s first season at the helm, but their window is closing. Chicago holds the tiebreaker for playoff positioning, with a 3-1 season series advantage over L.A.

Chicago Sky

The Sky have won four of their last six games to make a late push for the final playoff spot. With the tiebreaker over the Sparks in hand, Chicago has a legitimate chance at a fifth straight postseason appearance despite losing almost their entire starting core in the offseason and head coach James Wade midseason.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

The Phoenix Mercury’s playoff streak has come to an end, and now it’s time for the franchise to look to the future. The team’s run of 10 consecutive postseason appearances officially ended with a loss to the Dallas Wings on Sunday, though the outcome was expected for much of the season.

Phoenix lost 10 of 12 games to start the season before parting ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard in late June. They battled injuries, and All-Star Brittney Griner missed several games on mental health leave stemming from her 10-month detainment in Russia last year. Meanwhile, veteran guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had a career-best season in 2022-23, has been out on maternity leave.

The cards were stacked against the Mercury from the start, and they couldn’t overcome the bevy of challenges.

Interim head coach Nikki Blue said Sunday that her team would focus on winning their remaining games, despite being out of the playoffs but in the running for the top pick in the draft lottery. She also admitted that the team did not live up to the standard previously set in Phoenix.

After falling to the Atlanta Dream 94-76 on Tuesday, the Mercury have games against Connecticut, Minnesota and Washington before closing their season with two contests against first-place Las Vegas.

“It was a season that was not ideal,” said Blue, who served as an assistant coach before assuming the interim role.

Phoenix has also struggled with off-court issues this season surrounding Diggins-Smith. The six-time WNBA All-Star averaged 19.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game for the Mercury last season after helping them reach the Finals in 2021. But in 2022, Nygaard attempted to downplay rising tensions between her and Diggins-Smith over comments she made around the All-Star Game. And during a game, Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi had to be separated during a heated exchange on the bench.

This year, in early August, Diggins-Smith expressed concerns with how the Mercury have managed her maternity leave. Her comments on social media came in response to a fan who questioned why the Mercury did not wish Diggins-Smith a happy birthday on their social media accounts.

“They’re not gonna acknowledge me this year and it’s OK guys,” Diggins-Smith wrote. “We’re not affiliated unless it’s the checks….per management. I can’t even use the practice facility or any resources.”

Diggins-Smith, who gave birth to her second child earlier this year, later clarified that “resources” includes “massage therapists, chiropractor, chefs, strength and conditioning, and nutritionists.”

The Notre Dame product will be a free agent in 2024, and the recent events make it hard to envision her re-signing with Phoenix.

Meanwhile, future Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi became the first player in WNBA history to reach 10,000 career points this season. She is nearing the end of her career, though she has a year left on her contract with Phoenix and remains tight-lipped about a potential retirement.

Taurasi has been the center of Phoenix’s offense since she was drafted by the franchise in 2004. The 41-year-old is being paid $234,936 this season and next, before becoming a free agent in 2025.

The Mercury need to start looking toward the future, especially if they want to capitalize on Griner’s resurgence. She helped Phoenix to a WNBA title in 2014, and the 32-year-old can serve as a centerpiece for several more seasons if the Mercury surround her with talent.

Phoenix will be one of four teams in the lottery with a chance at earning the rights to the top draft pick in 2024, where they could select Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Cameron Brink, Angel Reese or another top college prospect. Despite being at the top of mock draft boards, all four players could come back for a fifth season due to an eligibility rule stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled their freshman seasons.

But before Phoenix turns to the draft, the organization needs to decide if Blue is the coach for the job. The former UCLA player was an assistant coach for four college programs between 2008 and 2022 before joining the Mercury staff last season.

“I hope that they’ve seen the transition that our team has made in the time that I’ve been head coach,” Blue told reporters on Sunday. “Once we get a full roster, I would like to see what we can do with that.”

Phoenix has gone 7-16 since Blue took over.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

New York, Las Vegas and Connecticut have all secured a playoff spot as the 2023 WNBA postseason approaches.

With five playoff spots remaining and less than a month until the regular season ends, some teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the trophy, while others should begin focusing on the 2024 draft.


Las Vegas Aces

The defending champions have the highest win percentage (.879) in the league and have remained relatively consistent throughout the season. They’ve had their share of challenges, with a season-ending injury to Candace Parker making the biggest impact. Fatigue could also hurt the Aces in the long run, as they only have Alysha Clark playing consistent minutes off the bench. A short rotation was a weakness for Las Vegas last season as well, and it didn’t end up mattering in their run to the WNBA championship.

The Aces are a true title contender because of their starting five, led by reigning WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson. She’s taken on an even bigger role since Parker went out, recording a career-high 53 points (which also tied the WNBA record) in a win over Atlanta on Tuesday. Wilson is Las Vegas’ anchor, but she’s surrounded by talented guards in Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum.

The Aces have both an explosive offense and a solid defense, leading them to win their games by an average of 13.6 points.

New York Liberty

Between New York and Las Vegas, it’s difficult to determine the true favorite to win the title. With the Commissioner’s Cup championship game factored in, the Liberty and Aces have split their season series with two wins apiece. They play one more time in the regular season, matching up on Aug. 28 in New York.

Like the Aces, the Liberty have a lethal starting five. Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney are the reason the Liberty were dubbed a superteam heading into the season. That group alone makes the Liberty a contender, with different players capable of going off on any given night. But where New York stands out from the rest of the league is in its bench play.

Headlining the talented secondary unit is Marine Johannès, whose 17 points in 14 minutes of play propelled New York to the Commissioner’s Cup title. Kayla Thornton provides a lift off the bench, often on the defensive end, and Stefanie Dolson and Nyara Sabally are also viable depth options. In a playoff series, the Liberty’ deep and talented bench gives them a major advantage over their opponents.

Arike Ogunbowale has the talent to lead Dallas on a deep playoff run. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dallas Wings

Las Vegas and New York are the top contenders to win the WNBA championship, but there is a world in which Dallas could pull off an upset. The Wings are capable of getting hot and erupting on offense, currently third in the WNBA with 86.9 points per game.

Dallas is led by Satou Sabally and Arike Ogunbowale, who are exactly the type of players that can help a team make a playoff run. Sabally is a walking mismatch who can get up and down the court and score from inside, outside and the midrange. Ogunbowale is fifth in the league in scoring at 21 points per game, and she is known for her ability to hit high-pressure, contested shots. Her assist numbers (4.6 per game) are also at an all-time high as her offense continues to evolve.

Outside of Sabally and Ogunbowale, Dallas has a scary frontcourt, with veteran Natasha Howard and 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan starting, and 6-7 Kalani Brown coming off the bench. There are few teams in the league that can compete with the size and strength of the Wings inside.

Connecticut Sun

The Sun are the third-best team in the league based on record, but they’ll have to play nearly perfect basketball to win a championship, especially without an injured Brionna Jones. They do have the personnel to pull it off, as one of two teams in the league that have topped both Las Vegas and New York this season (Dallas is the second).

Connecticut is led by the WNBA’s triple-double machine, Alyssa Thomas, who is averaging 15.7 points, 10 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, and DeWanna Bonner, who at 36 is having the best season of her career with 17.8 points per game. And without Jones, Tiffany Hayes has developed into a solid third scoring option.

DiJonai Carrington brings a spark off the bench, and Rebecca Allen has the ability to go on a scoring streak, but the Sun’s real strength is on the defensive end. They give up just 78.7 points per game and snag 8.2 steals per game, both of which lead the WNBA. If Connecticut puts together a top-tier defensive showing throughout the playoffs, and shooters like Bonner and Allen get hot — and stay hot — they have a chance.

Natasha Cloud is one of few Mystics players to log 30 games this season. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)


Washington Mystics

Even if everyone is healthy when the playoffs start, the Mystics haven’t had enough time on the court together to gel as a unit. On paper, the Mystics look like contenders, with Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Shakira Austin and Brittney Sykes, who is having a breakout season. But with nearly every player having missed significant time this season, time is running out. Right now, the question isn’t if the Mystics can contend, but if they can make the playoffs at all. The top eight teams in the league earn postseason bids, and Washington is currently seventh.

Chicago Sky

The Sky were always going to need time to adjust to losing a core group that included Parker and Vandersloot, but the departure of head coach and GM James Wade in the middle of the season put them in an even more challenging position. Currently in ninth place at 13-20, the Sky need to go on a run to end the regular season if they want to make a postseason appearance.

Indiana Fever

In last place, the Fever are nearly out of playoff contention with a 9-24 record. They made strides this year, and No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston is a franchise cornerstone going forward, but Indiana never learned how to win despite being in close contests all season. It’s time for the Fever to turn their attention to the 2024 draft.

Seattle Storm

In 10th place, the Storm are almost out of the playoff picture as well, which was expected after losing Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird in the offseason. Now, Seattle needs to use the offseason to convince Jewell Loyd — who leads the league in scoring at 24.1 points per game — to re-sign with the organization in free agency. Without her, the rebuild becomes even more daunting.

Phoenix Mercury

There have been some bright spots for Phoenix this year, most notably the return of Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi surpassing 10,000 career points, but making a postseason run has never seemed in the cards with how the season has gone. After parting ways with head coach Vanessa Nygaard early in the season, the Mercury have a lot of rebuilding to do, including their relationship with veteran guard Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks are close to figuring it all out, even with the injuries they’ve endured all season. They’re in the midst of a five-game winning streak that included a win over the Aces. Curt Miller is moving the team in the right direction, building around Nneka Ogwumike and facilitating breakout seasons from players like Jordin Canada and Karlie Samuelson as the team pushes for a spot in the playoffs. This isn’t the Sparks’ year, but they are making positive strides for the future.

Napheesa Collier is having a career-best season after returning from pregnancy. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Somewhere in between

Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream

While not true contenders, the Lynx and the Dream don’t fall into the pretenders category, either. Both teams are capable of winning a series and making things interesting in the next round.

The Lynx are hitting their stride, despite a complicated situation with Aerial Powers. Napheesa Collier is having the best season of her career, averaging 21.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász are settling into their roles, and veterans like Kayla McBride have served as a steadying force. The Lynx are much improved since their 0-6 start to the season, and even better than they were last month. Take Tuesday’s win over Dallas: A month ago, the Lynx lost by 40 points to the Wings; on Tuesday, they showed poise in a testy contest to pull off the win.

Meanwhile, Atlanta has talented players who can compete on any given night. All-Stars Rhyne Howard, Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker will always give the Dream a chance in games. Whether they can turn that potential into playoff series wins depends on their consistency.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

A close contest between the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings ended in chaos on Tuesday, as the Lynx’s 91-86 win was overshadowed by ejections, heated exchanges and condemning social media posts.

Wings forward Satou Sabally twisted her ankle with 25 seconds left after landing on Bridget Carleton’s foot following a shot attempt. It was ruled a flagrant foul, as Carleton didn’t give Sabally space to land, and Carleton was ejected from the contest for her second flagrant of the game.

As Sabally sat on the ground nursing her ankle, several Lynx fans behind the bench cheered for the injury, which Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve condemned after the game.

One fan was ejected, and Reeve apologized to Wings coach Latricia Trammell as it happened.

“There’s no place for that,” Reeve later told reporters. “I was disappointed. I apologized. Our fans are passionate. You just can’t cross the line of celebrating someone’s injury. We wouldn’t want that. We apologize that that happened to Satou.”

Sabally responded in the moment by blowing a kiss to the crowd after knocking down a free throw. When fans continued to yell, she cupped her hand around her ear in a “I can’t hear you” motion.

At least one other person was escorted out of the arena by security before the game ended.

After the game, Sabally took to social media to address the situation.

“Disgusting fan base in Minny. The Schadenfreude to see someone get hurt can’t be a WNBA culture. Terrible words from the sidelines all game long,” she wrote.

The fan behavior started long before the last 25 seconds of the game, according to Dallas guard Crystal Dangerfield, who played for Minnesota in 2020.

“I’m shocked,” she said. “We have fans saying outrageous things to players. Wishing bad on someone about an injury is out of pocket. It started at the beginning of the game, and it needs to be taken care of. And it’s not just here (in Minnesota). It happens other places as well.”

The controversy overshadowed what was an important win for the Lynx. They improved to 16-17, tying them with the Atlanta Dream for the fifth-best record in the league. The victory also avenges a 40-point loss to Dallas back in July, and marks Minnesota’s first win over the Wings in three meetings this season.

The teams play again on Thursday, this time in Dallas.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Olga Carmona came streaking up the left side of the field, outrunning England’s defense as Mariona Caldentey placed a perfect pass to her feet. Carmona connected, firing a low line drive into the net with 29 minutes gone by.

Carmona also scored in Spain’s semifinal win over Sweden, making her the first player to score in a World Cup final and semifinal since 2015. She became the fourth-youngest player to score in a final at 23 years and 69 days, and the goal ended up being the game-winner, propelling Spain to its first World Cup victory with a 1-0 win over England.

An improbable series of events for an improbable victor.

The goal itself was perfect. Spain executed a series of exceptional passes and Carmona sprinted from her spot as a defender up the sideline, overtaking Caldentey to put her in prime position to score. Her shot rocketed into the opposite corner of the net, past the outstretched arms of a diving Mary Earps.

Carmona’s back-to-back goals were unlikely, and her championship-winning strike was beautiful. Both are descriptors that can also be applied to Spain’s World Cup run this year. Because, despite the incredible soccer the players displayed throughout the tournament, the team is also surrounded by controversy in regards to their coach, Jorge Vilda.

Against all odds, they hoisted the World Cup trophy on Sunday with golden confetti falling over their heads.

Back in September, 15 Spanish players sent letters to the Spanish Football Federation, asking not to be summoned for friendly matches until changes were made within the organization. They condemned the way Vilda coached the team, stating that their mental health and well-being were not being looked after and that the coach exhibited controlling behavior.

“We regret that in the context of women’s sport we have to go to the extreme, as unfortunately has happened in other national teams and other sports historically worldwide, in order to advance in a powerful and ambitious professional project for the present and for future generations,” the players said in a statement.

The federation continued to back Vilda and even demanded apologies from the players. Several rejoined the ranks, but three key members of the team — Mapi Leon, Patri Guijarro and Claudia Pina — did not, and Spain competed in the World Cup without them.

Despite 12 of the 15 players returning to the pitch, the divide between the team and Vilda remained. Their battle with Vilda and the federation continued for the next year, and into the World Cup. Spain’s best player, two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, was also limited throughout the tournament while working her way back from an ACL injury. The striker did not enter Sunday’s final until stoppage time.

And yet, the players forged ahead.

When Spain defeated the Netherlands to advance to the World Cup semifinal, Vilda was left on the outside of the players’ celebrations. Similar celebrations occurred after Spain topped England in the final. Despite the ultimate victory, the division remains.

The product on the field did not reflect the turmoil surrounding the team. No matter how improbable the young Carmona’s goal seemed, it was the rule, not the exception to how Spain has played soccer throughout the World Cup.

Former U.S. Soccer great Julie Foudy commended Spain’s passing on Twitter, saying her United States teams never moved the ball like the Spanish team does.

“Their grace on the ball is gorgeous to watch,” she wrote.

Their ability to maintain that grace, despite the team’s off-field issues, makes their World Cup victory all the more impressive.

Spain played beautiful, World Cup-winning soccer not because of support from those in power, but in spite of it. They played — and won — for themselves and for the future of women’s soccer in their country.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.