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WNBA 2022 playoffs: Breaking down every first-round matchup

The Aces and Mercury face off in a rematch of the 2021 WNBA semifinals. (Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA playoffs are upon us.

Wednesday and Thursday kick off four first-round matchups as part of the WNBA’s newly expanded playoff format: Aces vs. Mercury, Sky vs. Liberty, Sun vs. Wings and Storm vs. Mystics. Each best-of-three matchup brings its own unique storylines and points of intrigue.

Here’s what to keep an eye on as the games begin.

(1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (8) Phoenix Mercury

X-Factor: Offensive rebounding

The Mercury will certainly have their work cut out for them with the Aces, but one way they can get an edge is on the offensive boards. Las Vegas and Phoenix are 10th and 12th, respectively, in the WNBA when it comes to grabbing rebounds for second-chance points. If the Mercury can pick up a few easy buckets on the glass, that could be the difference between keeping it close and letting the Aces run away with it. On the flip side, any extra opportunities for an offensive powerhouse like the Aces will spell trouble for the Mercury.

Player matchup to watch: Kelsey Plum vs. Sophie Cunningham

While these two won’t necessarily be guarding each other, I can definitely see a situation where they start trading 3-pointers. Plum has been explosive offensively for the Aces, averaging a team-high 20.2 points per game on 42 percent shooting from 3. And Cunningham has been a consistent presence amid the chaos of the Mercury’s season, averaging 12.6 points per game on 40 percent shooting from 3.

Stat spotlight: PPG/Points allowed

The Aces are the top scoring team in the league at 90.4 points per game, while the Mercury give up more points per game than any other playoff team. In other words, the Mercury need to do everything possible to slow down the Aces, or this series will get out of hand fast.

Prediction: Aces in 2

Tune in:

  • Game 1, Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
  • Game 2, Saturday at 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Game 3, Aug. 23 TBD
The Sky will lean on Courtney Vandersloot's playmaking against the Liberty. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

(2) Chicago Sky vs. (7) New York Liberty

X-Factor: Bench production

For the Sky, that’s Azurá Stevens, Rebekah Garder and Julie Allemand. For the Liberty, it’s a slew of players, but my eye is on Marine Johannès, Sami Whitcomb and Han Xu. These teams both have the luxury of bringing talented players off the bench, and each player has a unique aspect to their game that the starters don’t necessarily provide. For example, there’s the distinctive way Gardner cuts to the basket, or the creative playmaking of Johannès. Whichever team gets the best out of its bench will have a clear advantage.

Player matchup to watch: Courtney Vandersloot vs. Sabrina Ionescu

These two All-Star guards run the show for their respective teams, and both are stat stuffers with multiple triple-doubles to their names. Vandersloot is averaging 11.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.5 assist and 1.2 steals a game, while Ionescu contributes 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Whichever team comes out on top in this series will largely depend on which point guard has the better run of play.

Stat spotlight: Liberty’s 3-point rate

New York has made a league-high 394 3-pointers this season, and a league-low 687 2-pointers. That trend will likely continue against a Sky team that is second in the WNBA in blocked shots (155), and how consistently the Liberty can make their shots from deep will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

Prediction: Sky in 3

Tune in:

  • Game 1, Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
  • Game 2, Saturday at 12 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Game 3, Aug. 23 TBD
Marina Mabrey has stepped up for the Wings in the last month of the season. (Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)

(3) Connecticut Sun vs. (6) Dallas Wings

X-factor: Marina Mabrey

In the absence of Arike Ogunbowale, who’s been sidelined since undergoing a procedure to repair a pelvic injury and will miss the series against the Sun, Mabrey has upped her scoring from 13.6 points to 21.8 points per game. Mabrey’s performance is a big reason the Wings secured their playoff spot in the final week of the season, and if she continues at a similar clip, the former Notre Dame guard can give her team a shot at the upset. On the other hand, if Connecticut shuts her down, that is a big chunk of offense missing for the Wings.

Player matchup to watch: Teaira McCowan vs. Brionna Jones

Two strong, tough post players, McCowan and Jones will bring intensity to this matchup. The 6-foot-3 Jones has been a consistent piece off the bench for the Sun this season, averaging 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, while McCowan has blossomed in the last two months. She’s averaging 11 points and seven boards on the season, and in August, those numbers have increased to 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.

Stat spotlight: Offensive rebounding

The Sun average a league-best 10.2 offensive rebounds per contest, while the Wings are third with 9.6. It’s going to be a battle on the glass, and the team that controls the boards — by either grabbing more offensive rebounds or stopping the opponent from getting them — will have a clear edge.

Prediction: Sun in 3

Tune in:

  • Game 1, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU, NBATV)
  • Game 2, Sunday at 12 p.m. (ABC)
  • Game 3, Aug. 24 TBD
The Storm take on the Mystics in what should be the most competitive series of the first round. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(4) Seattle Storm vs. (5) Washington Mystics

X-Factor: Post players on defense

In her second year, Seattle’s Ezi Magbegor is second in the league with 1.8 blocks per game. In her rookie season, Washington’s Shakira Austin is 18th with 0.8 per game. Both provide length inside and have the ability to alter and outright block shots. The way they impact the other team’s offense can change the outcome of the game — and the series.

Player matchup to watch: Jewell Loyd vs. Ariel Atkins

In the three meetings between the Mystics and Storm this season, Loyd and Atkins have performed at a high level each time. Loyd recorded 22, 17 and 15 points, and Atkins put up 11, 13 and 23 points as the Storm took the regular-season series 2-1. Loyd’s elite playmaking against Atkins’ stingy defense also has the potential to bring excitement to this matchup.

Stat spotlight: Assists

Seattle is second in the league in assists with 813 on the year, while Washington slots in at seventh with 729. The Storm are more likely to lean on ball-movement and creating for each other to score, while the Mystics like to create offense in one-on-one situations. Those differing styles should make this one of the most competitive series of the first round.

Prediction: Storm in 3

Tune in:

  • Game 1, Thursday at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
  • Game 2, Sunday at 4 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Game 3, Aug. 24 TBD

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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