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WNBA playoff format, explained: Why Chicago Sky coach James Wade is ‘not a fan’

The Chicago Sky begin the WNBA playoffs looking to repeat as champions. (Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images)

When the WNBA playoffs begin Wednesday, they will do so with a new-look format.

After the 2021 season, the league announced it would do away with single-elimination playoff games. Since 2016, the postseason had featured byes into the semifinals for the league’s top two teams. The first two rounds were made up of single-elimination games for the remaining six teams, and teams were reseeded after each round.

Starting this year, the playoffs are structured as an eight-team bracket, with no byes or reseeding.

The first round includes four best-of-three series. The first two games of each series will be played at the home arena of the higher seed, while the third game (if necessary) will be played at the home arena of the lower seed.

Teams will have two days off between each game of the series.

While the format was met with positive reviews last fall, Chicago Sky coach James Wade isn’t as excited about the possibility of a pivotal Game 3 being played on the road.

“We worked all year to have home-court advantage,” Wade said Tuesday. “If you have a bad game, then home-court advantage goes to the lower seed.

“You always want the deciding game, if there’s a Game 3, to be at the higher seed’s home. I’m not a fan of it at all; I don’t think any coaches are.”

Kahleah Copper, Chicago’s leading scorer, added that she preferred the previous format. Last season, the Sky won both of their single-elimination games en route to their first championship.

“Personally, I like single-elimination,” Copper said. “I feel like it’s the playoffs, so you come to play. But here it is, it’s two here and one away. I think that we take care of it here, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

The semifinals and WNBA Finals remain best-of-five series and will follow a 2-2-1 format (two at home for higher seed, two at home for lower seed, one at home for higher seed if necessary).

First round schedule:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 17:
    • (2) Chicago Sky vs. (7) New York Liberty @ 8 p.m. on ESPN2
    • (1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (8) Phoenix Mercury @ 10 p.m. on ESPN
  • Thursday, Aug. 18:
    • (3) Connecticut Sun vs. (6) Dallas Wings @ 8 p.m. on ESPNU/NBA TV
    • (4) Seattle Storm vs. (5) Washington Mystics @ 10 p.m. on ESPN2
  • Saturday, Aug. 20:
    • (2) Chicago Sky vs. (7) New York Liberty @ 12 p.m. on ESPN
    • (1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (8) New York Liberty @ 9 p.m. on ESPN2
  • Sunday, Aug. 21:
    • (3) Connecticut Sun vs. (6) Dallas Wings @ 12 p.m. on ABC
    • (4) Seattle Storm vs. (5) Washington Mystics @ 4 p.m. on ESPN
  • Tuesday, Aug. 23:
    • (2) Chicago Sky at (7) New York Liberty @ TBD*
    • (1) Las Vegas Aces at (8) Phoenix Mercury @ TBD*
  • Wednesday, Aug. 24:
    • (3) Connecticut Sun at (6) Dallas Wings @ TBD*
    • (4) Seattle Storm at (5) Washington Mystics @ TBD*