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2019 WNBA Playoffs Preview: Is this finally the year of the Mystics?

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The Washington Mystics made it to the 2018 WNBA Finals before being unceremoniously swept by the Seattle Storm. But a healthy Elena Delle Donne in 2019 could lead the Mystics to their first-ever championship.

Chicago Sky v Washington Mystics
The Washington Mystics enter the 2019 playoffs on a six-game winning streak and are six wins away from their first-ever title.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA Playoffs begin on Wednesday, Sept. 11, with a pair of first-round games between the bottom four seeds. In a season plagued by injury but full of breakout performances, from rookies and veterans alike, eight teams passed the season-long test to play at least one more game after Sunday’s regular-season buzzer sounded.

Here’s your guide to the playoffs, exploring the teams that made the cut, whether the Seattle Storm will repeat in 2019, how the top-seeded Washington Mystics can turn last season’s Finals sweep into their first-ever Finals wins and the game schedule.

Who’s in?

No. 1 Washington Mystics: Amid rumblings that injured guard Kristi Toliver will return for the playoffs, the superteam that also includes MVP front-runner Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman (who returned to the team after sitting out in 2018) will be an especially hard out.

No. 2 Connecticut Sun: After two straight second-round exits, Jonquel Jones and the Sun have the opportunity to open postseason play in a semifinals series. Will this earned advantage help them reach their first Finals since 2005?

No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks: With all 12 players available for the last few weeks (minus some single-game absences) the Sparks seem ready to make a deep playoff run. But their less-than-encouraging road performance could be cause for concern in later rounds.

No. 4 Las Vegas Aces: The Liz Cambage acquisition and second straight No. 1 overall draft pick immediately positioned the Aces as a potential championship team. However, they’ll have to turn things around quickly after winning just two of their last six games.

No. 5 Chicago Sky: In his first year, head coach James Wade has already reversed two losing seasons and led the Sky to their first playoffs since 2016 — and their first since Delle Donne’s departure. How will Courtney Vandersloot guide her team under this pressure?

No. 6 Seattle Storm: The defending champions have dealt with many notable losses this season, and several teams are in a better position to win it all. But the entire roster has stepped up to fill these absences, and that’s why the Storm are back in the postseason.

No. 7 Minnesota Lynx: After three straight Finals appearances, the Lynx are staring down their second straight single-elimination road game to open the playoffs. But this new-look team could deliver some surprises — if they can get past the defending champions first.

No. 8 Phoenix Mercury: The only team to make the playoffs with a losing record, the Mercury’s inconsistency could be their downfall in their single-elimination road game. They’ve also lost their last four games, so a big turnaround is necessary to get the upset.

Can the Storm repeat?

Short answer: Probably not.

Long answer: While the Storm still solidly made the playoffs this season, being down Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird all summer changed things a lot. Their No. 6 seed that could have just as easily been a No. 7 seed bears testament to this — they had to beat some long odds on the last day of the season to earn it.

Being at home for the first round will help. At Angel of the Winds Arena, one of the Storm’s two home arenas this season and where they’ll play their first-round game, they’re 4-1. Their one loss came to the top-seeded Mystics, which is not a bad loss to have. They even beat Wednesday’s opponent, the Lynx, there on June 4.

But as the No. 6 seed, home games will be hard to come by after Wednesday. Unlike last season’s turn as the No. 1 seed, the Storm won’t play the majority of their games with home support.

They will have Jordin Canada — who has big playoff experience under pressure, having to fill in for a briefly-injured Bird last season — as well as Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, Mercedes Russell and the whole crew that has stepped up in Bird’s and Stewart’s absences and gotten them to this point.

But this season’s team is still just that — different. Half of the Storm’s 18 wins in 2019 came against the four teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Last season, 15 of their 26 wins came against playoff teams. Their competitive spirit might be the same, but their ability to get the job done against the league’s best isn’t.

What are the Mystics’ chances?

The top-seeded Mystics made history last season by making their first-ever Finals, eventually being on the wrong end of the first Finals sweep since 2014 when the Mercury ran over the Delle Donne-led Sky. This season, the Mystics have a (mostly) healthy Delle Donne, the return of Meesseman and the same starters. As a bonus, they finished with an identical 26-8 record to last season’s No. 1 Storm. The 26 wins are a Mystics franchise record.

Washington is also aided in a big way by this playoff structure. The only way they can face either of the teams that won season series against them this season — Connecticut and Phoenix — would be thanks to some long (though not insurmountable) odds in the earlier rounds.

The Sun, known for their early playoff exits of late, would have to get past their ostensibly more difficult semifinals opponent in a five-game series to meet the Mystics in the Finals. Meanwhile, the Mercury would have to win two single-elimination games on the road to face the Mystics in the semifinals.

Obviously, No. 1 meeting No. 2 in the Finals isn’t unprecedented — it happened most recently in 2016 and 2017 — but should the Mystics and Sun get there this season, it’ll be thanks to some luck on Connecticut’s part. The Sun certainly have the tools to get there, but not necessarily the recent postseason dominance.

The Mystics have an excellent chance to make the Finals, and once they’re there, home-court advantage for up to three of five games will play a big part in helping them grab their first title — even if they have to play against either of the two teams with better home records than them, the Sun or the Sparks.

The Mystics earned the right to that advantage, and it’ll be fun to see how their potential plays out this time around.

Playoffs schedule

First round

When: Wednesday, Sept. 11 (two single-elimination games)

Game 1: No. 5 Chicago Sky host No. 8 Phoenix Mercury, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: No. 6 Seattle Storm host No. 7 Minnesota Lynx, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Second round

When: Sunday, Sept. 15 (two single-elimination games)

Game 1: No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks host No. 6 Seattle Storm, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: No. 4 Las Vegas Aces host No. 5 Chicago Sky, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Semifinals

When: Tuesday, Sept. 17 – Thursday, Sept. 26 (Games 4 and 5 if necessary)

Series 1: No. 1 Washington Mystics vs. No. 4 Las Vegas Aces begins 9/17 at 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Series 2: No. 2 Connecticut Sun vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks begins 9/17 at 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Finals: No. 1 Washington Mystics vs. No. 2 Connecticut Sun

When: Sunday, Sept. 29 – Thursday, Oct. 10 (Games 4 and 5 if necessary)

Series info: Games 1 and 2 on ESPN, Game 3 on ABC, Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) on ESPN2

Seeding is updated after every round.

Complete playoff dates can be found here.