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2022 WNBA Playoffs preview: Best bet to win the championship

The Action Network’s Michael Arinze previews the WNBA playoffs and assesses which team offers the best value to win the title

Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics dribbles the ball against the Chicago Sky during the first half at Entertainment & Sports Arena on May 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics dribbles the ball against the Chicago Sky during the first half at Entertainment & Sports Arena on May 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)Read moreScott Taetsch / Getty Images

On Wednesday night, the WNBA Playoffs get underway, and if you still haven’t tuned into this burgeoning league, then you’ve missed quite a season.

The Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky finished atop the standings with identical records of 26-10, with the Aces getting the No. 1 seed based on a head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Connecticut Sun got the third seed, winning just one fewer game than the Aces and the Sky.

A tiebreaker was also needed to determine the fourth and fifth seeds after the Storm and Mystics finished tied with the same record at 22-14.

Dallas, New York, and Phoenix round out the remaining playoff teams, with only the Wings finishing with at least a .500 winning percentage.

However, of the eight teams in the postseason, there’s only one I’d completely rule out of having any chance to win the championship.

We’ll profile each playoff team and assess their prospects of going all the way to lift the title.

Phoenix Mercury +13000

At 15-21, the Mercury finished with the worst record of all qualifying playoff teams. And while reaching the postseason is quite a feat in itself, given what they had to deal with off the court, a first-round matchup against Las Vegas is a bit more than they can chew.

This series will be a rematch of last season’s semifinals when the Mercury defeated the Aces 3-2. I went on the record with the Mercury as my pick to win the title, but they ultimately came up short in the finals against the Sky.

Now, Phoenix did have a pathway to make another deep playoff run this year, but once Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, those chances became remote at best.

Now, with Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Kia Nurse out indefinitely, Phoenix is the only team I project that has no shot of winning the title.

This is an easy pass for me.

New York Liberty +6500

After a 1-7 start, the New York Liberty went 7-3 in their final 10 games to clinch the seventh seed. Overall, New York finished four games under .500 with a 16-20 record.

There have been some frustrating losses, but New York does have victories against four of the five top playoff teams, which include two wins apiece against Connecticut and Washington.

Moreover, Seattle is the only top-five team New York didn’t beat this season. The question for New York is whether it can be consistent over a three-game series.

That’s precisely where the Liberty will have a severe disadvantage as they’ll face the defending champion Chicago Sky, who have enough experience and discipline to withstand any challenge that New York may pose.

The Liberty would have a better chance to pull off the first-round upset if they managed to clinch the sixth seed to face Connecticut.

However, the Sky is an awful matchup for the Liberty, primarily because of their ability to guard the perimeter and limit opponents to a league-best 19.1 3-point attempts and 6.5 3-point field goals per game.

Unfortunately, I think New York is headed for another first-round exit.

Dallas Wings +5500

Like New York, Dallas is another up-and-coming team and also picked up four additional wins compared to last season.

However, I feel the Wings are slightly ahead of the Liberty. Dallas could put five starters on the floor who averaged in double figures in scoring.

The problem for the Wings is their leading scorer, Arike Ogunbowale (19.7 PPG), is expected to miss their first-round series against the Sun due to a hip injury. I don’t see Dallas being able to overcome her loss.

That’s why I would’ve liked to see the Liberty take on the Sun, because their roster is fully intact at the moment.

All signs point to another quick playoff exit for the Wings.

Seattle Storm +600

Sue Bird is calling it a career after this season, and her teammates will try their best to ensure she doesn’t leave empty-handed. The league’s all-time leading assists leader has spent her entire WNBA career with the Storm.

To say that Seattle has extra motivation in this postseason would be an understatement as the Storm head into the first round against the Mystics with virtually an injury-free roster.

While I commend the Storm for finishing fourth in the league, something seems a bit off with them this year. For example, after landing a former MVP and 2021 scoring champion in Tina Charles midseason, the Storm went just 11-7 with her on the team.

And even if Seattle gets past Washington in the opening round, it’ll have to face a Las Vegas team that it went just 1-3 against during the regular season.

Las Vegas likes to push the tempo. The Aces ranked first with 82.2 possessions per 40 minutes.

In comparison, Seattle prefers to play at a slower tempo, but given that it’s the oldest team in the WNBA, with an average of 30.4 years, I don’t think the Storm have the legs to advance to the finals.

Connecticut Sun +380

If you had to pick one team that seems overdue to win a WNBA title, it has to be the Sun.

An interesting piece from FiveThirtyEight noted that since the league’s inception in 1997, Connecticut has the second-best winning percentage (.557). Yet, it’s still searching for its first championship.

And while I’ve seen quite a few media pundits pick the Sun, they went just 1-5 against the top two teams (Las Vegas and Chicago) in the league.

You already know from my Wings preview that I have Connecticut advancing to the semifinals, where the Sun will likely face a Sky team that went 4-0 against them during the season.

That’s a massive red flag for me, and enough reason to punt on the Sun’s quest for a first title this season.

Chicago Sky +230

Candace Parker is another player who could walk away from the WNBA at the end of this season.

The former first overall pick has done it all throughout her career, from winning back-to-back championships in the NCAA to being a two-time WNBA champion, a two-time WNBA MVP, and even a WNBA Finals MVP.

However, unlike Bird, Parker has not made anything official regarding her retirement.

What’s been so pleasing to watch with Parker is her ability to show her all-around game as a facilitator in the second half of her career. Parker finished second on the team with 4.5 assists per game, and that added dimension is central to Chicago’s floor spacing to generate easy buckets.

Not only does Chicago rank first in points in the paint (42.1 per game), but it’s also fourth in fast break points (11.6 per game). Connecticut is the only other team in the top five of these categories.

Parker and the Sky are remarkable to watch because there are always winning intangibles that you’ll pick up on during their games. And although Chicago finished second in offensive rating, according to Her Hoop Stats, it’s not out there just bombing away 3-pointers. The Sky ranked eighth with 20.9 attempts per game.

The Sky are legitimate contenders to win a second straight championship, but you’ll have to go back to 2002 for the last time a team successfully defended its title.

So it might be worthwhile to bank on a new champion in 2022.

Las Vegas Aces +175

The Aces are a deserving favorite to win the title after clinching the top overall seed. However, after getting off to a 13-2 start, the league started to catch up to them as they went 13-8 the rest of the way.

For a team that was so dominant for much of the season, there were a few head-scratchers, such as their four double-digit losses. Two of those losses were against the Lynx and Dream by a combined 47 points.

In comparison, Chicago had only two double-digit losses, which occurred in the final week of the season against the Storm and Aces—both of whom are in the playoffs.

At some point, I expect the Aces will miss Dearica Hamby, who could be out two to four weeks with a knee injury. Hamby stared 32 of the Aces’ 34 games and averaged 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.

While I don’t expect the Aces to have much trouble in the first round, Hamby’s absence could play a more prominent role later in the postseason.

I can’t help but sense that there’s a bit of vulnerability with this Aces team. And with their current odds sitting at +175, I’d much rather take a shot at beating the favorite.

Washington Mystics +1100

I purposefully left the Mystics for last because they offer tremendous value at 11-to-1. Washington, of course, will have to get past Seattle in the first round. The Mystics went 1-2 against Seattle during the regular season.

However, if they manage to get the job done, they’ll face an Aces team they defeated in all three meetings.

The Mystics led the league in defense, allowing 93.8 points per 100 possessions. And with each possession so critical in the playoffs, I wouldn’t mind backing a defensive-minded team.

Washington will need to take better care of the basketball if they plan to defeat Seattle. In their two losses in the series, the Mystics lost the turnover battle despite controlling the game on the glass.

One way to limit turnovers is to play the game at an even slower pace than Seattle is used to. As a result, I’m not surprised that the Mystics’ only victory over the Storm was when they held them to under 80 points.

Against Las Vegas, Washington is happy to guard the perimeter and grab the long rebounds when the Aces miss from long range. As for Seattle, it’s successfully circumvented the Mystics’ slow pace by speeding them up on the fast break.

You don’t often see a team like Seattle, which is in the bottom half of the league in terms of pace but second in fast-break points.

While weathering the Storm won’t be easy, my projections put Washington’s championship odds closer to +700, so I’m getting significant value in the market at the current price.

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