NEW YORK — A look at the two first-round games in the WNBA playoffs:
No. 5 Chicago (20-14) vs No. 8 Phoenix (15-19)
Season series: Sky won 3-0
Chicago: The Sky have the top point guard in the league in Courtney Vandersloot, who averaged 9.2 assists and had 300 on the season, and a talented young star in Diamond DeShields propelling the offense. They also have a trio of talented bigs to throw at Phoenix star Brittney Griner in Stefanie Dolson, Astou Ndour and Cheyenne Parker. While the Sky may not have nearly the same playoff experience as the Mercury, especially with Jantel Lavender sidelined with a foot injury, they have a fast-paced offense that will cause problems for the Mercury.
Phoenix: Nobody has been better in single-elimination games since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016 than the Mercury. Phoenix has gone 6-0 in those contests over the past three years, winning four of those games on the road. However, they've had the ultimate closer in Diana Taurasi for all those contests. and she is listed as doubtful for the game against Chicago because of a hamstring injury. Taurasi missed most of the first half of the season with a back injury and then a hamstring issue sidelined her for the second part of the year. Even without their leader, the Mercury are still talented. Brittney Griner had another incredible season and DeWanna Bonner helped provide an inside-outside scoring punch for Phoenix. Point guard Leilani Mitchell had the best season of her career, averaging 12.9 points and 4.1 assists.
Prediction: It's hard to pick against the Mercury, but without Taurasi their run of single-elimination victories will come to an end.
No. 6 Seattle (18-16) vs. No. 7 Minnesota (18-16)
Season series: Storm won 3-1
Seattle: The Storm were expected to be in trouble this season with stars Breanna Stewart (Achilles' tendon) and Sue Bird (knee) missing for the entire year, yet Seattle found other players to step up in Natasha Howard (18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds) and Jordin Canada (5.2 assists). Seattle was also missing its coach, Dan Hughes, for the start of the season as he battled cancer. Seattle weathered the storm and found a way to make the playoffs and have a chance to defend its championship.
Minnesota: While Seattle dealt with injuries, the Lynx had to find a way to replace a number of starters from their dynasty that won four titles in the previous seven years. Maya Moore was taking a leave from basketball this season, Lindsay Whalen retired to coach at the University of Minnesota and Rebekkah Brunson was out with a concussion for the entire year. Seimone Augustus missed the first half of the season while recovering from knee surgery.
No problem for Cheryl Reeve, who rebuilt the roster by trading for Odyssey Sims and Lexie Brown and drafting Napheesa Collier, who is a leading candidate for rookie of the year. That group has provided a strong complement for star center Sylvia Fowles, who continues to dominate in the middle. She averaged 13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds this season.
Prediction: This one is definitely a tossup, so the nod goes to the Storm because they are playing at home.