WNBA playoffs 2022 predictions and largest questions for the semifinals

August 26, 2022

The highest 4 seeds superior to the semifinals of the 2022 WNBA playoffs with relative ease, however the matchups and storylines that await within the subsequent spherical are hardly wanting intrigue.

The highest-seeded Las Vegas Aces and No. 4 seed Seattle Storm face off in a battle that includes seven former No. 1 total draft picks. The Aces are hungry to win the franchise’s first championship, which might make Becky Hammon the primary first-year coach to win a WNBA title since Van Chancellor in 1997, the league’s inaugural season. However Sue Hen and Tina Charles have lots to combat for, too, as Hen readies for retirement with 4 (and if issues go her approach, 5) WNBA titles to her title, whereas Charles switched groups midseason in quest of her coveted first.

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Contemporary off successful decisive Recreation 3s within the first spherical, the No. 2 seed Chicago Sky and the third-seeded Connecticut Solar are hoping to hold that momentum into the semifinals, the place they will meet for the second straight yr and within the postseason for the third consecutive summer season. Behind Candace Parker, who has indicated this may very well be her last season within the league, the defending champion Sky want to grow to be the primary WNBA group to repeat since 2001-02. The Solar — the W franchise with probably the most playoff wins (33) however no title — hope to advance to their second Finals in 4 seasons earlier than their championship window diminishes.

The Sky swept the Solar within the common season (4-0) with a 4.5-point common margin of victory, whereas the Aces had a 3-1 edge this summer season in conferences versus the Storm, with a mean margin of victory throughout all 4 video games coming in at 9.5.

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ESPN’s M.A. Voepel, Alexa Philippou and Kevin Pelton reply the most important questions that’ll decide the semifinals and predict which groups will attain the WNBA Finals.

Of the seven former No. 1 draft picks within the Aces-Storm semifinals, which participant may have the single-biggest influence on the result of the collection?

Pelton: Jewell Loyd. Her two video games towards the Aces within the season’s last week — one level at dwelling; a career-high 38 in Las Vegas — replicate the extremes of Loyd’s potential efficiency. With this collection prone to be determined in late-game conditions, the Storm will want the Loyd we noticed pull out Recreation 1 vs. Washington by scoring 12 of her group’s factors in a row down the stretch.

Philippou: Loyd is the clear X issue, however I will throw in A’ja Wilson, too. The 2020 MVP (and a front-runner for the award this yr) had a disappointing begin to the playoffs, going 2-for-11 from the sphere in Recreation 1 towards the Mercury earlier than rebounding with a extra attribute 7-for-9 outing within the subsequent recreation. For the Aces to make their second Finals look in three seasons, little question Wilson’s fingerprints should be all around the courtroom, each offensively and defensively.

Which trio has been the very best ‘Huge Three’ within the playoffs thus far?

Voepel: My preliminary thought is the Aces, however it’s maybe a unique trio than we might have chosen earlier within the season: Chelsea Grey, who has elevated to tie for the group lead in scoring within the playoffs, Kelsey Plum and Wilson, who’s doing her typical MVP candidate stuff. However that leaves out Jackie Younger, so possibly we give the Aces the moniker of “Finest Quartet” and listing Chicago’s Candace Parker, Kahleah Copper and Courtney Vandersloot as a extra particular Huge Three.

The good Leon Barmore, legendary coach of Louisiana Tech, as soon as mentioned that when you gave him three actually good gamers, he may win loads of video games no matter how good the opposite two have been. I believe that may be true of any of the semifinalists’ high three, however having an elite center-forward, a dynamic wing and a spectacular level guard is a good system for the Sky.

Pelton: Adjusting for opposition, I would go together with Seattle’s group of Loyd, Hen and Breanna Stewart. They needed to be at their finest to comb the Washington Mystics, together with Hen improbably posting her best game score ever in a playoff game with 18 factors and 10 assists throughout her last postseason and Stewart coming inside two assists of her first profession triple-double.

Philippou: Pelton’s proper in that Seattle’s Huge Three confronted the hardest competitors, however I will nonetheless go together with what we’ll name the Vegas Backcourt Huge Three of Plum, Grey and Younger. As Voepel alluded to, Grey is not usually considered in any “Huge Three” and was the one Vegas starter to not get an All-Star bid final month. However she has been enjoying at an otherworldly degree in current weeks, hitting 20 factors in 5 of her previous eight outings — together with a career-high 33 towards the Storm of their regular-season finale — and at the least 15 in all however one. Furthermore, she has shot 10-for-13 on 3-pointers whereas averaging 6.0 assists to begin the postseason. If Grey maintains this degree of play, and Plum and Younger proceed to do their factor alongside her within the backcourt, Vegas may very nicely reduce down the nets subsequent month for the primary time in franchise historical past.

Chicago upset Connecticut in 4 video games in final yr’s semifinals. The Solar can win this yr’s matchup if … ?

Voepel: The Solar play high-level protection and rebound the ball nicely, like they did within the second half of Recreation 3 towards the Wings. The sport was shut within the first half after which Alyssa Thomas just about instructed her teammates to get with it, they usually responded. They pressured turnovers, contested pictures and appeared to wear down the Wings. Coach Curt Miller mentioned that if there may be one factor that normally can carry the Solar by way of within the hardest video games, it is protection. Contemplating how good the Sky’s offense is, this shall be a really tough check.

Philippou: Voepel is spot-on relating to the Solar’s id. I would just add they will additionally want their perimeter gamers to step up. Courtney Williams (5.7 PPG, 30.8% taking pictures within the playoffs) struggled within the Dallas collection, however Natisha Hiedeman and, off the bench, DiJonai Carrington helped make up for that, plus DeWanna Bonner had an enormous momentum-shifting run in Recreation 3. Some mixture of two of these 4 should be on any given night time to assist take stress off the bigs inside. As at all times, making certain they will get Jonquel Jones sufficient touches shall be important for the Solar, too.

Pelton: If the Solar get some stops. Remarkably, Chicago shot 55.5% from the sphere in a 4-0 collection sweep of Connecticut. No different group shot higher than 47.5% towards the Solar. In that context, it is wonderful Connecticut managed to remain shut in all 4 video games, with three of them determined by 4 factors or fewer. It is also fascinating as a result of that is the inverse of final yr’s playoff collection, when the Sky by no means shot higher than 50% in any of the 4 video games however nonetheless received 3-1.

Let’s stick to upsets: Seattle can topple top-seeded Las Vegas if … ?

Pelton: The Storm keep sizzling from 3-point vary — an apparent reply however it’s true. Las Vegas’ ups and downs this season have been largely a product of opponent’s 3-point taking pictures. The Aces went 6-8 when opponents hit at the least 35% of their 3s and are undefeated (18-0, together with the playoffs) once they’re beneath 33%. Seattle made at the least half of its 3-point makes an attempt in each video games of the sweep over Washington.

Philippou: Vegas reverts again to a few of its poor defensive habits. Becky Hammon ceaselessly says she does not care as a lot about her group’s offensive output as its defensive effort and execution. If the Aces let up on that finish of the ground, the Storm are too savvy and skilled of a group to not make them pay. To try this, gamers apart from Stewart must step up.

Voepel: The put up battles between these two groups shall be riveting. However one of many greatest keys for the Storm shall be in some way slowing the Aces’ perimeter energy. Las Vegas shredded Phoenix from behind the arc within the first spherical, however that was a decimated Mercury group. Seattle will look to the likes of Loyd, Gabby Williams and savvy vets Hen and Briann January to cease Plum, Grey and Younger from taking on. If Seattle is ready to restrict the Las Vegas guards sufficient, the Storm can win this collection. Due to Seattle’s franchise historical past, it will not essentially seem to be an upset if the Storm win the collection, though on paper it might be.

Keep in mind how epic the 2018 semifinal collection between Seattle and Phoenix felt? This feels the identical, and if it goes 5 video games like that one did, will probably be a deal with for WNBA followers. Each groups shall be enjoying with a ton of emotion. The Storm wish to preserve Hen’s profession going so long as potential and the Aces consider they’ve been on the point of a championship the previous two years however have been stopped brief (in 2020 by the Storm within the Finals and final yr by the Phoenix Mercury within the semifinals).

Will Chicago or Connecticut advance to the WNBA Finals?

Philippou: Chicago will advance. It is laborious to miss the Sky’s 7-1 run towards Connecticut relationship to final season’s semifinal. Kahleah Copper mentioned Tuesday that the group “fell in love” with the model of itself it placed on show from Video games 2 and three of the primary spherical, and that there isn’t any going again now. That model featured each stellar offense and stifling protection, a mixture which may as soon as extra be an excessive amount of for the Solar.

Voepel: I am going with Chicago. The Sky have been irritated by dropping Recreation 1 to the New York Liberty at dwelling, however they’ve additionally used it to their benefit in how nicely they performed since. Chicago has been an enormous thorn within the Solar’s facet of late, and that would proceed. Chicago’s offense has simply been an excessive amount of for Connecticut to beat as soon as thus far this yr, so doing it 3 times in a collection appears a bridge too far.

Pelton: There are two contrasting developments I am choosing between. As famous, the Sky swept the season collection, and better seeds that did so are 22-4 all time in playoff collection. (One of many 4 exceptions? Chicago beating Phoenix in final yr’s WNBA Finals.) On the identical time, the Solar had a a lot better level differential in the course of the common season, greater than three factors per recreation higher than the Sky. That is the most important benefit for a decrease seed in additional than 20 years. Level differential tends to be an awesome playoff predictor, so I am nervously sticking with Connecticut to determine the matchup.

Will Las Vegas or Seattle advance to the WNBA Finals?

Voepel: Wow, this one is so laborious. Las Vegas is the highest seed for a very good purpose, and irrespective of the Mercury’s deficiencies, the Aces nonetheless ran them out of the sector in Recreation 2. How will Las Vegas look every week later for its opener towards Seattle? Most likely actually good. However it’s compelling simply how badly the Storm need this for Hen, and likewise for Charles, who has by no means received a WNBA title. So, what the heck: I am rolling the cube a bit right here towards the group from Vegas and going with the Storm.

Pelton: This matchup favors the Aces, whose depth of perimeter expertise exams the Storm defensively. Add in home-court benefit and I am taking Las Vegas to get again to the Finals after these two groups met there in 2020.

Philippou: The Aces went 3-1 within the common season towards the Storm and received these video games by a mean margin of roughly 9 factors. It is robust to see that script flipped within the postseason, for the explanations Pelton talked about, and since the Storm’s inconsistent depth provides them a slimmer margin for error. However I will predict it’s going to take a decisive Recreation 5 — which might be again in Vegas — for this collection to be determined.

Which groups will meet within the WNBA Finals?

Pelton: Las Vegas vs. Connecticut

Philippou: Las Vegas vs. Chicago

Voepel: Las Vegas vs. Chicago

Which group will win the 2022 WNBA championship?

Pelton: Las Vegas

Philippou: Las Vegas

Voepel: Chicago

Who would be the WNBA Finals MVP?

Pelton: Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas

Philippou: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas

Voepel: Candace Parker, Chicago