The new format for the 2016 playoffs adds a bit of uncertainty to the postseason, and that will be especially evident in the first two single elimination rounds. And even in the semifinals or finals, we will see some very exciting games as well and some upsets. Let’s take a look at each team and see what they might do this postseason.
#8 Phoenix at #5 Indiana
Both these teams are going to need to find consistency on both of ends of floor, and contributions up and down the lineup if they want to win. Phoenix’s Brittney Griner is going to have to stay out of foul trouble and step up offensively. Candice Dupree is also going to have to contribute more, but the team as a whole needs to improve steadily on defense. The Phoenix bench is going to have really improve. Indiana, on the other hand, is really looking at Briann January, Shenise Johnson, and rookie Tiffany Mitchell to lead a Tamika Catchings-less team in future seasons. But they also are going to show they can play on the big stage and compete against basically every other team in the playoff field, especially any Western Conference team. I know they got to the Finals last year, but this year, everything is different. The same can be said for the Phoenix Mercury. This year is looking far different than their championship season of 2014. Who wins this game? I’m going with the road team Mercury to step up big time and show they can still win in the playoffs. They’ve improved as the season has gone on. But they can’t have an off night, like they have had plenty of during the regular season.
#7 Seattle Storm at #6 Atlanta Dream
Seattle Storm is the sleeper pick of the playoffs, at least in these first two rounds. The Storm are led by AP Rookie of the Year Breanna Stewart, last year’s Rookie of the Year Jewell Loyd, and the sure fire play from Sue Bird. Sue Bird is the veteran leader who is leading the league in assists and playing like she is still in her prime. She should never retire. Much of the rest of the Storm roster are young, relatively inexperienced, but they are very, very dangerous. They need more out of Mosqueda-Lewis and Tokashiki off the bench. They need to rebound better as a team, and they need more points from everyone in the line up.
Atlanta have been a pretty consistent team, but that consistency has been pretty much a kind of mediocre consistency that I can’t feel confident about. They are led by MVP Candidate Angel McCoughtry, who continues her stellar play. They found a gem of a trade in AP Sixth Woman of the Year Elizabeth Williams, guard Tiffany Hayes, and pretty good bench play from Sancho Lyttle and rookie Bria Holmes. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they will be without Tiffany Hayes due to technical foul accumulation. With Hayes out, and with Seattle’s young core coming into the playoffs with plenty of momentum, I actually give Seattle the slight edge in this game, but it’s still a tough one to call.
#4 Chicago Sky
I wanna call the Chicago Sky the team that is first in offense and last in defense, but I technically can’t do that. However, I will say they have shown a real resolve without last year’s MVP and team leader Elena Delle Donne. Since she went down for the rest of the season with a thumb injury on September 7th against the Mystics, they beat the Liberty, the Lynx in overtime, and the Sun. Although they did lose the regular season closer to Seattle on Sunday, I won’t be surprised to see them continue to persevere and win at least one game in these playoffs. Beyond that, I have no idea what this team is capable in the playoffs without their best player.
#3 New York Liberty
Tina Charles had a MVP worthy season, Sugar Rodgers was a Most Improved Player candidate, Shavonte Zellous was a Sixth Woman candidate, and Epiphanny Prince is back in the lineup after missing most of the season with her ACL injury. Unfortunately, New York has had a spell of new injuries, including Charles and Prince, and will be missing Shoni Schimmel and Kiah Stokes during the playoffs. Even with a health lineup though, the Liberty just don’t seem to always get enough offense, and they may really hurt them in the semifinals. Defensively, they are stellar, but defense is not going to be enough to beat a team like the Sparks or Lynx this year. I’d love to see them win a title after all these years of postseason disappointment, but I still think they are missing a piece or two on offense to win it all.
#2 Los Angeles Sparks
What a turn around for Los Angeles this season. Brian Agler is the AP’s pick for Coach of the Year, and AP MVP Nneka Ogwumike had what is essentially the most efficient shooting season in professional basketball history. Candace Parker is as stellar as ever, while the rest of the starting lineup and much of the bench have really come together as team. They have struggled a bit during the post-Olympic break, but I think the rest before the semifinals will help them regroup and prepare well. They can beat anyone in field, but they are going to have to rebound more if they want to win it all. They have plenty of talent, so it will be very interesting to see what happens, say, in a 5 game playoff series with a certain other team….
#1 Minnesota Lynx
Do I even have to say it? Do I even have to spell out how good this team is? Because I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t have to write about how Sylvia Fowles won the AP Defensive Player of the Year, how Maya Moore is still an MVP caliber player, or how they have a bench good enough to beat just about anyone else’s starting lineup. I don’t have to tell you they just beat their own franchise record for win at 28. I don’t have to tell you that this team does everything well, and right now they rank 2nd in points scored, points allowed and assists, while also ranking 4th in rebounds. I know those are not advanced stats, but they are telling, nonetheless. This team only lost 6 games this season, and only back to back losses came when they lost 3 in row to the Sparks, Mystics, and the Liberty. This team won it all last year and they only look better now. The Lynx will probably be on their way, with home court advantage, to a record tying 4th WNBA Title this postseason.
Well, that’s it. That’s the 2016 Playoff Preview. I can’t believe the playoffs are already here, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I will. Cheers!