It may only be the middle of December, but that did not stop the WNBA from giving us a preview on what the 2022 season will look like.
Season 26 of the W will tip off on May 6 with four games – including three Commissioner’s Cup matchups. Those three will feature the Indiana Fever opening its season at DC Entertainment and Sports Center vs. the Washington Mystics, the Las Vegas Aces making the short trip to Arizona to play the Phoenix Mercury and the Seattle Storm playing its first game at the newly christened Climate Pledge Arena to host the Minnesota Lynx.
In addition, the Chicago Sky will take on the Los Angeles Sparks at Wintrust Arena. It will be Candace Parker’s first game vs. her former team, but multiple reports have hinted that the Sky’s championship ring ceremony will take place at a later game in the season.
Following those four games on the sixth of May, another Commissioner’s Cup contest will see the Connecticut Sun make its short trek to Brooklyn where the New York Liberty will await its upper northeastern rivals. Later that day, it will be a matchup of two teams who play in suburban arenas as the Atlanta Dream travel to Texas for a get-together with the Dallas Wings.
There is so much to analyze when thinking about this schedule – here is our Starting Five.
The WNBA announced that this will be the first season where a 36-game regular season takes place. To the casual W fan, more games sounds like the best thing since sliced bread. But given how compressed this schedule is given the upcoming FIBA World Cup, this season will have the typical travel issues of a more conventional season with the compressed nature of the bubble.
Such a constricted schedule almost makes it certain that travel challenges and injuries will be two common themes we will hear about aplenty. We are hoping we are wrong, though …
Hopefully the teams that share arenas with NBA teams (Liberty, Sparks, Fever, Mercury, Lynx) plus the one that will share one with an NHL team (Storm) will manage to keep scheduling conflicts to a minimum – and WNBA games in their primary venues where they belong.
Who will play who?
While several teams hinted on their Twitter accounts their featured players for their upcoming games, the truth of the matter is we really do not know entirely who will be facing off against who.
We are still roughly a month and a half shy of the start of free agency in the WNBA and a month before teams can start talking turkey with players. The list of free agents this period reads like a who’s who of WNBA All-Stars including Jonquel Jones, A’ja Wilson (finally coming off her rookie deal), Sylvia Fowles, Liz Cambage, Tina Charles, Stefanie Dolson and Elizabeth Williams.
Speaking of All-Star, despite the constricted nature of this season’s schedule, the WNBA still plans to go forward with an All-Star Game for the 2022 season.
It was announced that the game will occur the weekend of July 8-10 with other All-Star related events taking place prior to the gameday of July 10. The last two All-Star Games have occurred at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, the home court of the Aces. Will Sin City make it a 3-peat of All-Star festivities or will another venue play host to the WNBA’s midseason festivities?
In an effort to minimize these travel issues, WNBA teams will play back-to-backs in the same city in the same format that teams did so for the 2021 season.
One example of this will be early in the season when on May 15 and 17, the Fever host the Dream for back to backs in Indiana – both at Gainbridge Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco/Bankers Life Fieldhouse). Another will be later that month when the Sun host the Wings for back-to-backs at Mohegan Sun Arena. Another will be in June when the Mystics host the Mercury for back-to-backs at the DC ESA.
A big storyline when we get closer to the playoffs is how the compressed schedule will flow into the WNBA’s new playoff format – which will see a best-of-3 for the first round, the elimination of byes and the top seed getting the first two games at home. Also, there will be best-of-fives for the semifinals and Finals.
Because of the FIBA World Cup (which commences on Sept. 22), the last possible day for the conclusion of the WNBA Finals will literally be the day prior to the start of the World Cup. This could potentially also mean a delay or altering of how a championship parade/rally would be organized in celebrating the 2022 WNBA champion.
It also could affect how World Cup rosters, particularly Team USA’s, could look like at the outset of the FIBA tourney. WNBA scribes will also have their work cut out for them, working on Finals pieces as well as FIBA previews at the same time.