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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Las Vegas top WNBA playoff seed, league debuts new format

    Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, right, battles Minnesota Lynx forward Aerial Powers, center, for a rebound in Sunday’s WNBA game at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun topped the Lynx 90-83 on what was the final day of the regular season, with the playoffs slated to start Thursday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Minnesota Lynx guard Moriah Jefferson, right, shoots over Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman in Sunday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray, left, passes around Seattle Storm's Tina Charles during the first half of a WNBA game Sunday in Las Vegas. The Aces have earned the top seed for the upcoming WNBA playoffs. (Sam Morris/AP Photo)

    A'ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces will begin their quest for their first WNBA title a lot sooner than top seeds have done in previous few years.

    The Aces clinched homecourt throughout the playoff on the regular season's final day by earning the top seed in the WNBA postseason that begins Wednesday.

    Before this year, Las Vegas would have a bye until the semifinals. The league changed the playoff format to best-of-three series in the quarterfinals instead of the single-elimination games in the opening two rounds it had been using since 2016.

    “We’re not done yet. This is the beginning,” Wilson said after the Aces clinched the top seed on Sunday, earning a quarterfinal-round matchup with No. 8 Phoenix. "The regular season was nice, but now it’s real. It doesn’t matter what number is by your name in the playoffs. It could be anybody’s night on any given day.

    “It’s playoffs, either you want it or you don’t.”

    The top four seeds — Las Vegas, Chicago, Connecticut and Seattle — will all host the first two games of their series with a potential decisive game three on the home court of the lower seed.

    No. 2 Chicago meets No. 7 New York, No. 3 Connecticut takes on No. 6 Dallas (8 p.m. Thursday, Mohegan Sun Arena) and No. 4 Seattle faces No. 5 Washington.

    Seattle’s Breanna Stewart was happy that the league changed the playoff format.

    “I think in the WNBA all teams are deserving of a series," she said. "It's a respect for the teams that make it. Striving for greatness throughout the whole season shouldn't finish with one game on the line. We're a professional league. It should be exciting and will be interesting with the best-of-three.”

    Stewart will try to help teammate Sue Bird head into retirement with a fifth WNBA championship. The Storm have a tough first-round matchup against Washington.

    “This league continues to elevate the game and get better and better,” Stewart said. “Everybody knows there's players on each team that can go off."

    Health status

    Dallas played without Arike Ogunbowale (abdominal issue) the last few games and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi was sidelined down the stretch with a quad injury. Both teams will be hard-pressed to advance without them in the lineup. Phoenix also could still be without guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who missed the last couple of games because of personal reasons.

    Back-to-back?

    Chicago is trying to be come the first team to repeat as champion since Los Angeles won consecutive titles in 2001 and 2002. The Sky host New York in the opening round.

    Exciting finish

    New York and Phoenix didn't secure postseason berths until the final day of the regular season. The Liberty knocked off Atlanta and Phoenix advanced when Minnesota lost to Connecticut earlier in the day, ending the career of WNBA great Sylvia Fowles.

    Under the radar

    The Connecticut Sun finished with the league's third-best record, behind Las Vegas and Chicago. The Sun closed out the season with eight wins in their final 10 games and are seeking to capture the franchise's first title.

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