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WNBA Playoffs Start Tonight. Here's A Preview Of What To Expect

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The WNBA playoffs are kicking off with a pair of first-round single elimination games. And one of the teams playing - the New York Liberty, the team that clinched a place in the playoffs by a technicality. Their last game was Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Barclays Center crowd, deservedly so, rises to their feet in honor of the effort that their squad put forth tonight.

CORNISH: So to talk more about what to expect, we've reached Lyndsey D'Arcangelo of The Athletic. She joins us from her home in Buffalo, N.Y.

Welcome back.

LYNDSEY D'ARCANGELO: Hey. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So I hear it's a technicality. And yet in that tape, he's saying, deservedly so. How did the New York Liberty squeak into the playoffs?

D'ARCANGELO: Well, they were tied with the Los Angeles Sparks and the Washington Mystics. Both - all three teams had the same record, and so it came down to a tie-breaker. And for the New York Liberty to get in, they had to beat the Mystics, which they did. But then the Los Angeles Sparks and the Mystics had - both had to lose over the weekend, which they did.

CORNISH: So this Thursday night match-up - Dallas Wings and the Chicago Sky. What are you going to be looking for?

D'ARCANGELO: Well, both teams are holding their opponents to about 81 points on the defensive side. So I think it's going to be whoever scores more, obviously, but I think it's going to be a close game. I think, you know, these teams are pretty - statistically-wise, they're pretty even. They're six and seven in the seating. So I think it's actually going to be a close game.

CORNISH: So for people's background, the reigning champs, the Seattle Storm - they're also in the playoffs. But they're going to play a little bit later in the tournament. Are they expected to win again? What's going on?

D'ARCANGELO: Well, I mean, Seattle's up there, right? They're the reigning champs, so you can't count them out. But they may be without one of their best players in Breanna Stewart. She had a foot injury towards the end of the season, didn't play the last two games of the season. So without her, you know, they're going to be missing her offensive and defensive production. But they still have a chance. They still have Sue Bird. They still have Jewell Loyd. So you can't count them out just yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't make it back to the finals.

CORNISH: Lyndsey, for a time, we were watching how the NBA was affected by the pandemic, by COVID, whether it's injuries or just kind of being in the bubble. Is there anything to talk about there with the WNBA?

D'ARCANGELO: As far as the pandemic goes, I think you look at the WNBA and how they've handled it, and they are probably the best pro sports league out there that has handled everything with the pandemic from the bubble last season to every - I want to - I don't know the percentage of how many players are vaccinated, but it's certainly way up there. And there's been no incidents that you've seen in other pro leagues so far this entire season. So I think they've done a bang-up job, and they should be commended for it.

CORNISH: That means that there's been ample time for good players to stand out. Who are you watching?

D'ARCANGELO: Oh, goodness. There's so many amazing players in this league. My eyes are going to be on the Connecticut Sun and my vote for MVP this season, Jonquel Jones. She's just been playing at another level. And I'm excited to see what they can do. They haven't lost a game since August 12, and I think they're going to ride that momentum all the way to the Championship and perhaps a WNBA trophy.

CORNISH: That's Lyndsey D'Arcangelo with The Athletic speaking to us about the WNBA playoffs, which are kicking off tonight, Thursday night.

Thanks so much.

D'ARCANGELO: Thanks again.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEA AND CAKE SONG, "JACKING THE BALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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