Sunday, June 23

WNBA Playoff Preview: The Aces and Liberty Are On a Collision Course

Two superteams, the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty, dominated the W.N.B.A. season, as expected. They were so good that only two others teams in the 12-team league even managed a winning record.

A final between them has the potential to be a classic. But first, they will have to make it through the six other teams in the W.N.B.A. playoffs.

The first game of the best-of-three quarterfinals, Minnesota at Connecticut, is on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern, with Chicago at Las Vegas following at 10 p.m. The Washington-New York and Atlanta-Dallas series will start on Friday.

The best-of-five semifinals are scheduled from Sept. 24 to Oct. 3, and the finals will start Oct. 8 and run through Oct. 20, if all five games are necessary.

The big two teams, the Aces (34-6 in the regular season) and the Liberty (32-8), are prohibitive favorites over the Chicago Sky and the Washington Mystics, though the Mystics have their former M.V.P., Elena Delle Donne, back from injury, and the Sky have a history of deep playoff runs after subpar regular seasons.

The league’s third-best team has clearly been the Connecticut Sun (27-13), which would be expected to beat the Minnesota Lynx. In the final series, the Dallas Wings were three games better than the Atlanta Dream in the regular season and have home-court advantage, so should be the favorite.

The Aces or the Liberty, the Liberty or the Aces? That’s been the question all season.

The Aces are the reigning champions, and they have been even better this year. The Liberty managed to land Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot in the off-season to soar from an average team to greatness.

The teams split their four regular-season league meetings, but the Liberty won a fifth game, the final of the new Commissioner’s Cup. The betting odds favor the Aces, but, in truth, it looks too close to call.

Could the Sun spoil the party? A 1-6 record against the top two teams doesn’t bode well. The other five teams in the playoffs would need a run of form not seen all season to win the title.

ABC and the ESPN channels will be telecasting the games.

Unlike in the N.B.A., travel in the W.N.B.A. is mostly commercial, which has been a point of contention between the players and the league. This year, the league announced that, for the playoffs at least, teams would fly charter.

But there are limits, according to news accounts: Charter flights would be allowed only once between series, allowing a team, for example, to fly home from a series by charter but not onward to the next series.

But a W.N.B.A. spokesperson said: “All flights will be charter throughout the WNBA postseason.”

Just about every Ace who steps on the court. The star forward and reigning M.V.P. A’ja Wilson (22.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game, and a record-tying 53-point game) is complemented by the sharpshooting guard trio of Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray (seven assists per game).

A longer W.N.B.A. season this year allowed Stewart to break the league record for points scored, though Jewell Loyd of Seattle broke her record a few days later. In addition to Jones and Vandersloot, the Liberty have Sabrina Ionescu, the top 3-point shooter in the league.

The Sun are led by the versatile forward Alyssa Thomas, who led the league in rebounds, and nearly in assists. And she recorded six triple-doubles this season, a league record.

Candace Parker joined the Aces as a splashy off-season signing, but the two-time M.V.P. has been sidelined indefinitely with a fractured foot. She played the first half of the season but has been out since early July.

It would have been fun to see the No. 1 draft pick and probable rookie of the year Aliyah Boston in action, but her Indiana Fever did not make the playoffs.

After 10 straight seasons in the playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury finished last and did not qualify. That means no playoffs for Brittney Griner, who rejoined the league after spending 10 months in Russian prison on drug charges. Remarkably, she returned to make the All-Star team and average 17.5 points a game, just about her career average.