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Thursday, September 19, 2013
TWSS: Your WNBA playoff primer

By Sarah Spain
espnW.com

Elena Delle Donne
Rookie sensation Elena Delle Donne led the top-seeded Sky to their first-ever playoff berth and helped give the WNBA a big boost in attendance and interest.

As far as most Chicago fans know, the WNBA season ends with the Sky's final regular-season game. No playoffs, no champion, just a lengthy offseason before it all starts up again next summer. (Sounds familiar, eh Cubs fans?)

But can you really blame 'em? For each of the Chicago Sky's first seven seasons, they watched the postseason from afar, as if it was some sort of dreamland reserved only for powerhouses like the Liberty, Sparks and Storm. Try as they might, the Sky never could get past that last regular-season game.

Until now, that is. When the 2013 WNBA playoffs kick off, the Sky will be one of eight teams battling for the title. On Thursday, the Dream host the Mystics and the Sparks host the Mercury. On Friday, the Lynx host the Storm and the Sky  welcome the Fever to town.

Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel of espnW have written up detailed breakdowns of each matchup, but if you're a Chicago fan just learning what this whole postseason thing is, or you're a WNBA newbie tuning in for the first time, here's a quick and easy look at the players to watch this postseason.

The future is now

Brittney Griner is one of the most famous female basketball players of all time, and she's just a rookie. The 6-foot-8 dunking center will get her first taste of the WNBA playoffs when her Mercury take on the Sparks on Thursday night.

Brittney Griner
The Mercury's Brittney Griner battled injury during her rookie season, and the top overall draft pick feels she has something to prove during the playoffs.

Griner likely feels she has something to prove this postseason, as supersized expectations resulted in her fine rookie year feeling a bit underwhelming. Her Baylor Bears were upset in the NCAA tournament and, once with the Mercury, she struggled to adjust to the physical play in the pros and missed time with injuries. Statistically, she's been good, but not great, and she failed to win a single Rookie of the Month award. (Plus, she never did get that NBA tryout with Mavs owner Mark Cuban.)

Despite all that, Griner's rookie year has been a tremendous success for the league. As The New York Times noted earlier this week, the Mercury led the league in new season-ticket holders and their ticket revenue increased by 35 percent. League ticket sales on the whole have gone up, television viewership has gone up, and traffic on the WNBA's website is up, too.

Chicago rookie Elena Delle Donne has been a big part of the league's success this year, as well. The second pick in the 2013 draft, Delle Donne has turned the underachieving Sky into the top-seeded team in the East.

Those Rookie of the Month awards Griner missed out on? Delle Donne won them. Every single one of 'em. The first rookie ever to garner the most votes for the All-Star Game, the girl with center size and guard skills helped the Sky's attendance grow by 17 percent, the largest increase of any team in the league. A shoo-in for WNBA Rookie of the Year, she's in the MVP discussion, as well.

With two of the so-called "3 To See" rookies active in the postseason (Skylar Diggins' Shock missed the cut), fans will get an early look at the incredible talent sure to dominate this league for years to come.

Front-runners

For the third straight year Maya Moore and the Lynx posted the best regular-season record in the league, and they've got a good shot at making the WNBA Finals for a third straight year, as well. After winning it all in 2011, Minnesota fell to the Fever in last year's Finals, but MVP candidate Moore seems poised to get her team back on top.

Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings and the defending-champion Fever are only a No. 4 seed, but don't count them out.

The Lynx are a spectacular 15-2 at the Target Center this year, so the home-court advantage they sewed up throughout the playoffs could come up big down the stretch.

Tamika Catchings and the defending-champion Fever don't have the same advantage. After a season plagued by injury, the 16-18 Fever enter the postseason as a No. 4 seed. Facing the top-seeded Sky in the opening round, they're technically the underdog, but the 2012 champs beat Chicago three out of four times this season, and they have tons of playoff experience under their belts.

Catchings, last season's Finals MVP and the 2011 season MVP, is a force on both ends of the floor, and winning her first title last year has likely only fueled her fire. And you can't forget, Chicago is not only home to the Sky but is a second home to Catchings, too. Fans of the former Miss Illinois Basketball will no doubt find their way to Allstate Arena to cheer on the Fever.

Sentimental favorites

Sparks superstar Candace Parker has quite a résumé. The first female high school player to dunk, she's a two-time state champion, a two-time NCAA champion, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, the first player to win WNBA Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, and, this year, the WNBA All-Star MVP.

The only thing Parker is missing is a WNBA title. In just her second full season since 2008, she's put together another MVP-worthy year and seems focused on the finish line. And that one-point loss to the Lynx in the final game of last season's Western Conference championship will undoubtedly be on her mind when the postseason begins.

While plenty of fans will be rooting for Parker to get that first ring, others are hoping the Storm's Tina Thompson gets a fifth. The first player chosen in the first WNBA draft back in 1997, Thompson will retire this year after one last postseason run. The last active member of the league's inaugural class, the 37-year-old forward has won four championships, is a nine-time All-Star, and will retire as the league's all-time scoring leader and second-leading rebounder.

The No. 4-seed Storm are in the playoffs for a 10th straight season, and though they're the underdogs, wouldn't it be a fine finish to Thompson's career if they could stun the league with a title?