The #WNBAPlayoffs resume Friday night with two games, and the New York Liberty taking the court for the first time with an argument to be made they should be favorites to win the WNBA title and not the Las Vegas Aces. The second-seeded Liberty are 9-point home favorites for Game 1 of their best-of-3 series against the No. 7 Washington Mystics with a 7:30 p.m. ET tip on ESPN2. The total opened at 166.5 but has dropped to 162.5 and is the top play via the SBIA Model.
Las Vegas set a WNBA record with 34 wins in the regular season, crushed Chicago 87-59 in its playoff opener on Wednesday and is -170 to repeat as WNBA champion. However, New York finished only two games behind the Aces and won two of the final three matchups in the regular-season series fairly handily. The Aces lost back-to-back games once this season (to Washington and New York), while the Liberty did not. New York is +145 to win its first title and could only face Las Vegas in the finals.
Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb has been named 2023 WNBA Executive of the Year following an offseason in which he landed 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a three-team trade and signed 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and seven-time WNBA assists leader Courtney Vandersloot as free agents. Stewart could win another MVP Award this year as she finished third in the league in scoring (23.0 ppg; career best), third in rebounding (9.3 rpg) and third in blocks (1.6 bpg).
Her four 40-point games in 2023 set a WNBA single-season record, while tying the all-time WNBA record for career 40-point games. Stewart was named the 2023 AP Player of the Year earlier this week for a record third time as well as to the All-AP First Team for the sixth time in her career.
Washington finished tied with Atlanta and Minnesota at 19-21 but lost the tiebreakers to slide to the seventh seed instead of as high as fifth (where the Dream are). For nearly a month, the team played without three of starters in Shakira Austin, Elena Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins.
The latter two are back but Austin (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) will miss at least the first two games of this series. Austin, the No. 3 pick in the 2022 draft, has appeared in only 19 games this season due to a hip issue. Forward Myisha Hines-Allen has been starting in place for Austin.
The Mystics closed the regular-season slate with a 90-88 upset at New York on Sunday. Brittney Sykes won it at the buzzer, catching an inbounds pass from Natasha Cloud in the lane and throwing it in while in midair to end the Liberty's eight-game winning streak. The teams split four games overall, but the Mystics covered the spread in all four.
If Washington (or any lower seed) wins one of the first two games on the road, the series-deciding winner-take-all contest would be held on the Mystics’ (or any lower seed) home court. #BallOnOurTerms is +4500 to win the NBA title.