The WNBA will open its 25th anniversary season on May 14 and feature every team in action over the first weekend of play. In total there will be 100 national telecasts on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, CBS Sports Network and NBA TV as well as games on Twitter and Facebook.
The league will launch its "Count It" season on Friday night and roll out two marquee games on Saturday that include Candace Parker's debut with the Chicago Sky, Elena Delle Donne's return for the Washington Mystics and a 2020 Finals rematch.
They are two of seven matchups previewed below to make sure the TV is turned to in 2021. Not listed is whenever GOAT and Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi sees that bubble referee on the court again.
WNBA releases 'series' model for schedule
The WNBA released the full schedule on Tuesday that will see teams and stars return to their home markets after the 2020 bubble season in Florida. Fans will be allowed in arenas based on federal, state and local health and safety protocols. That information will be announced by individual teams.
There are a few changes given the COVID-19 pandemic and the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for July.
Instead of the planned 36 games, each team will play 32 split evenly between home and road matchups. Each team will play three games against 10 opponents, and two games against an 11th opponent from the opposite conference. They'll be played in a "series" format to reduce travel, which brings added drama to key rematches and rivalries.
The league-wide Olympics break will be from July 15 through Aug. 11 and the season finale is scheduled for Sept. 19.
It will be easier than ever to watch the WNBA this summer. Google will present "25 for 25," a 25-game schedule of games on the ESPN properties. The WNBA and CBS Sports extended their relationship and will air 40 games, including three on CBS proper and ones on Paramount+. WNBA partners Twitter and Facebook will also offer a slate of games.
May 15: Chicago Sky at Washington Mystics, 1 p.m. ET on ABC
July 10: Washington Mystics at Chicago Sky, 8 p.m. ET (WNBA League Pass)
Candace Parker made the largest splash in free agency and will make her Chicago Sky debut in a prime Saturday afternoon window on opening weekend. The two-time MVP (2008, 2013) won her first Defensive Player of the Year award last season and is returning to her hometown.
In team terms, the Sky are hoping to get over the playoff hump. Chicago went 12-10 in the regular season, fell to a No. 6 seed after a strong start and bowed out of the playoffs in the first round to the Connecticut Sun. With Courtney Vandersloot at the point, and now Parker in the mix, Chicago and head coach James Wade are eyeing a title run.
It will also be the return for two other former MVPs. Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 and '19 MVP, underwent back surgery after the Mystics won the title and opted out of the 2020 season. She'll be joined by Tina Charles, who won MVP in 2012. Charles will debut with the Mystics after the bombshell trade from the New York Liberty ahead of the 2020 draft. She sat out on a medical exemption.
The Mystics struggled with a very different roster than their 2019 champion group, but got the final playoff spot.
May 15: Las Vegas Aces at Seattle Storm, 3 p.m. ET on ABC
May 18: Las Vegas Aces at Seattle Storm, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2
June 27: Seattle Storm at Las Vegas Aces, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Tip-off weekend will feature a WNBA Finals rematch, though the Storm and Aces had very different offseasons. The Storm, which won their second title in three years, return point guard Sue Bird and former MVP Breanna Stewart. They're without two defensive stars. Alysha Clark signed with the Mystics in free agency, but is out for the season with a foot injury, and Natasha Howard ended up in New York via trade.
The Aces, which lost the finals in three games, will see what happens with additions around reigning MVP A'ja Wilson, who did everything she could in the series. Australian post Liz Cambage will be back and Dearica Hamby, a two-time Sixth Woman of the Year, should return from a knee injury that kept her out of the finals.
May 28: Los Angeles Sparks at Chicago Sky, 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
May 30: Los Angeles Sparks at Chicago Sky, 6 p.m. ET on Facebook Watch
June 5: Chicago Sky at Los Angeles Sparks, 3 p.m. ET on ABC
Parker will meet her old team — the only team she had ever known up to this point — on Memorial Day weekend.
Parker, 35, spent 13 years in Los Angeles after the Sparks drafted her No. 1 overall in 2008 and her return to the city will be special. The decorated forward brought the city the 2016 WNBA title and always kept the Sparks in championship contention.
The Sparks look vastly different than years past, though they will have Nneka Ogwumike for Parker to battle with down low.
May 29: Atlanta Dream at New York Liberty, 2 p.m. ET (WNBA League Pass)
June 26: New York Liberty at Atlanta Dream, 7 p.m. ET (League Pass)
June 29: New York Liberty at Atlanta Dream, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN3
The Liberty will undoubtably be a team to watch throughout the season with 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu back from an ankle injury. She played 2 1/2 games in her debut campaign before exiting the bubble, and basketball fans never got to see what the young Liberty squad could be.
That injury came against the Atlanta Dream and that year's No. 4 overall pick, Chennedy Carter, who also dealt with an ankle injury later in the season. They will meet again in must-see action beginning on Memorial Day weekend.
The stars will headline this one, but these are also two teams on the rise. Either or both could steal a playoff spot if things come together. And they're each debuting new homes this season after the pandemic put that on pause. The Liberty will play at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, an arena fitting of Ionescu's triple-double queen status. The Dream moved into The Gateway Center at College Park in Atlanta.
June 25: Las Vegas Aces at Minnesota Lynx, 8 p.m. ET on Facebook Watch
July 9: Minnesota Lynx at Las Vegas Aces, 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3
Las Vegas' A'ja Wilson and Minnesota's Napheesa Collier are two of the league's brightest, and most talented, young stars. That goes beyond the court with their refreshing "Tea With A & Phee" podcast launched during the bubble season.
They have been friends since their U18 USA Basketball days and starred on two of the decade's powerhouses in Connecticut (Collier) and South Carolina (Wilson). The podcast is purely them and they don't shy away from "spilling the tea," whether it be as simple as hating banana bread, poking fun at Collier's shimmy or the going-ons of bubble life.
Watching Wilson and Collier play is fun. Hearing the tea afterward will be even better.
Aug. 18: Seattle Storm at New York Liberty, 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sport Network
Aug. 20: Seattle Storm at New York Liberty, 7 p.m. ET (League Pass)
Sept. 2: New York Liberty at Seattle Storm, 10 p.m. ET (League Pass)
Where Natasha Howard goes, WNBA championships have followed. The 2019 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year ended up in New York in a three-team trade during free agency and will face her former squad for the first time in August.
Howard, a 6-foot-2 forward, was a key contributor on the Storm's 2018 and 2020 title teams. She also won the trophy with the Minnesota Lynx in 2017.
The series will center around Storm point guard Sue Bird and the Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu's WNBA debut came against the Storm and the No. 1 pick understandably struggled, at least in relative terms. By the time August rolls around, both squads should have found their groove with new contributors and rosters. It will be more like the season-opener fans hoped to see in 2020.
Sept. 2: Chicago Sky at Las Vegas Aces, 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV
Sept. 5: Las Vegas Aces at Chicago Sky, 1 p.m. ET on ABC
What a treat a late-season Sky vs. Aces matchup is going to be with playoff positioning likely on the line. It's highly doubtful the WNBA did this on purpose, but it's much appreciated it turned out that way.
This is one of the best active rivalries in the WNBA that officially launched with the jaw-dropping "Hamby Heave" by two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby. It knocked the Sky out of the 2019 playoffs in the final seconds and their two bubble matchups were just as heated and competitive. The Sky won both by two points each time.
The 2021 edition will showcase the return of Liz Cambage, the trash-talking extraordinaire who opted out of last season. And it will be the first meeting between former teammates Candace Parker (Sky) and Chelsea Gray (Aces), who both left the Sparks in free agency.
Parker appointed her close friend Gray "point gawd" for her vision and assists talents. She reiterated last year it was no disrespect to the Sky's Courtney Vandersloot, who became the first player to average 10 assists per season. But it did rev up the fan bases of the two teams and eyes will be on Vandersloot feeding Parker and Gray feeding Wilson and Cambage.
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