NEW YORK (AP) The WNBA changed its playoff format this season to ensure the best teams advanced and to create more of a buzz for the postseason.
While the playoffs don't tip-off until Wednesday, the change definitely made for an exciting finish to the regular season. Half of the eight seeds weren't determined until the final day of the regular season Sunday and only one game separated fifth place from eighth.
''This format is great as every game counts,'' said Atlanta's Elizabeth Williams. ''We literally didn't know our seeds until the last game. I like the one and done, it's kind of like March Madness in that respect.''
Article continues below ...
Williams' one and done reference was in regards to the first two rounds of the playoffs, which will be single elimination contests with fifth-seeded Indiana hosting No. 8 Phoenix and seventh-seed Seattle playing at No. 6 Atlanta on Wednesday. The second round begins Saturday with New York and Chicago waiting – and it will also be single elimination.
The eight teams with the best record qualified for the playoffs, regardless of conference affiliation. And they were seeded according to their record.
''It definitely gives you a feeling that anyone has a chance to win,'' said Seattle guard Sue Bird. ''In the past if you were the four-seed in the conference you knew you'd have a really tough time getting out of the opening round against the No. 1.''
Teams will be reseeded after every round. And while it turned out that four teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences made the playoffs, the top teams with the best two records were both from the Western Conference. However, they won't play until potentially the WNBA Finals.
''The new WNBA playoff format is extremely fan-friendly, because we're able to showcase across the best eight teams, full-stop, regardless of conference,'' said ESPN vice president for women's sports programming Carol Stiff.
Minnesota and Los Angeles had the best marks all season long and earned them byes until the semifinals. The Lynx are looking to become the league's first back-to-back champions since Los Angeles repeated in 2001-02.
That's the last time that the Sparks won a title, a drought they are trying to end.
''We know it's going to be a series as opposed to one game,'' Sparks coach Brian Agler said of getting the bye. ''It's unchartered waters for everybody and I like it. I think it adds an element of urgency and an element of suspense throughout the season.''
Agler's team last played on Sept. 16 and won't play against until the 28th of the month.
''The dynamic will create an extremely competitive atmosphere,'' said Los Angeles' Nneka Ogwumike. ''There's something for everyone to look forward to, the fans and the players.''