NBA Photos/Getty Images

The unique 2020 WNBA season has reached the playoffs, which despite all the other changes necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will be played as normal. That means a single-elimination first round, which gets underway on Tuesday night. In the second game of a double-header, we'll see the Phoenix Mercury take on the defending champion Washington Mystics. 

Phoenix's season hasn't gone to plan, and they're without Brittney Griner (left the bubble for personal reasons) and Bria Hartley (torn ACL), but they surged in the second half of the season, and only narrowly missed out on a top-four seed. Washington, meanwhile, snuck into the playoffs with a late-season turnaround of their own, as they won their last four games, and five of their last six to get the final spot.

Viewing information

Date: Tuesday, Sept. 15 | Time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: IMG Academy -- Bradenton, Florida
TV: ESPN2 I Live stream: fuboTV (try for free

How they got here

Mercury: The Mercury have had a strange season. They got off to a 4-2 start, before going 2-5 over their next seven games. Then, as they were hovering around .500 in the middle of the season, Brittney Griner left the bubble for personal reasons, and Bria Hartley tore her ACL. All of a sudden they were not only in a disappointing position in the standings, but without two of their best players. But instead of falling apart, they went 7-2 down the stretch to finish 13-9, and nearly stole a top-four seed. They couldn't quite overtake the Lynx, however, and had to settle for the No. 5 spot.

Mystics: Washington has had a similarly chaotic season. Expectations were low after Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders and Tina Charles all decided to sit out the season, but they won their first three games in largely dominant fashion. Then they went 1-12 over the next month, and their hopes of making the playoffs, let alone defending their title, seemed over -- especially after Aerial Powers went down with a season-ending hamstring injury. But they turned it on down the stretch, winning five of their last six games to overtake the Dallas Wings for the eighth and final playoff spot. 

Players to watch

Diana Taurasi -- G, Mercury: There isn't much to say about the league's all-time leading scorer that hasn't already been said. She can create offense from anywhere on the floor, and there's no one you'd rather have on your side in a must-win game.

Skylar Diggins-Smith -- G, Mercury: The other half of the Mercury's electric backcourt, SDS has been playing terrific basketball down the stretch, and will have some extra motivation as she looks to win the first playoff game of her career. 

Emma Meesseman -- F, Mystics: Meesseman put together one of the best playoff runs we've ever seen last season, en route to winning Finals MVP. If Washington wants to advance to the second round, they're going to need her to recapture that form.

Myisha Hines-Allen -- F, Mystics: Playing in a much bigger role due to the Mystics' absences, Hines-Allen put up career-highs across the board, and was one of the best stories this season. Her size and versatility make her extremely tough to guard. 


Single-elimination playoff games are often difficult to predict, but this one feels like an exception. The streak the Mystics went on to close the season and get into the playoffs was awesome. They really picked things up on the defensive end, and deserve a lot of credit for the resilience they showed after a 4-12 start. After being in must-win mode for a few weeks, there's no question Washington will be locked in for this one.

Unfortunately for them, they don't have Diana Taurasi. The legendary shooting guard is 13-1 in win-or-go-home games, and the only loss was to the eventual champion Seattle Storm in 2018. Picking against Taurasi in these situations is foolish, but especially when she has the better team. Over their 7-2 stretch to close the season, the Mercury had the third-best net rating in the league, outscoring teams by 5.8 points per 100 possessions. 

Pick: Mercury