A few months ago, Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky defeated the Phoenix Mercury to win the 2021 WNBA Finals and capture their first championship. Now, it's officially time to turn the page and start looking ahead. On Thursday, the league released the full schedule for the 2022 regular season, which is set to begin on May 6. 

For the first time, teams will play 36 regular-season games, up from 32 games last season and the previous high of 34. "Series" scheduling will be introduced to accommodate more games and cut down on travel. In addition, the Commissioner's Cup will return for a second season, with the championship of that in-season competition set for July 26. The All-Star Game, set for July 10, will also be back for the 18th time. 

As we start preparing for a new season, here's a closer look at everything you need to know about the schedule release:

When will the 2022 season start?

Opening night for 2022 is set for Friday, May 6. There will be four games that night, including a showdown between the Los Angeles Sparks and defending champion Sky. Plus, the Phoenix Mercury will face the Las Vegas Aces in a rematch of their semifinal playoff series, and the Seattle Storm will host the Minnesota Lynx.

In all, there will be nine games featuring all 12 teams in an action-packed opening weekend. 

Why is the regular season condensed?

A typical WNBA regular season runs from the middle of May until the middle of September, with the playoffs concluding sometime in October. This summer, however, things will be a little bit different. As noted, opening night has been moved up until May 6, and the regular-season finale will be on Aug. 14. That's nearly a month shorter than usual. 

Why? The 2022 FIBA Women's World Cup in Australia is set for next year and will begin on Sept. 22. Because the WNBA plays in the summer, unlike other major women's basketball leagues, it has to adjust its season in certain years to ensure that players will be able to join their national teams for major tournaments. During Olympic years the league takes a mid-season break, but in World Cup years the season is condensed. 

By concluding the regular season on Aug. 14, the WNBA will have over a month to complete the playoffs. Players who make the WNBA Finals may end up missing the preparation phase for the World Cup, but they still should be able to play if selected for their national team. Team USA has won three straight gold medals at the World Cup. 

Are there any other changes to the schedule this season?

Yes. Most notably, the league has introduced a new 36-game schedule. That's two more than the previous high of 34 games, and four more than last season's pandemic-shortened 32-game schedule. This increase has been in the works for a number of years, but was previously pushed back due to COVID-19. 

In order to accommodate the extra games and cut down on travel, the league will be introducing "series"-style matchups. At various points in the season, some teams may play back-to-back games against each other in the same city. This should make things easier, especially in a condensed time frame. 

Is the Commissioner's Cup returning?

The Commissioner's Cup will indeed be back for its second season. Introduced last summer, the in-season competition was something of a disappointment. Fans and players alike were confused about the format, and there was little hype for the championship game, which was played at a neutral location and ended in a blowout victory for the Seattle Storm over the Connecticut Sun. 

During the first half of the regular season, 10 games -- the first home and road matchup against conference opponents -- will be counted as "Cup" games. The team from each conference with the best record in said "Cup" games will then meet in the Commissioner's Cup championship game, which is set for July 26. A lucrative prize pool will once again be on the line. 

When is the All-Star Game?

The 2022 WNBA All-Star Game will be played on Sunday, July 10. Other All-Star Weekend activities are planned for July 9, but further details have not yet been announced. In addition, a format for the All-Star Game has not been determined. Last year was Team USA against Team WNBA, but it's unlikely that will return in a non-Olympic year.