The Storm, which is widely considered the front-runner to win the WNBA title, will open the league’s condensed 22-game season with a game against the New York Liberty on July 25 in Bradenton, Fla.
The matchup, which will air at 9 a.m. PT on ESPN, features 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart and 11-time league All-Star Sue Bird making their return after a year-long layoff due to injury against No. 1 overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.
The Storm-Liberty game tips off a triple-header followed by a matchup between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury and concluding with the defending champion Washington Mystics playing the Indiana Fever.
Each of the league’s 12 teams plays every other team twice during a 50-day window at WNBA’s ‘bubble’ at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. to comprise the abbreviated schedule, which concludes Sept. 12.
The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs, which includes single-elimination games in the first and second rounds followed by a best-of-five series in the semifinals and finals.
“The lack of a home-court advantage is really to me what makes this unique and makes this fun,” Bird said. “I’m not sure it’s going to matter whether you finish eighth or first or whatever. What’s a single-elimination game if it’s not on your home court? That to me is where the season gets interesting.”
Some highlights of the Storm schedule:
— July 30 against the Washington Mystics, is a matchup between the league’s previous two champions. Seattle won the title in 2018.
— Aug. 1 is a rematch against the Los Angeles Sparks, which eliminated the Storm in the second round of the playoffs last year.
— Aug. 8 versus the Phoenix Mercury and WNBA’s all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi.
The ESPN networks will broadcast 24 regular-season games during the first half of the season – including three games on ABC, six on ESPN and 15 on ESPN2. ESPN game coverage for the second half of the season will be released at a later date.
CBS Sports will air 40 regular-season telecasts, including seven featuring the Storm.
Unlike previous years, there are no back-to-back games this season. However, the Storm’s longest span between games is three days.
“It’s really important that we get out of the gate fast because it’s a sprint,” coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “We want to get out of the gate playing well and continue that through the short season.”
The WNBA is dedicating the July 25-26 opening weekend to the Black Lives Matter movement with players wearing team uniforms displaying “Say Her Name” and Breonna Taylor’s name to raise awareness of police brutality and racial violence.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician, was killed on March 13 when plainclothes Louisville police officers broke down the door to her apartment in an attempted drug sting and shot her eight times.
Game courts at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, will also feature a Black Lives Matter logo.