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WNBA playoffs set to begin with new format

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NEW YORK (AP) The WNBA playoffs are ready to start with their own version of March Madness. Well sort of.

The league changed the playoff format this season, adopting single-elimination games in the first two rounds before going to a best-of-five series in the semifinals.

''I'm excited for it,'' said Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler. ''No one knows yet how it will work out, but it should be exciting.''

The Sparks and Minnesota Lynx have byes until the semifinals after posting the top two records in the league's 20th season. Minnesota will try to become the WNBA's first repeat champion since Los Angeles did it in 2001-02. That's the last time the Sparks won a title, a skid they hope to end this season.

Here are a few things to look for when the postseason begins Wednesday with the Atlanta Dream hosting the Seattle Storm and the Indiana Fever taking on the Phoenix Mercury:

INJURY STATUS: Elena Delle Donne is sidelined after having surgery on her right thumb last week. The Sky have found ways to win without their star, clinching the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye. It might be difficult for Chicago to make a deep run without the 2015 WNBA MVP. ... New York has been beset by injuries toward the end of the season. Tanisha Wright (knee) played a few games before the regular season ended. Kiah Stokes hasn't played since Aug. 26 because of a hip injury. Shoni Schimmel also has been out with a concussion. The Liberty need to be healthy to have a chance to make it to the Finals.

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SUSPENDED: The WNBA handed out a one-game suspension to Atlanta's Tiffany Hayes for accruing her seventh technical foul in the Dream's regular season finale on Sunday. Under league rules, a player is automatically suspended one game when that number of technical is reached. The count is reset for the playoffs with a player receiving a suspension for a fourth technical in the playoffs.

CURTAIN CALL: The stellar careers of Swin Cash , Tamika Catchings and Penny Taylor will end at some point over the next month. All three hope it will come after winning another WNBA Championship. Catchings and Taylor will square off on Wednesday when the Indiana Fever host the Phoenix Mercury in the opening round.

Catchings won her lone title in 2012 while Cash won in 2003, 2006 and 2010. Taylor helped the Mercury to championships in 2007, 2009 and 2014.

POSTSEASON SUCCESS: Breanna Stewart only lost one game in the postseason in college and that came in the Big East tournament her freshman year. She was a perfect 24 for 24 in the NCAA Tournament to lead UConn to four consecutive national championships. She hopes to continue that in the pros.

''I like the format,'' Stewart said after the Storm's last trip to New York. ''Every game for us lately has felt like a playoff game because we needed to win to get in.''


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