December 9, 2021
Major takeaways from the Phoenix Mercury’s 2022 schedule
When the Mercury will have rematches with the Aces, Sky and other big notes
Did you think there was already enough news impacting the Phoenix Mercury’s 2022 season coming out this week? Need some time to digest that the Mercury will have a new head coach for next season, and the team saying that they and former head coach Sandy Brondello “mutually agreed to part ways” wasn’t actually mutual?
Well, too bad, because we already have more for you.
The WNBA released the 36-game regular-season schedule this week, which we at The Next have already covered extensively for the leaguewide takeaways. Now, here’s a look at four major takeaways from the schedule for the Mercury heading into 2022.
Opening with a six-game gauntlet out of the date
Whoever the new head coach is, they’ll be challenged right out of the gates with Phoenix’s opening slate — and jump directly into the Commissioner’s Cup competition, too.
The Mercury will kick off the season on opening night with a rematch of their 2021 WNBA semifinals opponent, the Las Vegas Aces, on Friday, May 6 – the only time Las Vegas will come to Phoenix.
They’ll then have a two-game home-and-home series with the team they beat in overtime of the second round last year, facing the Seattle Storm in Phoenix on Wednesday, May 11 before flying to Seattle for a game on Saturday, May 14.
The Mercury will then have their only two road games in Las Vegas the following week: once on Tuesday, May 17 (which will count as the Commissioner’s Cup) and then again on Saturday, May 21. They’ll also host the Dallas Wings on Thursday, May 19 back in Phoenix in between those.
That’s five Commissioner’s Cup games in a row to start, and their sixth game is the final of three against the Aces all season long. It will be a quick test for a Mercury team that may not have their entire roster back from overseas play at that point — and one that can have implications in the playoff seedings down the stretch, too.
With the expansion to 36 games, teams will play three teams in the league four times. And for the Mercury, those teams are Dallas, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx. While that does seem like a bit of good fortune, to only face Seattle and Las Vegas thrice each, five of the Mercury’s six games against two major contenders for both the Western Conference’s slot in the Commissioner’s Cup and the top seeds in the WNBA happen in the first 16 days of the season.
Series play helps on the road … but one trip will be a challenge
With a tightened season schedule needing to finish ahead of the FIBA World Cup, and the expanded 36-game schedule, there’s only 99 days to squeeze in all 36 games, the All-Star break and the Commissioner’s Cup championship game. The league has tried to remedy this with some series play, where a team plays two road games in a row in the same city, but there’s still bound to be some back-to-backs, and the Mercury have one in the middle of a grueling week.
“I appreciate that,” Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said of the series play helping to alleviate the travel burden, though she added: “One day, my goal is for this league to travel private, considering what they ask of their athletes, but like you said, that’s out of our control.”
After hosting the Atlanta Dream on Friday, June 10, the Mercury will head to Washington to face the Mystics twice: Sunday, June 12 and Tuesday, June 14. The Mercury will quickly head to Indiana to face the Fever the next night on Wednesday, June 15. Then it’s off to Dallas for a game on Friday, June 17. That’s five games in eight days … in four different cities. The two-game series helps, but it will be a grind for that week.
When Phoenix does have their entire Northeast trip in one visit late in the season, as their final three road games will come in a five-day stretch: at New York on Sunday, July 31 and then at Connecticut on both Tuesday, Aug. 2 and Thursday, Aug. 4. That’s about as ideal as possible for the two cities farthest away from Phoenix, and especially considering Connecticut may be the hardest arena to get to, travel-wise. Knocking it out in one trip will help.
The Mercury only have one series hosting an opponent for two games in a row: the Fever play in Phoenix on Monday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 29.
Finals rematch won’t happen for a few weeks — but it will end the year
Perhaps the most surprising piece of the league news is that the WNBA is not having a WNBA Finals rematch on opening night between the Mercury and the team who beat them in the Finals, the Chicago Sky.
The first of three games between Phoenix and Chicago will take place on Tuesday, May 31 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, and while we don’t know the national broadcast schedule at this time, the next two matchups between them appear set to be shown in national broadcast slots.
Phoenix will head back to Chicago for a 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. Phoenix time tipoff on Saturday, July 2 — the only WNBA game on that day, in a time slot usually seen held for major national broadcasts.
The only trip the Sky make out to Phoenix all season long will happen as the 36th and final game of the 2022 season, set for 3 p.m. ET/Noon Phoenix time on Sunday, Aug. 14. While all 12 WNBA teams are playing on that final day, that matchup is the marquee one in a usual Sunday national broadcast window.
NBA playoffs overlap possible… and other arena conflicts
While the Mercury have consistently had to move to a different arena to host playoff games in the past, they have also occasionally had to shift their schedule around a bit to accommodate playoff games for the men’s professional team in the building, the Phoenix Suns.
When The Next reported on the arena issues during the 2021 playoffs, Mercury president Vince Kozar said the team frequently has dates pre-selected for accommodation around the potential playoff dates that the NBA needs. And with the Suns currently looking like a contender to make a second-straight deep run, it does appear there is some flexibility set in to the six home games the Mercury already have set – but not entire flexibility.
The Mercury have six home games that they’ll host when the NBA playoffs are in full swing, and there’s at least two games where it appears like it’d be hard to adjust the schedules to work around the NBA playoff schedules.
Now, it’s impossible to know this far in advance if the Suns will even advance far enough into the playoffs to force any issues. But with squeezing 36 games into the season on a relatively tight turnaround, we’ll be keeping an eye on the early season games to see if the Mercury — and maybe even games in other cities — have to shift to accommodate a deep Suns playoff run.
Meanwhile, as for a potential Mercury playoff run? There’s already three concerts on the Footprint Center calendar during the window for the WNBA playoffs (Aug. 17-Sept. 21): Swedish House Mafia on Tuesday, Aug. 30, Keith Urban on Thursday, Sept. 8 and Twenty One Pilots on Friday, Sept. 16 — which could be the night of a WNBA Finals game, should the Mercury make it that far. You can bet that The Next will be ready to report on whatever happens with that, too.
Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.