2021 WNBA schedule: The 12 must-see games of the regular season

Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics host Candace Parker and Chicago on May 15, the second day of the regular season. Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA's 2021 schedule was released Tuesday, with the season tipping off on May 14. All teams will play 32 games in the regular season, which incorporates a monthlong Olympic break. The league had a 22-game regular season last year in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida. This year, teams will be back in their home markets.

Here's a look at 12 of the season's biggest games, assuming the players currently on all teams' rosters will be healthy and playing this summer. The television schedule will be released at a later date.

Indiana Fever at New York Liberty
May 14, 7 p.m. ET:
The Fever and Liberty combined to win just eight games in 2020, but this opening day matchup gives us our first chance to see Sabrina Ionescu back for New York. The No. 1 overall pick a year ago, Ionescu suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the third game of her rookie year. Forward Natasha Howard will make her Liberty debut after being traded from Seattle, where she won two championships. Indiana (6-16) and New York (2-20) were the bottom two teams in the WNBA standings last season and hope to make progress in 2021.

Chicago Sky at Washington Mystics
May 15, 1 p.m. ET (ABC):
Three MVPs will intersect: the Sky's Candace Parker (2008, 2013) and the Mystics' Elena Delle Donne (2015, '19) and Tina Charles (2012). In February, Parker signed as a free agent with Chicago after 13 seasons with Los Angeles. The Sky went 12-10 last season and fell as the No. 6 seed in the first round to seventh-seeded Connecticut. We haven't seen Delle Donne, who had back surgery in 2020, or Charles (extrinsic asthma) play since 2019, as both sat out last season. The Mystics still went 9-13 and grabbed the final playoff spot, losing in the first round to Phoenix.

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Las Vegas Aces at Seattle Storm
May 15, 3 p.m. ET (ABC):
It's a rematch of last year's WNBA Finals, which the Storm won in a sweep, and pits the 2020 regular-season MVP (Las Vegas' A'ja Wilson) against the Final MVP (Seattle's Breanna Stewart). Aces center Liz Cambage is another key player who was out last season (medical exemption) but is back in 2021. The Aces also have a new point guard in free-agent signee Chelsea Gray. The Storm are without two starters from their 2018 and '20 title teams: Howard and Alysha Clark. The teams will meet again June 27 in Las Vegas.

Connecticut Sun at Las Vegas Aces
May 23, 6 p.m. ET:
Their playoff semifinal series went the distance last season, with the Aces prevailing 66-63 in the decisive Game 5. The Sun will be missing star Alyssa Thomas, who is out with an Achilles tendon injury. But Connecticut always seems to find a way to be competitive, and they are expected to have back forward Jonquel Jones, who opted out of playing in the league last season but was a big part of the Sun's 2019 WNBA Finals team.

Chicago Sky at Los Angeles Sparks
June 5, 3 p.m. ET (ABC):
Parker makes her return visit to Los Angeles, after first facing the Sparks in Chicago on May 28 and 30. The Sparks drafted her No. 1 in 2008, and she won a title with them in 2016. But Parker, who turns 35 in April, opted to go back to her hometown of Chicago with hopes of bringing the Sky their first championship. Parker was the WNBA's defensive player of the year last season, and we will see how she fares against former teammates Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike when they battle inside. And will there be a bounce-back season from the Sky's Diamond DeShields, who dealt with injuries and left the WNBA bubble early after playing 13 games?

Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx
June 12, 8 p.m. ET:
The emotions would have been even more heightened last summer if Seimone Augustus had come to Minneapolis in her first year with the Sparks after 14 seasons with the Lynx. As it is, Augustus had a season in the bubble to get used to playing for former rival Los Angeles, while the Lynx fans got used to ... nah, they will never really adjust to their Mone in a Sparks uniform. So it will still be emotional for both sides. The Sparks (15-7) and Lynx (14-8) finished third and fourth in the league last year, with Los Angeles falling in the second round to Connecticut and Minnesota being swept in the semifinals to eventual champ Seattle.

Washington Mystics at Seattle Storm
June 22, 10 p.m. ET:
It's a matchup of the last two WNBA champions, with a chance to see how both are shaping up about five weeks into the season. With four of the Mystics' five primary starters from the 2019 title team not playing last year, Washington got a big lift from Myisha Hines-Allen, who averaged 17.0 PPG and 8.9 RPG in her third WNBA season. What will be her role if Delle Donne and Charles are healthy and play a lot? And how will new-to-Seattle players like Candice Dupree and Katie Lou Samuelson fit in for the Storm?

Dallas Wings at Minnesota Lynx
July 7, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2):
With four first-round 2021 draft picks, we don't know how many rookies will make Dallas' roster, but there will be a lot of young talent in this game as the teams meet for the third time (Dallas hosts Minnesota on June 17 and 19). The Wings could have players such as Charli Collier and Awak Kuier (if both are drafted by Dallas) vying for rookie of the year. The Lynx have the last two winners of that honor: Crystal Dangerfield (2020) and Napheesa Collier (2019). Dallas went 8-14 last year with three rookies -- Satou Sabally, Tyasha Harris and Bella Alarie -- on the roster. The Wings missed the playoffs and coach Brian Agler left; Vickie Johnson is now guiding Dallas.

Seattle Storm at Chicago Sky
Aug. 15, 1 p.m. ET (ABC):
There are five games on July 11, and then a monthlong break for the Olympics. The first game back pits the top two point guards in the WNBA: Seattle's Sue Bird and Chicago's Courtney Vandersloot, who last season became the first player in the league to average double-digit assists (10.0 APG). Bird has a talented understudy in Jordin Canada, who already has three seasons under her belt, including 2019 as a full-time starter when Bird was out, plus 11 starts last year. It seems pretty certain the Sky will select a point guard in the draft's first round if one is available at No. 8, and that player can learn from Vandersloot.

Las Vegas Aces at Atlanta Dream
Aug. 26, 7 p.m. ET:
Much like Augustus' return to Minnesota, McCoughtry going back to Atlanta would have seemed more dramatic last season, her first with Las Vegas. The 2009 No. 1 draft pick by the Dream, McCoughtry fit in well last season, helping the Aces reach the WNBA Finals after playing nine seasons with three Finals trips with Atlanta. The Dream were 7-15 and 10th in the league last season. Chennedy Carter likely would have contended for rookie of the year if she had not missed six of Atlanta's 22 games with an ankle injury.

New York Liberty at Seattle Storm
Sept. 2, 10 p.m. ET:
Ionescu gained fame in her stellar college career at Oregon, but we didn't get to see much of her last season due to the ankle injury. This Pacific Northwest game will be as close as she'll get to an Oregon homecoming. It also will be a return to Seattle for Howard in her first year with the Liberty. At this point in the season, will New York still be trying to just scratch out some wins, as was the case last season? Or will the Liberty make a dramatic improvement and be pushing for a playoff spot?

Phoenix Mercury at Seattle Storm
Sept. 17, 10 p.m. ET:
The regular season will end two days later, with five games on Sept. 19. But with Seattle's Bird about a month from her 41st birthday and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi having turned 39 in June, could this potentially be their last matchup? Of course, they could meet in the playoffs, and/or both could return for 2022. But we're going to savor every meeting of the two legends and close friends, whose teams also meet July 9 in Phoenix and July 11 in Seattle. Depending on how the season is going, this game could have big postseason implications. Last year, the Mercury were fifth at 13-9, beating Washington in the first round and falling to Minnesota in the second.