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Your WNBA Playoff Preview

Depending on your levels of fandom — huge, or accidental switching of the channel to ESPN2 on a Saturday morning — you may or may not know that a championship banner could be headed to Madison Square Garden in the coming weeks. Following an impressive August, the Liberty, our hometown WNBA team, is one of eight teams fighting for the national championship crown. We know you probably forgot to set your DVR this season, so here's a quick rundown of things you should know to jump on the WNBA playoffs bandwagon. Jump!

When do the WNBA playoffs start?

Today! Well, not in New York. The Liberty's first game is Thursday against Indiana. But today Washington plays Atlanta, and Seattle plays Los Angeles.

How are they different than the NBA playoffs?

The WNBA is a much smaller league than the NBA in not only schedule (three months compared to five months) but size. In the WNBA playoffs, the top four teams in each conference (there's East and West, like the NBA) get playoff bids and play a best-of-three series in the quarterfinals and semifinals, before a best-of-five in the finals.

Who's the favorite?

The Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm have the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences. The Storm have an easier road in the first round, facing the Sparks and Candace Parker, perhaps the league's most overhyped player. (She was supposed to be like the Michael Jordan of women's hoops, but can't stay healthy.) The Mystics face an Atlanta team that's had an August implosion, losing six of its last eight regular-season games, but with Angel McCoughtry, they could come back to give the Mystics a run. The defending-champion Mercury are down this year because, well, New York took one of their stars, Cappie Pondexter. But Pondexter's former partner in crime Diana Taurasi was the MVP of last year's finals and is one of the greatest players in the game.

Do the Liberty have a chance to win?

Yes!

Really?

No, really, we promise! Isiah doesn't seem to show an interest in them, even though they play at the Garden. The Liberty had a rough start to the season with a number of second-half meltdowns, but then they won twelve of thirteen heading into the playoffs. Pondexter has a lot of playoff experience, having won two of the last three championships (with a WNBA Finals MVP in 2007). In addition to Pondexter, the Liberty have Janel McCarville and Lelani Mitchell, a five-foot-nothing point guard who has stepped up to make huge game-changing plays in the past few games.

Have they won before?

No. The last time they were in the finals was 2002. They were swept. To be fair, it was only a three-game series then.

Is it easy to get tickets? Which days?

Yes! The WNBA playoff tickets are probably some of the best sports deals in town. They're still available on Ticketmaster, for as cheap as $10 a pop, plus almost the same amount in service charges.

Any other reason to go?

The WNBA is very family-friendly, which means they're amazing with free giveaways. Last time we were there we got boom-boom sticks. Sometimes there's bobble-heads. Plus, it's the playoffs.

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Photo: Ned Dishman/Getty Images