Eastern Conference Playoff Race

The Eastern Conference playoff picture seemed to be coming into focus at the All-Star break. The Indiana Fever and Detroit Shock had separated themselves from the rest of the pack and were set for a two-horse race for the Eastern Conference title.

The Big Two appeared ready to lock up home-court advantage, while the remaining four teams in the East would scramble for the final two spots, with the emerging teams seen as considerable underdogs in the opening round of the playoffs.

Fast forward two weeks and things are not so clear.

Eastern Conference Standings as of July 15
(All-Star Game)
Indiana 15 4 0.789 0.0 W5
Detroit 14 5 0.737 1.0 W3
New York 10 9 0.526 5.0 L1
Connecticut 9 11 0.450 6.5 W3
Chicago 8 12 0.400 7.5 L4
Washington 7 12 0.368 8.0 W2
Eastern Conference Standings as of August 1
(18 days remaining)
Detroit *2160.7780.0W3
New York10150.40010L7
* clinched playoff berth

Now Detroit is the only team that can feel comfortable in its playoff position. The Shock, who own the best record in the WNBA at 21-6, clinched their fifth-consecutive playoff berth on July 28 and hold a four-game lead over all other contenders in the conference.

Indiana currently sits in second place but has been in a free-fall since losing all-everything forward Tamika Catchings. Prior to defeating the Washington Mystics on Tuesday, the Fever had lost six straight games since the MVP candidate went down with a foot injury on July 20.

"She's our leading scorer, our leading rebounder, our best defender and leads us in assists,” says Fever coach Brian Winters about Catchings. “There's a lot categories to fill up there. We're still working our way through it."

Reigning Eastern Confernce Player of the Week Katie Douglas has led the Connecticut Sun to nine wins in their last 10 games.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images

The Fever better work it out fast because the Connecticut Sun are hot on their tail. Connecticut is arguably the hottest team in the league right now, having won nine of its last 10 games to rebound from a 6-11 record on July 6.

“There are a lot of teams right there with right around 10, 12, 13, 14 wins, so we’re just trying to continue to get every win we can get,” said Sun guard Lindsay Whalen. “The goal is to finish in the best standing you can get so you can get some homecourt advantage through some of the playoffs."

With the Sun and Fever separated by just two games, their two upcoming meetings -- Saturday, Aug. 4 in Connecticut and Wednesday, Aug 15 in Indiana -- could sway homecourt in a possible first-round playoff matchup.

The race for the final playoff spot will also come down to the wire as the Chicago Sky, New York Liberty and Washington Mystics are all separated by just one game and will face each other multiple times as they head down the home stretch. Chicago holds the one-game advantage by having played two more games, and posting two more wins, than New York and Washington. However, all three teams are tied in the loss column with 15 defeats.

This is the time of year that you need to keep one eye on your team and one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard to see if your opponents are gaining in the standings.

Mystics guard Alana Beard admitted to some scoreboard watching over the All-Star break. When asked about her team being only a game and a half out of the playoffs at the time, she immediately pointed out her disappointment in the Sacramento Monarchs for not beating Connecticut the previous night to help her Mystics’ cause.

The Mystics had a hot-and-cold month of July. While their four-game winning streak got them into the playoff picture, they have not been able to get over the hump, losing three of four games to close the month.

Washington Mystics Remaining Schedule
Fri Aug 3New York
Sun Aug 5Chicago
Tue Aug 7@ San Antonio
Thu Aug 9@ Los Angeles
Sat Aug 11@ Seattle
Sun Aug 12@ Sacramento
Tue Aug 14Connecticut
Thu Aug 16New York
Sun Aug 19@ Connecticut

Chicago Sky Remaining Schedule
Fri Aug 3Detroit
Sun Aug 5@ Washington
Tue Aug 7Indiana
Sat Aug 11Connecticut
Tue Aug 14New York
Thu Aug 16@ Houston
Sun Aug 19@ New York

New York Liberty Remaining Schedule
Thu Aug 2Minnesota
Fri Aug 3@ Washington
Tue Aug 7@ Houston
Thu Aug 9@ Phoenix
Sun Aug 12Detroit
Tue Aug 14@ Chicago
Thu Aug 16@ Washington
Fri Aug 17Connecticut
Sun Aug 19Chicago

Washington forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said her team needed to win 10 games after the All-Star break to have a chance at the playoffs. While her lighthearted prediction of the Mystics losing zero games in the second half of the season did not come true, the team has picked up three wins since the break and could still reach Milton-Jones' magic number of 10 with seven wins in its final nine games.

Chicago, which is trying to make the postseason for the first time in just its second year, also had a see-saw month of July. The team struggled through a five-game losing streak, followed by a three-game winning streak, and finished the month by losing three of their last four games. Things do not get easier in August as the Sky open the final month of the regular season hosting the Shock on Friday night.

“We feel good about the way we played (Detroit) the last time," said Sky coach Bo Overton after his team's 74-56 loss to Connecticut on Tuesday. "We’re playing them at home. We just need to have a little more urgency than we did tonight, and hopefully we’ll have that on Friday.”

For the Liberty, July was not hot-and-cold. It was just cold. New York won only two games during the month, has yet to win a game since the All-Star break, and is currently riding a seven-game losing streak. The fact that they are still in playoff contention is a reminder of their surprising 5-0 start to the campaign. However, Liberty guard Loree Moore believes her team can snap this losing skid and contend for the final playoff berth.

"We need to focus on what we need to do because we’re still making the same mistakes that we’ve been making to put ourselves in this position to have close games and to have to make comebacks," she said. "We mentally have to focus in and become sharper in our offensive schemes -- as well as defensive schemes -- to make sure we have an actual chance to win a game. We’ve put ourselves in that position, now we have to finish those games in the third and fourth quarter."

Teammate Shameka Christon says the Liberty have been "shoooting ourselves in the foot" during the losing streak. However, the Liberty still have a chance to shoot themselves up the standings in the final weeks. New York will face both Chicago and Washington twice before the season closes, including a season-finale matchup with the Sky.

Will it all come down to the final day of the regular season? Stay tuned as the standings are sure to change a few more times before the playoffs begin.