An Exciting Two Weeks Ahead

The WNBA regular season ends in 13 days. You’d figure by now the playoff picture would be coming into focus and we could start breaking down some of the first-round matchups.

Not so fast.

At this point only one team has clinched a playoff berth – the Minnesota Lynx, who have actually already locked up the Western Conference.

We’ve also seen two teams eliminated from contention – the Washington Mystics and the Tulsa Shock – who can now play spoiler for the teams ahead of them in the standings.

That leaves seven spots open and nine teams to fill them. Let’s take a look at the race to the playoffs in each conference. I’m from the West coast, so let’s start there.

Minnesota (23-6) has home-court advantage for the Western Conference playoffs and has a magic number of three (Lynx wins or Fever losses) to clinch the best record in the league and home-court for the Finals – if they make it that far.

Seattle (17-12) sits in second place – a full six games behind Minnesota – and holds just a half-game lead over Phoenix (16-12). This matchup is essentially a lock to happen in the first round, as neither team can catch the Lynx and they’re unlikely to be caught by San Antonio (13-15) or Los Angeles (12-17).

The only thing that needs to be determined for the Storm and Mercury is which team will land home-court for its first-round matchup. To emphasize the importance of landing the No. 2 seed, Seattle is 13-2 at home this season and 4-10 on the road. The Storm currently lead the season series, 2-1, with a Sept. 9 matchup still ahead. The Storm have owned the Mercury over the past two years, winning nine straight games before the Mercury snapped the streak in dramatic fashion on Aug. 16.

The final West matchup to look at is the battle between the SIlver Stars and Sparks for for the fourth and final seed in the conference.

San Antonio currently holds a game-and-a-half lead on Los Angeles, but has been in a tailspin – losing six straight games and 10 of its last 12. The Sparks received a boost last week with the return of Candace Parker, but have let opportunities to close the gap and possibly overtake the Silver Stars slip away with back to back losses to Tulsa and Seattle by a combined four points.

The Silver Stars lead the season series, 2-1, with a Sept. 6 matchup still to be played. If the Sparks win that game, they would even the season series, which would move a potential tiebreaker to conference record, where they currently hold a slight edge. If the Silver Stars hope to make the postseason, the mission is simple: they need to start winning some games. The team welcomed rookie Danielle Adams back to the lineup over the weekend, which could be the boost they need to break out of their recent funk. When Adams was healthy at the beginning of the season, the Silver Stars were among the best teams in the West.

Meanwhile, as the West has one battle for position (No. 2 vs. No. 3) and another for entry (No. 4 vs. No. 5), the East is a little more complicated.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Unlike the West, the Eastern Conference title has yet to be decided with current leader Indiana (19-9) and second-place Connecticut (18-11) as the strongest contenders, with the Fever holding a game-and-a-half advantage. The Sun missed out on a chance to tighten the gap on Sunday and capitalize on Indiana’s loss to Atlanta, with a loss of their own in Tulsa.

With Indiana holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Connecticut – leading the season series, 3-1, with only one matchup remaining – and a two-game lead in the loss column, the Sun would need to finish a full game ahead of the Fever to win the East. This seems unlikely with so few games remaining (six for Indiana, five for Connecticut), but not out of the question.

The most dramatic race of all is for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference with New York (16-13), Atlanta (15-13) and Chicago (14-15) separated by just two games. The Liberty currently hold the No. 3 spot, but their grip is not nearly as strong as it once was.

First, there is the surging Dream, which has gone 12-4 since mid-July to climb out of the cellar and into the playoff picture. The final six games for the Dream feature a pair of games against East-leading Indiana, but a trio against Tulsa and Washington and their combined record of 8-48. While it's unlikely the Dream will catch Connecticut for the No. 2 seed, they have a great chance of leaping over the Liberty for No. 3 and making their second straight improbable run in two years.

On that note, while the Dream made it to the Finals in just their third year as a franchise, the Sky are still in search of the first playoff berth in their sixth WNBA season. While still on the outside looking in and two games back of both New York and Atlanta in the loss column, the Sky will not go away quietly.

Sunday’s win over New York makes things a lot more interesting heading into the final two weeks. With the season series now tied at two games apiece, the final matchup between New York and Chicago on Tuesday in New York takes on added weight. It is virtually a must win for the Sky, as it would pull them within a game of the Liberty in the standings and give them the primary tie-breaker if they were to finish even.

Of the three, New York is the only team that controls its own destiny. The Libs already own the tie-breaker over Atlanta, and a win over Chicago on Tuesday would give them the same edge over the Sky. If they win out, they are the No. 3 seed, simple as that. However, the Liberty are just 5-5 in their last 10 games and have lost two of their last three – albeit by a total of two points.

So that is where we stand on Monday, Aug. 29. While there are no games on tap for this evening, all 12 teams will be in action on Tuesday, with plenty on the line. Catch all of the games on WNBA LiveAccess beginning at 7 ET with the all-important game between Chicago and New York.

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