Sizing Up the East Playoff Race
While the Atlanta Dream have locked down a playoff berth, four other teams are in a fight for the conference's final three spots.
With just days left in the regular season, who has the best shot of playing into September?
Here's a breakdown of the East playoff race:
Resume: The veteran Mystics have gelled into one of the league's toughest defensive teams, ranking first in opponent field goal percentage and turnover differential. On a deep, well-balanced team, second-year Belgian center Emma Messeman's development has been crucial.
Remaining Schedule: @ Connecticut, vs. New York
Outlook: Atlanta's five-game losing streak has opened the door for Washington to climb all the way to the top of the conference. But Sunday's double-OT loss in Connecticut was a killer blow to that chase. Still, the Mystics control their own destiny and look playoff-bound, with seeding still TBD.
Resume: It's difficult to judge a team whose superstar player has started only 31 percent of its games; the standings would likely look very different now had Lyme disease not forced Elena Delle Donne to miss 17 of 18 games over the past two months. But with the Big 3 of EDD, Epiphanny Prince and Sylvia Fowles back in tact, Chicago has the talent to be a Finals contender.
Remaining Schedule: @ Indiana, vs. San Antonio
Outlook: Last week, it appeared that the Sky's grueling final five-game stretch would either derail their season or prepare them to make a playoff splash. So far, Chicago has taken the latter path. There's still work to be done, but they're quickly turning into a well-rounded force, with Allie Quigley coming through in the clutch.
Resume: Like Chicago, Indiana had the tough task of re-inserting its injured centerpiece back into the lineup mid-season. Tamika Catchings' return hasn't provided the spark many expected, as the Fever are just 6-8 since.
Remaining Schedule: vs. New York, vs. Chicago, @ New York
Outlook: With three of their final five games against the Liberty, the Fever have the chance to settle things on the court. Sunday's 14-point win -- in New York, no less -- could prove to be their turning point, with Catchings hitting her stride at just the right time.
Resume: The Liberty have turned their season around since a 3-10 start, led by one of the league's top inside-out duos in guard Cappie Pondexter and double-double machine Tina Charles. Everything flows through Charles, and she's been good enough -- averaging 20.1 points and 10.4 rebounds since the start of July -- to carry New York for one more week.
Remaining Schedule: @ Indiana, @ Washington, vs. Indiana
Outlook: There's still time for the Liberty to recover from their loss to Indiana, especially with two more games against the Fever still to play. But they'll have a tall mountain to climb, first in the near-unbeatable Mercury, then in back-to-back road games. New York is just 4-11 on the road this season, compared to 9-6 at home.