Liberty Surging Through East
By Frank Della Femina,

The final weekend of the regular season is upon us. Some teams have had a playoff spot locked up for days or, in Seattle's case, weeks now. Trying to gain home-court advantage and close out strong is the M.O. for postseason-bound teams.

I witnessed a bit of a dilemma heading into the final Power Rankings installment of the season. Initially I was tempted to just keep Seattle as a lock in the No. 1 spot, call it a day and move on to predicting my playoff matchups. However, I started to question whether I could justifiably give the honor to the New York Liberty. As winners in 10 straight games, the Liberty has put together one heck of a run late in the season to not only guarantee a spot in the playoffs but also, potentially, claim home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference. But the key word in that equation was "justifiably." Is the Seattle Storm playing with the same tenacity at this stage of the game that they exhibited earlier in the season? No. But the even more pertinent question is: Do they have to? Again, that's a solid no in my book. Seattle's option to rest starters wouldn't even be a consideration at this point in the season if they didn't fire out of the gate and completely dominate over the first few months.

Therefore, I couldn't come to terms with giving the Liberty a promotion to the No. 1 spot, if only because there's no telling what Seattle's record would be right now if the starters were still taking to the court to play at the same level they were playing at back in June and July.


TEAM (last week) W / L NOTES
Seattle (1)
26-6 Just two more games remain on the Storm's regular season schedule. Starters have logged some time over the past few games but it's obvious the motive is focused on the players staying conditioned. Sue Bird doesn't need to drive to the line and tumble onto the hardwood. Lauren Jackson doesn't need to battle in the paint and fight for rebounds. Both of those scenarios are unnecessary risks at this point in the season. Coach Brian Agler doesn't need that predicament heading into the playoffs and Storm fans don't need that kind of stress.
Remaining Games: 8/20 at Phoenix, 8/21 vs. Los Angeles
New York (3)
21-11 There are a number of scenarios over the last two games that could impact where the Liberty finishes the season in the Eastern Conference standings. The one thing to remember is that in the event of a tie, New York gets the tie-breaker. So heading into Friday night's action, if New York wins and Indiana loses, then New York will have the East locked up. Not to write them off from that first place spot, but no matter where they finish you have to admit it's not half bad for a team that was in last place in the East a month ago.
Remaining Games:8/20 at Washington, 8/22 vs. Connecticut
Indiana (2)
21-11 Indiana still has a chance to close out the No. 1 spot in the East, even if it means they have to win out the last two games and hope to not tie with the Liberty. Both of Indiana's last two opponents are still battling for playoff contention, so you can't necessarily pencil the Fever in at the top of the conference just yet. However, in previous meetings this season, the Fever is 1-0 against both the Silver Stars and Lynx.
Remaining Games: 8/20 at San Antonio, 8/22 vs. Minnesota
Washington (5)
20-12 Four straight wins for the Mystics is definitely the sort of thing Coach Julie Plank would like to see this time of year. Two big games against the Liberty and Dream remain on the schedule, so if Washington can close out the season with six straight (and potentially break New York's streak) then the momentum could provide a nice push heading into the first round.
Remaining Games: 8/20 vs. New York, 8/22 at Atlanta
Atlanta (4)
19-14 It hasn't been a pretty month for the Dream, as they've posted a 2-5 record that includes losses to Indiana, New York, Chicago and Washington. Even though the postseason is a guarantee for the Dream, snagging a win before the first round could at least end the regular season on a high note.
Remaining Games: 8/22 vs. Washington
Phoenix (6)
15-17 Tuesday's win over the Sparks allowed the Mercury to snap a four-game losing streak at a time when the threat of losing the No. 2 seed was still a possibility. Now, sitting three games in front of Los Angeles with only two remaining on the Sparks' schedule guarantees Phoenix will have home-court advantage in the first round. That first round opponent, however, is still being ironed out.
Remaining Games: 8/20 vs. Seattle, 8/22 at San Antonio
Los Angeles (9)
12-20 Los Angeles is a perfect 3-0 against the Minnesota Lynx this season. With Friday's matchup posing as the final meeting of the season, I just had to give the Sparks the edge in the rankings this week if only for that one telling stat. Closing out against the Storm's bench could allow the Sparks to win two straight and claim a first round playoff spot.
Remaining Games: 8/20 vs. Minnesota, 8/21 at Seattle
Minnesota (7)
12-20 As mentioned above, Los Angeles has had Minnesota's number all season long. If the Lynx want to extend their season it's going to take a tremendous effort to not only beat the Sparks but also top the Indiana Fever on the road to wrap up the final game of the regular season. Nothing in written in stone just yet, but Friday's game against the Sparks is easily Minnesota's biggest game of the year.
Remaining Games: 8/20 at Los Angeles, 8/22 at Indiana
San Antonio (8)
12-20 The devastating injury to Chamique Holdsclaw, combined with the 2-5 record for the month of August is not ideal for a team still looking to make a playoff push. Add on the fact that the Silver Stars have games against the Fever and Mercury remaining and the scenario doesn't get any easier. If San Antonio is still in the mix by Sunday, then perhaps a Phoenix team looking to rest starters can work in the Silver Stars' favor.
Remaining Games: 8/20 vs. Indiana, 8/22 vs. Phoenix
Connecticut (10)
16-16 Tina Charles still has two more games to work with if she's looking to pad her trio of 2010 milestones. Unfortunately for Charles that's all she has left to play for now, although you could make a poor argument that she's also playing for the Rookie of the Year Award as well. Poor argument you ask? Well, that's only because she's had the thing more or less locked up since the first month of the season.
Remaining Games:8/20 at Chicago, 8/22 at New York
Chicago (11)
14-18 To Chicago's credit, the Sky may not be a team bound for the postseason but they've beaten two teams over the last three games that are. The most recent, a 84-79 win over the Dream, closed out the season series 3-2 in favor of the Sky marking the only five-game series in 2010 that Chicago came out the winner. For Chicago's own playoff chances, being swept by Indiana (0-5) and New York (0-4) didn't help matters much.
Remaining Games: 8/20 vs. Connecticut, 8/21 at Tulsa
Tulsa (12)
5-28 I don't want to use the word "experiment," so instead I'll say it was a year of transformation for the new-look Shock. Throughout the course of the season, Tulsa removed all resemblance of the 2009 Detroit squad through a series of trades and roster moves. The end result supplies Tulsa with an opportunity to make a splash in next year's draft. Another plus side is Ivory Latta (who played for Detroit in 2007), who came on board and led the team in points over the span of just 17 games.
Remaining Games: 8/21 vs. Chicago