Note: WNBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Tuesday during the season, are the opinion of this writer and do not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.
There are 16 games to be played before the 2019 regular season comes to an end on Sunday. While the playoff picture has come into tighter focus over the past week – we know all eight teams that are in, the top two seeds are nearly locked in place – yet there is still more to be hashed out before the playoffs tip off next Wednesday.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what is at stake over the final week.
Race For Top Two Seeds (Double Bye To Semifinals)
– remaining games: Tue. 9/3 at NYL; Fri. 9/6 vs. DAL; Sun. 9/8 vs. CHI
– remaining games: Wed. 9/4 vs. DAL; Fri. 9/6 vs. CHI; Sun. 9/8 at IND
– Sun won season series 2-1
With three games to play, the Washington Mystics are guaranteed a top two seed and a double bye to the semifinal round. The worst they could finish is 23-11, and the only other team with fewer than 12 losses is Connecticut.
The only way for Connecticut to not finish with a top two seed is if they lose out and Los Angeles win out – both would finish 22-12 and L.A. owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. However, the most likely scenario is that Washington and Connecticut finish as the top two seeds and the only thing to determine is which teams finishes first and holds home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Mystics control their own destiny; if they win out, they finish with the top record in the league and the No. 1 seed. However, if the Mystics lose one of their final three games, that opens the door for the Sun, which owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Mystics. If the Mystics lose a game and the Sun win out, Connecticut would earn the No. 1 seed and home court in a potential Finals matchup. Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that Connecticut is 14-1 at home this season, compared to 8-8 on the road.
The schedules for the Mystics and Sun are similar to close out the season; both play playoff-bound Chicago at home, both play lottery-bound Dallas at home and they each face another lottery-bound team (Washington at New York, Connecticut at Indiana) on the road, so strength of schedule offers no advantage for either team.
Race For The 3/4 Seeds (Single Bye To Second Round)
Las Vegas 20-12
– remaining games: Thur. 9/5 at ATL; Sun. 9/8 at PHX
Los Angeles Sparks 19-12
– remaining games: Tue. 9/3 vs. ATL; Thur. 9/5 vs. SEA; Sun. 9/8 vs. MIN
Chicago Sky 19-13
– remaining games: Fri. 9/6 at CON; Sun. 9/8 at WAS
– LVA: 2-2 vs LAS; 2-1 vs. CHI
– LAS: 2-2 vs. LVA; 2-1 vs. CHI
– CHI: 1-2 vs. LVA; 1-2 vs. LAS
While the top two seeds offer the biggest reward of the double bye, finishing in the Nos. 3 and 4 spots earn a first round bye and home-court advantage in the single-elimination second round. There are three teams competing for those three spots, with Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the strongest position to earn those spots.
Not only does each team have one fewer loss than Chicago, they also both hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago, so the Sky would have to finish with a better record to bypass either team.
As for the Sparks and Aces, they finished their season series tied at 2-2, so should they finish the season tied, a second tiebreaker would be needed – better winning percentage against all teams with .500 or better record at the end of the season.
Here is where that tiebreaker stands entering Tuesday’s games.
Teams at .500 or better: WAS, CON, LVA, LAS, CHI, MIN, SEA
LAS: 10-7, two games remaining vs. teams .500 or better (vs. SEA, vs. MIN)
LVA: 10-9, no games remaining vs. teams .500 or better
CHI: 6-11, two games remaining vs. teams .500 or better (at CON, at WAS)
The only other team that could reach .500 is Phoenix, which stands at 15-16 entering the final week of the season and closes the season against three playoff teams. The Mercury would have to win two of their final three games – home vs. Seattle, Minnesota and Las Vegas – in order to reach .500.
If we included Phoenix, here is how that tiebreaker would stand.
LAS: 12-8, two games remaining (vs. SEA, vs. MIN)
LVA: 11-10, one game remaining (at PHX)
CHI: 9-11, two games remaining (at CON, at WAS)
In either scenario, the Sparks would earn this tiebreaker if they win either game against Seattle or Minnesota – both will be played in Los Angeles, where the Sparks are 12-2 this season.
Race for 5/6 Seeds (Home Court In First Round)
– remaining games: Fri. 9/6 at PHX; Sun. 9/8 at LAS
– remaining games: Tue. 9/3 at PHX; Thur. 9/5 at LAS; Sun. 9/8 at DAL
– remaining games: Tue. 9/3 vs. SEA; Fri. 9/6 vs. MIN; Sun. 9/8 vs. LVA
– MIN: 2-0 vs. PHX; 1-3 vs. SEA; 3-0 vs. CHI
– SEA: 1-1 vs. PHX; 3-1 vs. MIN; 1-2 vs. CHI
– PHX: 1-1 vs. SEA; 0-2 vs. MIN; 0-3 vs. CHI
– CHI: 0-3 vs. MIN; 3-0 vs. PHX; 2-1 vs. SEA
This is the toughest race to predict as there are still many unknowns at this point. First, the team that finds itself left out in the race for the 3/4 seeds will be in the strongest position to finish at either No. 5 or 6.
For example, if the Aces and Sparks finish in the 3/4 slots, that leaves Chicago out. The Sky enter this week at 19-13 with two games remaining on their schedule (against the top two seeds in the league). Chicago would have to lose out and Minnesota and Seattle would have to both win out in order for the Sky to have a chance to fall out of the 5/6 slots. That would leave all three teams with 15 losses and set up another tiebreaker scenario.
Let’s play it out. If Chicago loses out, while Minnesota and Seattle win out, they would all end the regular season at 19-15. Each team holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over another one of the trio, but no team holds head-to-head tiebreakers over two teams. For example, Minnesota has the tiebreaker over Chicago, but Seattle owns the tiebreaker with Minnesota, but Chicago holds the tiebreaker with Seattle.
– MIN: 3-0 vs. CHI; 1-3 vs. SEA
– SEA: 1-2 vs. CHI; 3-1 vs. MIN
– CHI: 2-1 vs. SEA; 0-3 vs. MIN
Since that tiebreaker will not provide any separation, we go to the same secondary tiebreaker used above – better record over teams that finish the season at .500 or better.
In this scenario with Minnesota and Seattle winning out, both would defeat Phoenix, which means the Mercury would not finish above .500. That leaves the following seven teams over .500: WAS, CON, LVA, LAS, CHI, MIN, SEA
This tiebreaker would push Chicago to the No. 7 seed and leave Minnesota and Seattle for the 5/6 slots. Once Chicago has been eliminated by the second tiebreaker, Minnesota and Seattle must go back to the first tiebreaker – head-to-head – which gives Seattle the edge since they won their season series with Minnesota 3-1.
So if Chicago lost out, while Minnesota and Seattle won out, the Storm would be No. 5, the Lynx would be No. 6 and the Sky would be No. 7 and have to face the Lynx in Minnesota in the opening round. This scenario also left Phoenix as the No. 8 seed as they would have at least 18 losses; the Mercury would face the Storm in the first round in a rematch of last year’s incredible five-game series in the semifinal round.
Of course, the most likely scenario is that Chicago fills the No. 5 seed (either by winning one of their final two games, or by either Seattle and Minnesota suffering a loss) and the No. 6 seed comes down to a battle between Minnesota, Seattle and Phoenix.
The Lynx and Storm have nearly identical schedules to close out the season – both face the Mercury in Phoenix, both face the Sparks in Los Angeles. The only difference is that Seattle has one additional game in Dallas, while Minnesota has only two games to play and an additional win to open the final week.
The Mercury would likely have to win out to have a chance at either the 5/6 seeds. If they win out and finish at 18-16, that would give Minnesota and Seattle each an additional loss, bringing them both to 16 losses without including their other games (both play L.A., Seattle also plays Dallas). Winning out is a tough task as the Mercury’s final three opponents are all playoff teams with a combined 53-42 (.558) record heading into the week. However, all three games will be played in Phoenix, where the Mercury are 9-5 on the season compared to 6-11 on the road.
If Phoenix is unable to get into the mix, the final spot would come down to Seattle and Minnesota, with the defending champion Storm controlling their own destiny. Since both teams have 15 losses entering the week, should both teams win out, they would both finish at 19-15 and Seattle would earn the edge via the head-to-head tiebreak (won season series 3-1).
Now that we have that all cleared up (*sarcastic voice*), let’s take a look at our final Power Rankings of the 2019 season.
This Week’s Rankings
1. Washington Mystics (23-8, Clinched Top Two Seed)
- Previous Rank: 1
- Last Week: (2-0) W vs. LAS 95-66; W at DAL 91-85
- This Week: Tue. 9/3 at NYL; Fri. 9/6 vs. DAL; Sun. 9/8 vs. CHI
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 112.6 (1); DefRtg: 98.0 (6); NetRtg: 14.6 (1); eFG%: 53.5 (1); Pace: 94.21 (8)
2. Connecticut Sun (22-9, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 3
- Last Week: (2-0) W at SEA 89-70; W at NYL 94-84
- This Week: Wed. 9/4 vs. DAL; Fri. 9/6 vs. CHI; Sun. 9/8 at IND
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 99.4 (3); DefRtg: 95.5 (2); NetRtg: 3.9 (3); eFG%: 47.3 (5); Pace: 95.96 (5)
3. Los Angeles Sparks (19-12, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 2
- Last Week: (1-2) L at WAS 95-66; W at IND 87-83; L at LVA 92-86
- This Week: Tue. 9/3 vs. ATL; Thur. 9/5 vs. SEA; Sun. 9/8 vs. MIN
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 98.6 (6); DefRtg: 97.1 (5); NetRtg: 1.5 (6); eFG%: 47.9 (4); Pace: 96.56 (4))
4. Las Vegas Aces (20-12, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 5
- Last Week: (1-1) L at IND 86-71; W vs. LAS 92-86
- This Week: Thur. 9/5 at ATL; Sun. 9/8 at PHX
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 98.8 (5); DefRtg: 94.6 (1); NetRtg: 4.1 (2); eFG%: 46.6 (8); Pace: 98.81 (2)
5. Chicago Sky (19-13, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 4
- Last Week: (1-2) L at MIN 93-85; L vs. DAL 88-83; W vs. PHX 105-78
- This Week: Fri. 9/6 at CON; Sun. 9/8 at WAS
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 101.3 (2); DefRtg: 99.4 (8); NetRtg: 1.9 (5); eFG%: 49.6 (2); Pace: 99.21 (1)
6. Minnesota Lynx (17-15, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 7
- Last Week: (2-0) W vs. CHI 93-85; W vs. IND 81-73
- This Week: Fri. 9/6 at PHX; Sun. 9/8 at LAS
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 98.9 (4); DefRtg: 95.9 (3); NetRtg: 3.0 (4); eFG%: 49.5 (3); Pace: 95.29 (6)
7. Seattle Storm (16-15, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 6
- Last Week: (1-1) L vs. CON 89-70; W vs. ATL 92-75
- This Week: Tue. 9/3 at PHX; Thur. 9/5 at LAS; Sun. 9/8 at DAL
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 96.1 (9); DefRtg: 96.0 (4); NetRtg: 0.1 (7); eFG%: 47.2 (7); Pace: 93.35 (9)
8. Phoenix Mercury (15-16, Clinched Playoff Berth)
- Previous Rank: 8
- Last Week: (2-1) W at NYL 95-82; W at ATL 65-58; L at CHI 105-78
- This Week: Tue. 9/3 vs. SEA; Fri. 9/6 vs. MIN; Sun. 9/8 vs. LVA
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 98.5 (7); DefRtg: 98.5 (7); NetRtg: 0.0 (8); eFG%: 47.3 (6); Pace: 92.92 (11)
9. Indiana Fever (11-21, Eliminated From Playoffs)
- Previous Rank: 9
- Last Week: (1-2) W vs. LVA 86-71; L vs. LAS 87-83; L at MIN 81-73
- This Week: Fri. 9/6 at NYL; Sun. 9/8 vs. CON
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 97.6 (8); DefRtg: 102.5 (11); NetRtg: -4.9 (9); eFG%: 45.7 (10); Pace: 93.34 (10)
10. Dallas Wings (10-21, Eliminated From Playoffs)
- Previous Rank: 10
- Last Week: (1-1) W at CHI 88-83; L vs. WAS 91-85
- This Week: Wed. 9/4 at CON; Fri. 9/6 at WAS; Sun. 9/8 vs. SEA
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 94.3 (11); DefRtg: 100.1 (9); NetRtg: -5.8 (10); eFG%: 43.6 (11); Pace: 91.39 (12)
11. New York Liberty (9-22, Eliminated From Playoffs)
- Previous Rank: 11
- Last Week: (0-2) L vs. PHX 95-82; L vs. CON 94-84
- This Week: Tue. 9/3 vs. WAS; Fri. 9/6 vs. IND; Sun. 9/8 at ATL
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 95.7 (10); DefRtg: 104.6 (12); NetRtg: -8.9 (11); eFG%: 46.0 (9); Pace: 97.43 (3)
12. Atlanta Dream (7-24, Eliminated From Playoffs)
- Previous Rank: 12
- Last Week: (0-2) L vs. PHX 65-58; L at SEA 92-75
- This Week: Tue. 9/3 at LAS; Thur. 9/5 vs. LVA; Sun. 9/8 vs. NYL
- Team Stats: OffRtg: 90.4 (12); DefRtg: 100.5 (10); NetRtg: -10.1 (12); eFG%: 41.9 (12); Pace: 94.61 (7)