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.
The 2020 WNBA Playoffs Presented by AT&T tip off in just one week on Sept. 15 and while we know seven of the eight teams that will compete for the championship, there is still much to be determined in the final six days of the regular season.
As part of this week’s power rankings, we’ll take a closer look at each team’s playoff outlook as the battle to earn a top two seed (double-bye to Semifinals) or a No. 3 or No. 4 seed (single-bye to Second Round) reaches its boiling point.
1. Seattle Storm (16-3)
– 1.5 GM lead on LVA (0-1 vs. LVA, 1 matchup remaining on 9/13)
– 2.0 GM lead on LAS (2-0 vs. LAS, own tiebreaker)
– 9-1 record vs. teams .500 or better, 2 games remaining (indicated below with *)
– Remaining Schedule: 9/9 vs. DAL; *9/11 vs. PHX; *9/13 vs. LVA
The Storm are nearly a lock to earn a top-two seed and a double-bye to the Semifinals. Either a Storm win or a Sparks loss would lock at least the No. 2 seed for Seattle. The Storm hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Los Angeles so the only way the Sparks could catch the Storm is if L.A. wins all three of its final games and Seattle loses all three of its final games.
The battle for the No. 1 overall seed could come down to the final day of the season when the Storm and Aces meet for the second time this season. Las Vegas won the first meeting, so a Seattle win would even the head-to-head tiebreaker and force the next tiebreaker (better record against teams that finish .500 or better). The Storm enter the week with a huge advantage in that tiebreaker with a 9-1 record against teams currently .500 or better with two games remaining. The Aces are 5-4 with three games remaining.
2. Las Vegas Aces (14-4)
– 1.5 GM back of SEA (1-0 vs. SEA, 1 matchup remaining on 9/13)
– 0.5 GM lead on LAS (1-0 vs. LAS, 1 matchup remaining on 9/12)
– 5-4 record vs. teams .500 or better, 3 games remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: 9/8 vs. IND; *9/10 vs. MIN; *9/12 vs. LAS; *9/13 vs. SEA
The real battle for the double-bye will likely come down to the Aces and Sparks with Las Vegas in control of its own destiny as they enter the week with one fewer loss than Los Angeles. The Aces, however, are one of three teams with four games in the final week, concluding with a back-to-back against the same two teams they are trying to edge out for a top two seed – Los Angeles on Saturday and Seattle on Sunday.
The Aces won the first meeting of the season with both the Sparks and the Storm, so if they win those final two games, they will hold the head-to-head tiebreakers against both teams. The key game to watch is Saturday’s matchup with L.A. If the Aces win that game, that means the Aces would need only one more win to lock up a top-two seed as neither the Sparks nor Lynx would be able to catch them.
3. Los Angeles Sparks (14-5)
– 2.0 GM back of SEA (0-2 vs. SEA, no tiebreaker)
– 0.5 GM back of LVA (0-1 vs. LVA, 1 matchup remaining on 9/12)
– 6-5 record vs. teams .500 or better, 1 game remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: 9/8 vs. NYL; 9/10 vs. WAS; *9/12 vs. LVA
The Sparks were dealt a crushing blow when Jewell Loyd knocked down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Storm a 90-89 win and a season series sweep over the Sparks on Friday. Not only was it a stunning way to lose a game, but it also made L.A.’s chances of earning a top-two seed much more difficult. The Sparks enter the week a half-game back of Las Vegas for the No. 2 seed and two games back of Seattle for the No. 1 seed.
By Seattle holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, the only way for L.A. to catch Seattle is to win out while Seattle loses out. Is that possible? Sure. Is it likely? No.
L.A.’s best shot at earning a top-two seed is catching Las Vegas and the two teams meet on Saturday in what should be one of the most important games of the regular season. The Aces won the first meeting, so this would be a must win for the Sparks to have a realistic shot of passing them for the No. 2 seed. An even record in the season series, would send the tiebreaker to best record against teams .500 or better. The Sparks are 6-5 in those games with the Aces game being their only one remaining. The Aces are 5-4 in those games with three games remaining.
4. Minnesota Lynx (13-6)
– 1.5 GB of #2 LVA (0-1, 1 matchup remaining on 9/10)
– 1.0 GB of #3 LAS (1-1)
– 1.5 GM lead on #5 PHX (1-1)
– 2.5 GM lead on #6 CHI (2-0)
– 6-5 record vs. teams .500 or better, 1 game remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: 9/8 vs. WAS; *9/10 vs. LVA; 9/12 vs. IND
The Lynx will need a lot of help to climb into the top two seeds as they trail Las Vegas by two games in the loss column and L.A. by one game. They can’t catch Seattle (3 games back with 3 games to play and Seattle own’s the tiebreaker), so the only hope would be to pass both Las Vegas and Los Angeles. To have any realistic shot of climbing into the top two, the Lynx must beat the Aces on Thursday in their final meeting of the regular season. A Lynx win would mean a season series split with both the Aces and the Sparks, which means further tiebreakers would be needed. The Lynx enter the week 6-5 against teams .500 or better with only the Aces game remaining.
While getting into the top two is a bit of a long shot, the Lynx are in a strong position to finish in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot and earn a single-bye to the Second Round. The only threat would be Phoenix, but the Lynx have a two-game lead in the loss column on the Mercury, so either a Lynx win or Mercury loss essentially locks the Lynx into a top four seed. The Lynx lead the Sky by three games in the loss column and swept the season series, so there is no way for Chicago to catch them.
5. Phoenix Mercury (12-8)
– 2.5 GB of #3 LAS (0-2)
– 1.5 GB of #4 MIN (1-1)
– 1.0 GM lead on #6 CHI (1-1)
– 2.0 GM lead on #7 CON (0-1, 1 matchup remaining on 9/9)
– 4-6 record vs. teams .500 or better, 2 games remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: *9/9 vs. CON; *9/11 vs. SEA
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 2016, the Mercury have made the playoffs each year, but have never earned a bye. They have been formidable in the single-elimination games, going 6-0 in the first three years of the playoff format before a first-round exit in 2019. Entering the final week of the regular season, it looks like the Mercury will have to follow a similar path as the past four years as their odds of earning a top four seed are slim.
Even if the Mercury win out and the Sparks lose out and both teams finish 14-8, the Sparks swept the season series 2-0, so there is no way for Phoenix to catch L.A. That leaves Minnesota as the only team Phoenix has a shot at passing to crack the top four. The only way the Mercury will pass the Lynx is for Phoenix to win its final two games (the Mercury are one of three teams with only two games in the final week of the season) and for Minnesota to lose its final three games.
The Mercury must finish with a superior record in order to pass the Lynx. If the two end up tied at 14-8, the Mercury will not be able to pass the Lynx via the tiebreaker rules. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, which is tied 1-1, so it moves on to superior record against teams .500 or better. The Lynx enter the week 6-5 against teams .500 or better and have one game remaining against such a team. Assuming they lose that game and fall to 6-6, that is the best record that the Mercury can finish with if they win their final two games against Connecticut and Seattle. So that would send it to a third tiebreaker, which is point differential in head-to-head games. The Lynx own that by outscoring the Mercury by a total of six points in their two games this season.
It has to be noted that this assumes that Connecticut finishes the season .500 or better. The Sun close the season with games against Phoenix (12-8) and Atlanta (5-14).
6. Connecticut Sun (10-10)
– Currently No. 7 seed, but No. 6 in power rankings
– 2.0 GB of #5 PHX (1-0, 1 matchup remaining on 9/9)
– 1.0 GB of #6 CHI (1-1)
– 2.5 GM lead on #8 DAL (2-0)
– 2-9 record vs. teams .500 or better, 1 game remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: *9/9 vs. PHX; 9/11 vs. ATL
The Sun are coming off a 15-point win over the Mercury with the two teams facing off again on Wednesday. If the Sun win that game and clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker, they could pass the Mercury in the final standings if Connecticut closes the season with a win over Atlanta and Phoenix falls to Seattle.
The Sun do not own the tiebreaker with the Sky as the two teams split their season series and Chicago has a superior record against teams .500 or better (5-7, no games left) than Connecticut (2-9, one game left). So for the Sun to pass the Sky, Connecticut must win out to finish 12-10, while Chicago loses out to finish 11-11.
7. Chicago Sky (11-9)
– Currently No. 6 seed, but No. 7 in power rankings
– 2.5 GB of #4 MIN (0-2)
– 1.0 GB of #5 PHX (1-1)
– 1.0 GM lead on #7 CON (1-1)
– 5-7 record vs. teams .500 or better, 0 games remaining
– Remaining Schedule: 9/9 vs. ATL; 9/11 vs. DAL
After opening the season 10-4, the Sky have lost five of their last six games to tumble down to the No. 6 spot in the standings and out of contention for a first-round bye. The Sky have two games remaining on their schedule against teams they have already beaten this season – Atlanta (5-14) and Dallas (7-12) – that could give the Sky a chance to enter the postseason on more of a positive note.
8. Dallas Wings (7-12)
– 1.5 GM lead over #9 WAS (2-0, own tiebreaker)
– 2.0 GM lead over #10 IND (2-0, own tiebreaker)
– 2.0 GM lead over #11 ATL (1-1)
– 1-11 vs. teams .500 or better, 2 games remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: *9/9 vs. SEA; *9/11 vs. CHI; 9/13 vs. NYL
The Wings are in a strong position to return to the postseason after missing out a year ago. Dallas enters the week with a 1.5 game lead over Washington and a 2.0 game lead over both Indiana and Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wings would have to lose two of their final three games in order to be in jeopardy of being caught by the three teams below them that are still in playoff contention.
By holding head-to-head tiebreakers over Washington (5-13) and Indiana (5-14) and having split the season series with Atlanta (5-14), the Wings would have to lose two games while one of the teams below them wins out (three games for ATL and IND, four for WAS).
A Dallas win in any of its final three games means that Atlanta, Washington or Indiana would be eliminated with just one loss down the stretch.
9. Atlanta Dream (5-14)
– Currently No. 11 seed, but No. 9 in power rankings
– 2.0 GB of #8 DAL (1-1)
– 0.5 GB of #9 WAS (0-1, 1 matchup remaining on 9/13)
– Even with #10 IND (1-1)
– 1-11 vs. teams .500 or better, 2 games remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: *9/9 vs. CHI; *9/11 vs. CON; 9/13 vs. WAS
The Dream pose the greatest threat to the Wings for the eighth and final playoff spot as the Dream are the only team in which the Wings do not own a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Should the Dream and Wings finish tied in the standings, a key to watch is how each team performs against opponents with winning records in the final week. Both the Wings and Dream enter the week just 1-11 against teams .500 or better and both have two games left against such teams.
Since the head-to-head tiebreaker can’t be used (tied 1-1), the next one would be win percentage against teams .500 or better. If that can’t be used (like it can’t be at the moment), then it would go to the next tiebreaker, which is point differential in head to head games. And, of course, that is even as well with the Wings and Dream winning their games against one another by 10 points each.
That would mean it would come down to the fourth tiebreaker which is point differential against all opponents. And here, the Wings have a huge advantage. Entering this week, the Wings point differential is minus-62, compared to the Dream at minus-155.
With all that being said, the Dream’s most realistic shot at getting into the playoffs is winning out and hoping the Wings lose out in order to finish with a superior overall record.
10. Washington Mystics (5-13)
– Currently No. 9 seed, but No. 10 in power rankings
– 1.5 GB of #8 DAL (0-2)
– 0.5 GM lead on #10 IND (1-1)
– 0.5 GM lead on #11 ATL (1-0, 1 matchup remaining on 9/13)
– 3-9 vs. teams .500 or better, 2 games remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: *9/8 vs. MIN; *9/10 vs. LAS; 9/12 vs. NYL; 9/13 vs. ATL
The Mystics have four games to close out the regular season and a lot of work to do in order to catch the Wings. While Washington is 1.5 games back of Dallas, the fact that Dallas swept the season series and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, means the Mystics must finish with a superior record.
That means the Mystics (who enter the week having lost six of their last seven games) either need Dallas to lose two games and Washington win out, or for Dallas to lose out and Washington win at least three of its final four games.
The Mystics would also have to contend with the Dream, and the two teams close out the regular season against one another. Washington leads the season series 1-0, so a win on Sunday would clinch a tiebreaker with Atlanta, should they finish the season with matching records.
11. Indiana Fever (5-14)
– Currently No. 10 seed, but No. 11 in power rankings
– 2.0 GB of #8 DAL (0-2)
– 0.5 GB of #9 WAS (1-1)
– Even with #11 ATL (1-1)
– 2-10 vs. teams .500 or better, 2 games remaining(*)
– Remaining Schedule: *9/8 vs. LVA; 9/10 vs. NYL; *9/12 vs. MIN
The Fever have lost seven straight and nine of their last 10 games, with their four most recent losses coming by an average of 19.5 points. For the Fever to have any chance at the playoffs, they will need to close the season with three straight wins, with two of those games coming against teams over .500.
Since Dallas owns the head to head tiebreaker with Indiana, the Fever must finish with a superior record in order to pass the Wings in the final standings. That means the Fever would need to go 3-0 and the Wings go 0-3 to finish the season. And that doesn’t take into consideration what Atlanta and Washington do in the final week of the season. The Fever split the season series with both teams, so the next tiebreaker to use would be record against .500 teams. The Fever enter the week at 2-10 in those games, which trails Washington (3-9) and is ahead of Atlanta (1-11).
12. New York Liberty (2-16)
The Liberty are the only team that has been eliminated from postseason contention.