The number of games left in the 2018 WNBA regular-season season for each team can now be counted on one hand. All but one of the playoff spots, though few playoff positions, have been determined. And the stretch is going to be every bit the drama-fest we thought (and let’s face it, hoped) it would be. Let’s take a look at the biggest games in the next six days, setting the stage for what might be the most competitive, compelling postseason in league history.
Las Vegas at Dallas (8 p.m. ET, League Pass): A head-to-head meeting that could determine either team’s postseason fate. The young Aces have wondered, even out loud, this season, whether they will have the experience to pull off a critical win. Getting to be time to find out. The Wings haven’t won a game since mid-July and the tumult hit a new high on Sunday with the departure of longtime head coach Fred Williams. This will be as big a game as either team has been in all season.
Los Angeles at Washington (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV): The Sparks, currently sitting in the No. 5 seed with the playoff spot sealed, have their sights set on a third straight trip to the Finals, but it’s the Mystics who have the hot hand with six straight wins and a strong claim on the No. 3 seed.
Minnesota vs. Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, League Pass): Both teams are in. The Lynx will still be tuning things up in their backcourt. But this game is going to have more than a little sentiment behind it with Lindsay Whalen making her final regular-season appearance in the place where her WNBA career began 15 years ago.
SUNDAY – Last Day of the 2018 regular season
Los Angeles at Connecticut (3 p.m. ET, Twitter): The Ogwumike sisters do battle for the final time during the regular season – the Sun has won both matchups against the Sparks so far this season. Nneka would certainly like to get one back on the cusp of the playoffs.
Atlanta at Las Vegas (6 p.m. ET, ESPN 3): Will this be the Aces’ last gasp? Or the last game in Sin City in this inaugural season for a lottery-bound team?
Washington at Minnesota (7 p.m. ET, ESPN 2):\ In what could be Whalen’s last basketball game in front of her hometown fans in Minneapolis – not to mention against Mike Thibault, the first WNBA coach she ever played for – this is the kind of game that could still be determining playoff positioning.
LATE-SEASON INJURY IMPACT
News that Danielle Robinson had surgery on her high ankle injury and will be out “indefinitely” with the postseason rapidly approaching is a less-than-welcome scenario for the Minnesota Lynx. They will have to hope that Whalen, playing in the final postseason of her professional career, is ready to carry them with a significant number of minutes into the postseason.
Whalen has been averaging 5.5 points and 19.4 minutes per game, the lowest numbers of her 15-year WNBA career. Last Sunday night, against Seattle, Whalen came off the bench for the first time since she was a WNBA rookie in 2004. Veteran Tanisha Wright, who got the start Sunday in Seattle and scored just three points in 35 minutes and youngster Alexis Jones will also have to be prepared to contribute in a bigger way.
In Atlanta, the Dream are proving that a team can move forward in a positive way even after an injury to a key player.
Angel McCoughtry’s season-ending knee injury could have been a major blow, but the Dream have great backcourt depth with Tiffany Hayes, Brittney Sykes, Renee Montgomery and Alex Bentley and they have so far been able to absorb the big loss and maintain their hold on the No. 2 spot in the league standings. But the postseason will be a different challenge.
McCoughtry, who was averaging 16.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game before her injury, has played in two Finals series. She is a postseason veteran and that experience is going to be missed on the floor when the going gets tough.
MY AWARDS BALLOT REVEALED
Most Valuable Player – Breanna Stewart, Seattle: In her third professional season, Stewart proved without a doubt that she is one of the most versatile players on the planet. In a year of transition for the Storm under new head coach Dan Hughes, Stewart was the constant in the box score. The Storm are the best team in the league this season and Stewart is their best player. That equals Most Valuable Player.
Rookie of the Year – A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas: A no-brainer vote for Las Vegas Aces’ star Wilson. Wilson’s impact was immediate, consistent and an opening act to what is surely going to be a spectacular WNBA career. If the Aces make their way into the playoffs, it will be because Wilson was able to carry them there.
Coach of the Year – Nicki Collen, Atlanta: Collen, a first-time head coach, took a Dream team that was stagnant at 8-9 at the halftime point and vaulted them to a 14-1 second half (so far). She challenged them to find their defense and their chemistry and the players responded. They have won season series over the Storm, Sparks, Mystics, Sun and Lynx. As good a job as Hughes has done in his first season in Seattle with three All-Stars in Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, Collen’s team’s accomplishments make her a better selection for this award.
Sixth Woman of the Year – Cheyenne Parker, Chicago: Though the Sky won’t be part of the postseason picture, the emergence of Parker has been one of the season’s bright spots. Parker is averaging 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a game off the bench for the Sky this season in just under 20 minutes a game. Her breakout has included a 20-point, six-rebound effort against Dallas on July 31, an 18-point 9-rebound game against Washington on June 19 and a 20-point, 13-rebound game against Vegas on June 3.
Most Improved Player – Natasha Howard, Seattle: Howard won a title last year in Minnesota and she has a great shot of doing it again this year for the Storm after playing a critical role for Seattle all season. Howard is averaging a career-high in minutes (26.2), points (13.5) and rebounds (6.5). She has tripled her scoring average from last season from 4.3 points a game and is coming off a 21-point game against Minnesota last Sunday.
Defensive Player of the Year – Alana Beard, Los Angeles: Simply the best perimeter defender in the WNBA. At 36 years old. The Sparks lead the league in allowing opponents just 28.9 field-goals per game and 5.3 3-pointers made. They barely rank second behind the Minnesota Lynx in holding opponents to 77.2 points a game. Beard is the defensive glue player for the Los Angeles Sparks. She is revered and respected around the league. Beard also makes L.A. a championship caliber team when she is on the floor.
Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.