Heading into this week, three teams have clinched playoff berths – Minnesota, Los Angeles and Connecticut – while no teams have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention just yet. As the push towards the postseason continues, we look at one question for each team to answer before the regular season ends on September 3.
1. Minnesota Lynx
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
2017 Record: 21-4; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 107.3 (2); DefRtg: 95.3 (1); NetRtg: 12.0 (1); TS%: 56.0 (3)
Can they win the title without Lindsay Whalen?
There’s a reason that Whalen is the WNBA’s all-time leader in wins with 307 in her 14-year career. Since she was sidelined with a broken hand on August 4, the Lynx have gone just 1-2, including a home loss to the Sparks in the second of three Finals rematches. While there is still a chance Whalen could return this season – no timeline has been given for her recovery – the Lynx must prepare to enter the postseason without her. Up next, Minnesota faces five of its next seven games on the road, beginning with a trip to Seattle on Wednesday (10 ET, NBA TV).
2. Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
2017 Record: 19-8; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 106.2 (3); DefRtg: 98.7 (2); NetRtg: 7.5 (2); TS%: 56.3 (2)
Can they improve on the road?
While the Sparks are the best team at home (12-1), they are just .500 (7-7) on the road. Just last week, they picked up a big road win over Minnesota, but followed it up with a 14-point loss at New York. As the Sparks look to maintain a tight grip on their No. 2 playoff seed, they must play three of their next four games on the road. L.A. holds a 1.5 games edge and owns the tiebreaker against No. 3 Connecticut, but the Sun are unbeaten since the All-Star break.
3. Connecticut Sun
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
2017 Record: 17-9; This Week: 2-0
OffRtg: 107.8 (1); DefRtg: 101.0 (5); NetRtg: 6.7 (3); TS%: 54.0 (5)
How will they react on the playoff stage?
The Sun have won a league-high five games in a row and secured their first playoff berth since 2012 over the weekend. Not only were none of the players on the current Sun roster on that 2012 playoff team, most of them weren’t even in the WNBA at that point. The Sun are in great position to secure a top four seed, which guarantees them at least a first-round bye. When they do open the postseason, it will be the first playoff games for seven of the 12 players on the roster. The rest have a combined 51 playoff games played.
4. Washington Mystics
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
2017 Record: 16-10; This Week: 1-0
OffRtg: 105.6 (4); DefRtg: 101.0 (6); NetRtg: 4.6 (4); TS%: 53.1 (7)
Can they hold their spot without EDD?
As we detailed in last week’s look at the playoff picture, the race to secure a first-round bye is going to be fierce over the next few weeks. Currently slotted at No. 4, Washington holds a 1.5 game lead over New York and a 2.5 game lead over Phoenix. In terms of tie-breakers, the season series with both teams are tied at 1-1 and have one more game coming up. The first of those tests comes against Phoenix on Friday in D.C. While the Mercury got back their injured star Brittney Griner over the weekend, the Mystics will continue to be without Elena Delle Donne as they look to hold onto their position.
5. New York Liberty
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
2017 Record: 15-12; This Week: 3-0
OffRtg: 101.1 (8); DefRtg: 100.7 (4); NetRtg: 0.4 (6); TS%: 51.4 (10)
Can they score enough in the playoffs?
The Liberty are one of four teams to average fewer than 80 points per game and are the only one of those teams in the playoff picture. New York has consistently had a great defense and a shaky offense. Dating back to 2014, their defense has ranked 4th, 1st, 3rd and currently 4th. Meanwhile, their offense has ranked 12th, 10th, 11th and currently 8th. The Liberty have made two playoff appearances in that time and only advanced one round back in 2015. They were knocked out in a single-elimination game last year by Phoenix.
6. Phoenix Mercury
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
2017 Record: 14-13; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 103.4 (7); DefRtg: 102.2 (7); NetRtg: 1.2 (5); TS%: 54.7 (4)
With Griner back, are they set to rise?
After going 3-5 without Brittney Griner as the WNBA’s leading scorer was recovering from knee and ankle injuries, the Mercury lost to the Storm in her first game back on the court. Phoenix is off until Friday, which gives them time to acclimate Griner back into the mix before hitting the road to open a four-game stretch against the top four teams in the league – at Washington, at Connecticut, at Minnesota and home against Los Angeles.
7. Chicago Sky
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
2017 Record: 11-16; This Week: 1-0
OffRtg: 99.5 (9); DefRtg: 103.1 (8); NetRtg: -3.6 (9); TS%: 53.5 (6)
Can they keep this up?
After winning five of six games prior to the All-Star break, the Sky stumbled out the gate to open the second half of the season as they dropped three straight. Just when their playoff hopes looked dashed, the Sky bounced back with three straight wins to put themselves back in the playoff scene. Overall, the Sky are 8-4 in their last 12 games and 11-16 overall. Those 16 losses match No. 7 Dallas (13-16) and No. 9 Seattle (11-16) as those three teams battle for the final two playoff spots. The Sky and Wings are tied at 1-1 this season with one more matchup (8/30), while the Sky are up 1-0 on Seattle with two more matchups (8/20 and 9/3). All three of those games that could determine tiebreakers will be played in Chicago, where the Sky are just 4-7 on the season, but have won two straight.
8. Dallas Wings
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
2017 Record: 13-14; This Week: 0-2
OffRtg: 103.6 (6); DefRtg: 107.8 (12); NetRtg: -4.2 (10); TS%: 52.1 (9)
Can they find consistency?
The Wings continue to take a step forward immediately followed by a step back. Coming off wins over the Storm and the defending champion Sparks, Dallas was unable to keep the momentum going last week with losses to Phoenix and Connecticut. While the road loss to the Sun was not unexpected, the loss at home to Phoenix, without Brittney Griner, was a tough one to take. Especially after the Wings built a six-point lead in overtime before being outscored 11-5 over the final two-and-a-half minutes. Only San Antonio has played as many games as Dallas (29), so there are only five games left for them to secure their playoff berth and prepare for their first postseason in Dallas.
9. Seattle Storm
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
2017 Record: 11-16; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 104.4 (5); DefRtg: 105.9 (10); NetRtg: -1.5 (7); TS%: 57.8 (1)
Will a coaching change be the answer?
After falling to 10-16 on the season, the Storm decided a change of leadership was needed as they relieved Jenny Boucek of head coaching duties and named assistant Gary Kloppenburg the interim head coach. Seattle won its first outing with Kloppenburg calling the shots as they snapped a four-game losing streak with an impressive 98-89 win in Phoenix to spoil Brittney Griner’s return to the court. It was just the third win away from Seattle for the Storm this season, which closes its season with four of five on the road. However, this week they open with a pair of home games against the Lynx (Wednesday, 10 ET, NBA TV) and the suddenly hot Stars (Friday, 10 ET, NBA TV).
10. San Antonio Stars
Last Week’s Ranking: 12
2017 Record: 7-22; This Week: 1-1
OffRtg: 95.8 (12); DefRtg: 103.9 (9); NetRtg: -8.2 (11); TS%: 50.9 (11)
Why couldn’t this have happened sooner?
Over the past two weeks, the Stars have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning four of their last five games, with all four wins coming at home. While San Antonio has not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it would take a miracle for the 7-22 team to leap past the four teams ahead of them. San Antonio is five games back of No. 8 Chicago with only six games to play. While all signs point to a return to the lottery, the young Stars will look to close out the regular season strong and look to carry that momentum into next season.
11. Atlanta Dream
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
2017 Record: 10-18; This Week: 0-3
OffRtg: 97.5 (11); DefRtg: 100.6 (3); NetRtg: -3.1 (8); TS%: 49.2 (12)
Can they get back on track before its too late?
In their first game after the All-Star break, the Dream beat the Mercury to improve to 10-11 on the season as Layshia Clarendon became just the sixth player in WNBA history to record a triple-double. However, the next day, after one of Clarendon’s assists was rescinded, the triple-double was gone and since then so has winning basketball in the ATL. The Dream have lost seven straight games, while averaging just 72.4 points per game during that stretch – six points fewer than any other team. Atlanta has the third-ranked defense in the WNBA, but their offense is second to last and they are the only team with a true shooting percentage below 50 percent. Even with their struggles over the past three weeks, the Dream remain in playoff contention – just 1.5 games back of No. 8 Chicago with six games to play. The first is Tuesday, when the Dream host the East-leading Sun (7 ET, NBA TV).
12. Indiana Fever
Last Week’s Ranking: 11
2017 Record: 9-19; This Week: 0-2
OffRtg: 98.6 (10); DefRtg: 107.5 (11); NetRtg: -8.8 (12); TS%: 52.2 (8)
Is this the end of the playoff streak?
The last time the Indiana Fever did not make the WNBA Playoffs was back in 2004. No player on the current Fever team was playing in the WNBA the last time that happened. To put it in perspective, 2004 was Diana Taurasi’s rookie year and she just became the league’s all-time leading scorer. That WNBA-record streak of 12 straight playoff appearances is now in serious danger of ending as the Fever are just 9-19 after losing seven of their last eight games. And to make matters worse, their next three games are against Minnesota (21-4), Washington (16-10) and New York (15-12).