WNBA Playoff Race: 5 Teams, 2 Spots, 1 Week

With an 86-77 win over New York on Monday night, the Dallas Wings won their fifth straight game and became the sixth team to clinch a spot in the 2022 WNBA Playoffs, which tip off on August 17.

That leaves just two playoff berths remaining and five teams — Atlanta, Phoenix, Minnesota, New York, and Los Angeles — still in the hunt with less than a week left in the regular season. Below we’ll look at each of the five contending teams to see which teams have the best chance to emerge with the final two spots in the postseason field.

Note: All records and stats through games played on Monday, August 8.

Remaining Games: Separated by home and away, including win percentages at each location for the season

Strength of Schedule (rank): Combined win percentage against remaining opponents, ranked smallest (easiest) to most significant (hardest).

A look at the current standings shows two groups — the teams currently holding the final two playoff berths each at 14-19 (Atlanta and Phoenix) and three teams one game back of the playoff field with matching 13-20 records (Minnesota, New York, and Los Angeles).

Atlanta Dream (14-19)

Current Ranking: 7 (via tiebreaker over PHX)

FiveThirtyEight: 63% chance of making playoffs

Tiebreakers

• 2—1 vs. PHX (series complete, ATL won series)

• 2—1 vs. LAS (series complete, ATL won series)

• 1—2 vs. MIN (series complete, MIN won series)

• 1—1 vs. NYL (2 games remaining, 8/12 vs. NYL, 8/14 at NYL)

• 6—13 vs. OPP .500+ (.316 win percentage)

Remaining Schedule

• Tuesday 8/9 at LVA

• Friday 8/12 vs. NYL

• Sunday 8/14 at NYL

• Combined record/win percentage of remaining opponents: 49-50 (.495)

The Dream enter the final week of the regular season as the No. 7 seed as they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Phoenix by winning their season series 2-1. In terms of Atlanta’s other head-to-head tiebreakers, the Dream won the series with the Sparks (2-1), lost to the Lynx (1-2), and are currently tied with the Liberty (1-1) with two games remaining this weekend.

With so many teams bunched up in the standings, there is a chance that further tiebreakers will be necessary beyond head-to-head. Of the five teams remaining, the Dream have the second-lowest win percentage (.316) against teams currently over .500. The Dream can improve that mark on Tuesday when they visit 23-10 Las Vegas before closing out the regular season with a home-and-home set with 13-20 New York.

The Dream’s odds of making the postseason for the first time since 2018 are high since they hold a superior record than three of the five teams in contention entering the week and hold tiebreakers over two teams and a chance to make it three this weekend. However, facing a tough Aces squad to open the week could make things interesting heading into that final two-game set with the Liberty.

Phoenix Mercury (14-19)

Current Ranking:

FiveThirtyEight: 65% chance of making playoffs

Tiebreakers

• 2—2 vs. LAS (series complete, tied, LAS better vs. teams over .500)

• 1—2 vs. ATL (series complete, ATL won series)

• 0—3 vs. MIN (1 game remaining, 8/10 vs. MIN; MIN won series)

• 2—1 vs. NYL (series complete, PHX won series)

• 6—11 vs. OPP .500+ (.353 win percentage)

Remaining Schedule

• Wednesday 8/10 vs. MIN

• Friday 8/12 vs. DAL

• Sunday 8/14 vs. CHI

• Combined record/win percentage of remaining opponents: 55-44 (.556)

If the Mercury are going to qualify for the playoffs for the 10th consecutive year, they will have to do so without superstar Diana Taurasi, who was ruled out for the rest of the regular season on Monday due to a quad strain that has kept her out of Phoenix’s previous two games. Phoenix signed Yvonne Turner to a hardship contract in Taurasi’s place.

Now for the good news — the Mercury close out the regular season with a four-game homestand, which began Saturday with a win over New York to clinch the season series and head-to-head tiebreaker with the Liberty, and continues this week with games against Minnesota, Dallas, and Chicago. The Mercury are 10-5 at home this season compared to just 4-14 on the road.

However, we have to go back to the bad news — the Mercury’s combined record against their final three opponents this season is just 1-7. And while Phoenix clinched the tiebreaker over New York, it is the only one they have against the four other teams in contention for the final two playoff spots. Despite that, the Mercury still have strong odds to make the playoffs as they begin the week in the No. 8 spot and have three home games to try to hold their position. Wednesday’s matchup against the Lynx will be crucial to watch as Phoenix is 0-3 against Minnesota this season, and another loss would flip-flop them in the playoff race.

Minnesota Lynx (13-20)

Current Ranking: 9 (via tiebreakers over NYL and LAS) 

FiveThirtyEight: 35% chance of making playoffs

Tiebreakers

• 3—0 vs. PHX (1 game remaining, 8/10 at PHX; MIN won series)

• 2—1 vs. LAS (series complete, MIN won series)

• 2—1 vs. ATL (series complete, MIN won series)

• 2—1 vs. NYL (series complete, MIN won series)

• 3—15 vs. OPP .500+ (.167 win percentage)

Remaining Schedule

• Wednesday 8/10 at PHX

• Friday 8/12 vs. SEA

• Sunday 8/14 at CON

• Combined record/win percentage of remaining opponents: 56-43 (.566)

While the Mercury will be shorthanded entering the final week of the season, the Lynx just got a boost with the return of Napheesa Collier to the lineup less than three months after giving birth to her daughter. Collier made her triumphant return to the court on Sunday, finishing with six points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block in 21 minutes as the Lynx knocked off the Dream 81-71.

Collier stated earlier in the season that she hoped to return to play alongside Sylvia Fowles before the legendary center called it a career at the end of the season. But rather than just playing the final four regular-season games together, can Collier’s return be the push that Minnesota needs to extend their streak of playoff appearances to 12 (2011-present) and tie the Indiana Fever (2005-2016) for the longest run in league history?

The Lynx have the best odds of making the postseason of the three teams currently sitting at 12-20. A big reason is that they hold the head-to-head tiebreakers over the four other teams in playoff contention. However, there are two things not in Minnesota’s favor: first, they have the second-toughest remaining schedule over the four teams remaining with games against Phoenix, Seattle, and Connecticut; second, if head-to-head tiebreakers are not able to break a tie at season’s end, the Lynx have the worst record against teams over .500 among the playoff contenders.

New York Liberty (13-20)

Current Ranking: 10 (via tiebreaker over LAS)

FiveThirtyEight: 30% chance of making playoffs

Tiebreakers

• 1—2 vs. PHX (series complete, PHX won series)

• 2—1 vs. LAS (series complete, NYL won series)

• 1—1 vs. ATL (2 games remaining, 8/12 at ATL, 8/14 vs. ATL)

• 1—2 vs. MIN (series complete, MIN won series)

• 7—12 vs. OPP .500+ (.368 percentage)

Remaining Schedule

• Wednesday 8/10 at DAL

• Friday 8/12 at ATL

• Sunday 8/14 vs. ATL

• Combined record/win percentage of remaining opponents: 45-54 (.455)

New York had an opportunity to join Atlanta and Phoenix at 14-19 on Monday night, but a rough fourth quarter against Dallas led to an 86-77 loss and dropped the Liberty to 10th in the standings. The Lynx hold the head-to-head tiebreakers with New York and Los Angeles to give them the No. 9 spot, while the Liberty hold the tiebreaker over the Sparks to sit at No. 10 entering the final three games of the regular season.

Entering Tuesday’s games, the tiebreaker over Los Angeles is the only one in the Liberty’s favor as Minnesota and Phoenix are both on the season series 2-1 over New York. The season series with Atlanta is still to be determined as the teams split their first two meetings and close out the season against one another with a home-and-home set on Friday and Sunday. 

Of the five teams still in playoff contention, the Liberty have the easiest schedule based on the combined record of their remaining opponents (.455). However, the Liberty have just one home game and two road games to play — the Liberty are 8-9 at Barclays Center compared to 5-11 outside of Brooklyn. While the two-game set with the Dream is of added importance as all games are between these contending teams — the Liberty can improve their playoff odds if they can avenge Monday’s loss to the Wings in Dallas on Wednesday.

Los Angeles Sparks (13-20)

Current Ranking: 11 

FiveThirtyEight: 8% chance of making playoffs

Tiebreakers

• 2—2 vs. PHX (series complete, tied, LAS better vs. teams over .500)

• 1—2 vs. ATL (series complete, ATL won series)

• 1—2 vs. MIN (series complete, MIN won series)

• 1—2 vs. NYL (series complete, NYL won series)

• 5—9 vs. OPP .500+ (.357 win percentage)

Remaining Schedule

• Tuesday 8/9 vs. CON

• Thursday 8/11 vs. CON

• Sunday 8/14 vs. DAL

• Combined record/win percentage of remaining opponents: 61-38 (.616)

The Sparks have the longest odds of making the postseason as they enter the season’s final week with the toughest remaining schedule among the five teams in contention. All three games left on the Sparks schedule come against teams already qualified for the playoffs — 22-11 Connecticut on Tuesday and Thursday; 17-16 Dallas on Sunday. 

Los Angeles also holds just one head-to-head tiebreaker against the other four teams — the Sparks and Mercury split their season series 2-2. Still, L.A. has a superior record against teams over .500… at least for now, as each of the Sparks’ final three games come against teams with winning records. The Sparks enter the last week having played the fewest games against winning teams (14) than any other team in the WNBA.

The only thing playing in the Sparks’ favor is that all three of their final games will be played at home; the Sparks are 7-8 at Crypto.com Arena this season compared to 6-12 outside of Los Angeles. Starting this week a game back, having four teams ahead of them, and only one tiebreaker to work with, the Sparks will likely need to sweep this final homestand to have a shot at making the playoffs for the 21st time in 26 seasons. Only Seattle (.818, 18 of 22 seasons) has a higher percentage of qualifying for the playoffs than the Sparks (.800, 20 of 25 seasons) in WNBA history.

Longtime WNBA reporter Brian Martin writes articles on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.