Monday, August 15, 2022

WNBA playoff picture, standings, projections: Sky, Sun, Aces fight for No. 1 seed; last two spots up for grabs

With just over two weeks left in the 2022 WNBA regular season, the playoff picture is starting to heat up. Three teams have punched their tickets to the playoffs — the Chicago Sky, Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun — while the Indiana Fever are the only team to be eliminated. 

Looking closer, there have been no seeds locked in, and some exciting races remain. The top three teams are all in the hunt for the No. 1 seed; the Storm and Mystics are battling it out for fourth; six teams from 6th-11th are in a real scrap for the final three spots. 

As a reminder, the league has once again changed its playoff system. While the top eight teams will still make the playoffs, there are no more byes. Instead, every team will begin play in the first round with a standard bracket format that features 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6 and 4 v 5. The bracket will not be re-seeded after the first round. 

The first-round matchups will be best-of-three series, with the higher seed playing Games 1 and 2 at home, and the lower seed hosting Game 3. The semifinals and Finals will both be best-of-five series with a 2-2-1 format which means the higher seeds will host Games 1, 2 and 5, while the lower seeded team will host Games 3 and 4. 

Current standings

1. Chicago Sky (21-7) — Playoff spot clinched

2. Las Vegas Aces (19-10) — Playoff spot clinched

3. Connecticut Sun (20-9) — Playoff spot clinched

4. Seattle Storm (18-11)

5. Washington Mystics (18-11)

6. Phoenix Mercury (13-16)

7. Los Angeles Sparks (12-16)

8. Dallas Wings (12-16)

9. Atlanta Dream (12-17)

10. New York Liberty (10-17)

11. Minnesota Lynx (11-19)

12. Indiana Fever (5-25) — Eliminated

As the action continues down the stretch, here’s a closer look at the playoff picture: 

Race for the No. 1 seed

1. Chicago Sky (21-7) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 8 (incl. at Sun, vs. Sun and at Aces)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Aces: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sun: 2-0 in season series with two games remaining
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 8 Dallas Wings

2. Las Vegas Aces (19-10) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 8 (incl. vs. Sun)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sky: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sun: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Sparks

3. Connecticut Sun (20-9) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 7 (incl. vs. Sky and at Sky)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sky: 0-2 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Aces: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 6 Phoenix Mercury

The Sky are currently alone in first place, but have the Aces and Sun right on their heels. And with one game left against the Sky and two versus the Sun, the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is still all to play for. 

With their current lead and the chance to seize the tiebreakers against both the Aces and the Sun, the Sky have to be considered favorites to claim the top spot. However, it’s worth noting that the Aces are 5-1 since the All-Star break and just beat them in the Commissioner’s Cup final, while the Sun are 6-1 since the break. 

Two teams fighting for No. 4

4. Seattle Storm (18-11)

  • Games remaining: 7 (incl. at Mystics x2)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mystics: 1-0 in season series with two games remaining
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics

5. Washington Mystics (18-11)

  • Games remaining: 7 (incl. vs. Storm x2)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Storm: 1-0 in season series with two games remaining
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 4 Seattle Storm

One of the tightest races right now is in the middle of the standings where the Storm and Mystics are tied for fourth, with the Storm temporarily owning the spot via head-to-head record. With the two teams playing back-to-back in Washington this weekend, however, that could change. 

The good news for the Storm is that they beat the Mystics the first time these teams played, and just have to get a split to take the season series. The good news for the Mystics is that they’ve been the better team over the last few weeks and have both games at home. 

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Spots 6-8 up for grabs

6. Phoenix Mercury (13-16)

  • Games remaining: 7 (incl. at Liberty, vs. Liberty and vs. Wings)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sparks: season series tied 2-2, currently own tiebreaker via better record against teams above .500; vs. Wings: 1-2 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Dream: lost season series 1-2; vs. Liberty: 1-0 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: lost season series 0-3
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 3 Connecticut Sun

With Skylar Diggins-Smith leading the way, the Mercury have won two straight to jump into sole possession of sixth. That gives them the upper hand for now, but they’re about to embark on a difficult three-game East Coast road trip that includes two matchups with the red-hot Sun. 

7. Los Angeles Sparks (12-16)

  • Games remaining: 8 (incl. vs. Lynx, at Liberty x2, at Dream, vs. Wings)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sparks: season series tied 2-2, currently losing tiebreaker via worse record against teams above .500; vs. Wings: 2-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Dream: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Liberty: 1-0 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 2 Las Vegas Aces

The Sparks are trending down again, and their next four games are against fellow playoff hopefuls, with three of them coming on the road. This stretch is going to be vital for the Sparks, who are just half a game up on the ninth-place Dream, whom they play on Aug. 5. 

8. Dallas Wings (12-16)

  • Games remaining: 8 (incl. vs. Liberty x2, at Mercury, at Sparks)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: 2-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sparks: 1-2 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Dream: lost season series 0-2; vs. Liberty: 1-0 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 1 Chicago Sky

Losers of seven of their last 10 games, the Wings are clinging to a playoff spot by a thread, and have a brutal stretch coming up with road games against the Dream and Aces, and a home matchup with the Sky. They’ve also already lost the season series with the Dream, and have two games left with the Liberty to determine that tiebreaker. They need to figure things out quick. 

9. Atlanta Dream (12-17)

  • Games remaining: 7 (incl. vs. Sparks, at Lynx, vs. Liberty, at Liberty)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: won season series 2-1; Sparks: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Wings: won season series 2-0; vs. Liberty: 1-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining
  • Current first-round matchup: N/A

There’s never a good time for a three-game losing streak, but the final month of the season is especially painful. This current slide has dropped the Dream out of the playoff picture, and made Saturday’s matchup with the eighth-place Wings a must-win. The good news for the Dream is that they’ve either won or are tied in every single tiebreaker, which could give them the upper hand for a playoff spot come the end of the season. 

10. New York Liberty (10-17)

  • Games remaining: 9 (incl. vs. Mercury, vs. Sparks x2, at Mercury, at Wings x2, at Dream, vs. Dream)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: 0-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Sparks: 0-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Wings: 0-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Dream: 1-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: N/A

If Sabrina Ionescu hadn’t rescued the Liberty with a last-second and-one to beat the Sky in their last game, they might be out of the picture. As it stands, they’re still only 1.5 games out of eighth with eight games remaining against fellow playoff contenders. If they get hot they could still claw their way in. 

11. Minnesota Lynx (11-19)

  • Games remaining: 6 (incl. at Sparks, vs. Dream)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: won season series 3-0; vs. Sparks: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Wings: lost season series 1-2; vs. Dream: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Liberty: won season series 2-1 
  • Current first-round matchup: N/A

Despite a mid-season surge to make their record look more respectable, the Lynx will likely not make the playoffs. They’ve played the most games and have the worst record of this bunch, but seeing as they’re within two games of eighth place and have won a few tiebreakers we’ll include them for now. 

The bottom of the playoff picture is something of a mess, with the six teams between sixth and 11th in the standings separated by just 2.5 games. Each team has at least two games left against the other teams in this group, and only a handful of tiebreakers have been settled. All of which means these current standings are not going to stay the same for long. 

Eliminated

12. Indiana Fever (5-25)

The Fever were the first team eliminated from the playoffs, and will be back in the lottery for the sixth straight season. This is the worst stretch in franchise history, and they’ll be hoping for some luck with the ping pong balls later this year. 

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