Entering the final weekend of the 2021 WNBA regular season, one playoff berth remains to be claimed and six of the eight seeds still need to be nailed down.
Under the format that the league went to in 2016, seeds 5-8 play in single-elimination first-round games. Those winners advance to single-elimination second-round games against the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds. Those winners face the top two seeds in the best of best-of-five semifinals.
So finishing in the top two in the regular season gives teams the big advantage of a double-bye, with no worry about playing one bad game and being eliminated.
Thus far under this format, every champion has been a 1 or 2 seed: the No. 2 Los Angeles Sparks in 2016, No. 1 Minnesota Lynx in 2017, No. 1 Seattle Storm in 2018, No. 1 Washington Mystics in 2019 and No. 2 Seattle in 2020.
Here are how things look going into the last nine games (four Friday, five Sunday) before the playoffs begin. (Check back throughout the weekend — and keep an eye on the WNBA standings — as we continue to update the playoff picture.)
Which teams have already clinched a playoff berth?
What’s going on at the top of the standings?
The battle for the No. 2 seed and accompanying double-bye is between the Las Vegas Aces (22-8) and Minnesota (20-10).
On Friday, Las Vegas faces Chicago, while Minnesota meets Indiana. On Sunday, the Aces face the Phoenix Mercury (3 p.m. ET, ABC), and the Lynx take on the Washington Mystics.
Las Vegas controls its destiny; a win in either game gives the Aces the No. 2 seed. But if Las Vegas loses both games and Minnesota wins both, the teams finish tied at 22-10 and the Lynx will get the No. 2 seed by having the tiebreaker: They won the season series 2-1 over the Aces.
If the Aces do lose the No. 2 seed, the furthest they can fall is No. 3. However, Minnesota can fall as far as No. 5.
What about seeds 3-4-5?
This is where it gets complicated. While the Nos. 3-4 spots both mean a first-round bye, being the No. 5 seed means playing in the first round.
Seattle (20-11) and Phoenix (19-11) are the other two teams jockeying for these seeds. They play each other Friday. That’s the final game of the season for the Storm, while the Mercury finish Sunday. Due to injury, Breanna Stewart has been ruled out for Seattle and Diana Taurasi is out for Phoenix.
While neither the Storm nor Mercury can finish as high as No. 2, both can be anywhere from Nos. 3-5. Here are how the tiebreakers go, based on the regular-season series:
Seattle has the tiebreaker over Minnesota
Minnesota has the tiebreaker over Phoenix
The Seattle-Phoenix tiebreaker will be decided by which team wins Friday’s game, as the teams split the first two meetings
It’s also still possible that Seattle, Minnesota and Phoenix could finish in a tie at 20-12, in which case the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and all would be 3-3 against the other. The next tiebreaker is the best winning percentage against teams with a .500 or better final record. There currently are six teams in that category: Connecticut, Las Vegas, Minnesota, Seattle, Phoenix and Chicago, but the Sky could fall out with losses in their last two games.
How about at the bottom of the standings?
As mentioned, the Sky can’t help or hurt themselves seed-wise; at 17-15, 16-16 or 15-17, they are still the No. 6 seed and will host a first-round game vs. the No. 7 seed. That’s set.
The Dallas Wings (13-18) have a playoff berth wrapped up, but not its seed. Washington (12-18), Los Angeles (12-19) and the New York Liberty (11-20) are vying to get the last playoff berth. Washington is in the driver’s seat: A win Friday against New York clinches the spot and eliminates both the Liberty and the Sparks.
The Mystics also could jump up to No. 7 and push Dallas to No. 8. If Washington finishes with wins against New York and Minnesota, and Dallas falls to Los Angeles, the Mystics will be 14-18 and Dallas 13-19. But if both teams finish 13-19, Dallas has the tiebreaker with a 2-1 regular-season series edge.
Los Angeles hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2011, and in their entire history dating back to the league’s 1997 inaugural season, the Sparks have been out of the playoffs just four times. But they will need help to make it this season.
Because Los Angeles will lose tiebreakers with both Dallas and Washington, the Sparks’ only path into the playoffs is winning its last game and Washington losing its last two.
As for the Liberty’s path into the postseason? As mentioned, it could end Friday if New York loses to Washington. However, if the New York wins that game and both Los Angeles and Washington lose out, then all three teams finish 12-20. In that scenario, New York would have the best record in head-to-head games at 3-2, while Washington would be 3-3 and Los Angeles 2-3.
First round (single-game elimination)
Thursday, Sept. 23
No. 8 at No. 5
No. 7 at No. 6
Second round (single-game elimination)
Sunday, Sept. 26
TBD at No. 3
TBD at No. 4
Conference semifinals (best of five)
Game 1: Tuesday, Sept. 28
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 30
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 3
Game 4: Wednesday, Oct 6*
Game 5: Friday, Oct. 8*
WNBA Finals (best of five)
Game 1: Sunday, Oct. 10
Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 13
Game 3: Friday, Oct. 15
Game 4: Sunday, Oct. 17*
Game 5: Tuesday, Oct. 19*
* If necessary