Tuesday, August 9, 2022

WNBA playoff picture, standings, projections: Sky consolidate first-place lead; Sparks on the ropes

The 2022 WNBA regular season is winding down, but the playoff race is heating up. So far, five teams have punched their tickets to the playoffs — the Chicago Sky, Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun, Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics — while the Indiana Fever are the only team to be eliminated. 

Looking closer, there have been no seeds locked in, and a number of 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; and six teams from 6th-11th are in a real scrap for the final three spots. 

As a reminder, the WNBA 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 the No. 1 seed vs. the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed vs. the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed vs. the No. 5 seed. 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. 

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Current standings

1. Chicago Sky (24-8) — Playoff spot clinched

2. Las Vegas Aces (22-10) — Playoff spot clinched

3. Connecticut Sun (22-10) — Playoff spot clinched

4. Seattle Storm (20-12) — Playoff spot clinched

5. Washington Mystics (20-13) — Playoff spot clinched

6. Dallas Wings (15-16)

7. Atlanta Dream (14-18)

8. New York Liberty (13-18)

9. Phoenix Mercury (13-19)

10. Minnesota Lynx (12-20)

11. Los Angeles Sparks (12-20)

12. Indiana Fever (5-27) — 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 (24-8) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 4 (incl. at Aces)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Aces: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sun: won season series 3-0
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 8 New York Liberty

The Sky looked like a team on a mission on Friday night, as they easily dispatched the Mystics to get back in the win column. With that result they consolidated their lead on first place and now have a two-game advantage on both the Aces and the Sun. They still have to play each team down the stretch, though, so their work is not done. 

2. Las Vegas Aces (22-10) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 4 (incl. vs. Sky)
  • 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 Atlanta Dream

Losing to the Mystics was one thing, but no one predicted the Aces to follow that up with a defeat to the Wings. After two straight losses they’re now two games behind the Sky in the race for first and are only clinging on to second via a tiebreaker over the Sun. Things won’t get any easier for the Aces either, as the a trip to Seattle to play the Storm is next on the docket. 

3. Connecticut Sun (22-10) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 4
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sky: lost season series 0-3; vs. Aces: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. 6 Dallas Wings

After cruising past the Mercury for the second straight game, the Sun have now won six of their last seven. In doing so, they’ve capitalized on the Aces’ recent slip-up and have drawn level with them in the standings. Losing the tiebreaker to both the Aces and Sky has put the Sun at a disadvantage, but they have an easy schedule down the stretch and are still in the mix for a top-two seed. 

Two teams fighting for No. 4

4. Seattle Storm (20-12)

  • Games remaining: 4
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mystics: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics

5. Washington Mystics (20-13)

  • Games remaining: 3
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Storm: lost season series 1-2
  • 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 going head-to-head for fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. In the latest swing, the Storm beat the Lynx on Wednesday, while the Mystics lost to the Sky on Friday. 

Those results have the Storm in front by a half game in the standings with one game in hand. The Storm also have the tiebreaker between the two teams, which could be the difference maker come the end of the regular season. 

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Spots 6-8 up for grabs

6. Dallas Wings (15-16)

  • Games remaining: 5 (incl. two vs. Liberty, 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 1-2; vs. Liberty: 1-0 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 3 Connecticut Sun

Despite once again playing without Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally, the Wings picked up another major win on Thursday over the Aces. They’ve now won three in a row and four of their last five to give themselves some real breathing room in sixth place. With a 2.5-game lead over the ninth-place Mercury and just five games remaining, they’re in real good shape. 

7. Atlanta Dream (14-18)

  • Games remaining: 4 (incl. at Lynx, vs. Liberty, at Liberty)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: won season series 2-1; Sparks: won season series 2-1; vs. Wings: won season series 2-1; 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: vs. No. 2 Las Vegas Aces

The Dream picked up their biggest win of the season in dramatic fashion on Friday night, as they took down the Sparks on a last-second layup by Cheyenne Parker. That result gave them the tiebreaker over the Sparks and means they are now all alone in seventh place. With a one-game lead on the ninth-place Mercury, and the tiebreaker between them, the Dream are in great shape. 

8. New York Liberty (13-18)

  • Games remaining: 5 (incl. at Mercury, two at Wings, at Dream, vs. Dream)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: 1-1 in season series with one games remaining; vs. Sparks: won season series 2-1; 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: vs. No. 1 Chicago Sky

The Liberty’s potential saving grace coming down the stretch has always been their schedule, and they’ve taken advantage in recent days with three straight massive wins over the Mercury and Sparks. As a result they’ve jumped up into eighth place for the time being and now control their own destiny. 

9. Phoenix Mercury (13-19)

  • Games remaining: 4 (incl. vs. Liberty, 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: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Lynx: lost season series 0-3
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 2 Las Vegas Aces

Another game, another loss for the Mercury, who’s East Coast road trip was a total disaster. They lost all three games by double digits, and seemed emotionally drained by the Brittney Griner verdict during Thursday’s 77-64 loss to the Sun. Though all alone in ninth, they’re still just half a game out of seventh, but we’ll see what sort of response they have on Saturday at home in a must-win vs. the Liberty. 

11. Minnesota Lynx (12-20)

  • Games remaining: 4 (incl. vs. Dream)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: won season series 3-0; vs. Sparks: won season series 2-1; 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

Two straight wins had gotten the Lynx to within a half-game of a playoff spot heading into Wednesday, but the night went about as poorly as possible for them. They lost to the Storm, didn’t get any help in the other games and are now 1.5 games out of eighth with just four games remaining. 

11. Los Angeles Sparks (12-20)

  • Games remaining: 4 (incl. at Dream, vs. Wings)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: 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: lost season series 1-2; vs. Liberty: lost season series 1-2; vs. Lynx: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. N/A

Friday night’s heartbreaking last-second loss to the Dream might have been the end for the Sparks, who have now lost six games in a row. They’re 1.5 games out of eighth and two games out of seventh with just four games remaining, and do not have the tiebreaker against either the Liberty or Dream. 

The bottom of the playoff picture is something of a mess, with the five teams between seventh and 11th in the standings separated by just two games. Each team has at least one game 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 (5-28)

The Fever have now lost 15 straight games and were the first team eliminated from the playoffs. With a sixth straight lottery appearance on the way, they’ll be hoping for some luck with the ping pong balls to help end the worst stretch in franchise history. 

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