Thursday, February 9, 2023

WNBA playoff picture, standings, tiebreakers: Aces beat Sky for No. 1 seed; Liberty, Mercury earn final spots

The 2022 WNBA regular season has come to an end, and as expected the final day was a dramatic affair. Early on, the Phoenix Mercury were locked in with the Minnesota Lynx’s loss to the Connecticut Sun, while the New York Liberty earned the final spot with a narrow win over the Atlanta Dream. Later, the Las Vegas Aces grabbed the No. 1 seed with a thrilling comeback win over the Seattle Storm. 

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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Final standings

1. Las Vegas Aces (26-10) — Playoffs

2. Chicago Sky (26-10) — Playoffs

3. Connecticut Sun (25-11) — Playoffs

4. Seattle Storm (22-14) — Playoffs

5. Washington Mystics (22-14) — Playoffs

6. Dallas Wings (18-18) — Playoffs

7. New York Liberty (16-20) — Playoffs

8. Phoenix Mercury (15-21) — Playoffs

9. Minnesota Lynx (14-22) — Lottery

10. Atlanta Dream (14-22) — Lottery

11. Los Angeles Sparks (13-23) — Lottery

12. Indiana Fever (5-31) — Lottery

Note: Two-team ties are decided first by head-to-head record and then, if necessary, better record against .500+ teams. The Aces won the season series with the Sky, 2-1; the Storm won the season series with the Mystics, 2-1; the Lynx won the season series with the Dream, 2-1.

With the action concluded, here’s a final look at the playoff picture: 

First-round playoff matchups

  • No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 8 Phoenix Mercury
  • No. 2 Chicago Sky vs. No. 7 New York Liberty
  • No. 3 Connecticut Sun vs. No. 6 Dallas Wings
  • No. 4 Seattle Storm vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics

Aces use comeback win on final day to grab No. 1 seed

1. Las Vegas Aces (26-10) 

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sky: won season series, 2-1

  • First-round matchup: vs. No. 8 Phoenix Mercury

The Aces needed a win or a Sky loss on the final day to secure the No. 1 seed, and for a brief period it looked like they would get neither. Chelsea Gray led a thrilling comeback victory over the Storm, however, and the Aces will now have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. 

2. Chicago Sky (26-10)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Aces: lost season series, 1-2

  • First-round matchup: vs. No. 7 New York Liberty

The Sky picked up a comfortable 15-point win over the Mercury on Sunday, but it ultimately didn’t matter due to the Aces’ win. They will now have the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage through the first two rounds. Last season they won the title as the No. 6 seed, so they won’t be too worried about their position, but it had to be disappointing to blow a two-game lead for the top spot. 

Sun secure third place

3. Connecticut Sun (25-11) 

  • Confirmed first-round matchup: vs. 6 Dallas Wings

The Sun have been locked into their seed and first-round matchup against the Wings for a few days now, but they still played to win on Sunday, and got one over the visiting Lynx. After three straight trips to at least the semifinals, the Sun will be hoping this is the season they break through and win it all. 

Storm win out in back-and-forth battle for fourth

4. Seattle Storm (22-14) 

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mystics: won season series, 2-1

  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics

5. Washington Mystics (22-14) 

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Storm: lost season series, 1-2

  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 4 Seattle Storm

One of the tightest races down the stretch was the Storm versus the Mystics for fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The spot swapped hands multiple times, but in the end it’s the Storm who won out thanks to the tiebreaker between the two clubs. 

The Mystics may be wondering what could have been if they hadn’t been quite so cautious with Elena Delle Donne. She only played 25 games in order to keep her healthy after her persistent back issues, and the team was 18-7 with her and 4-7 without her. If she played a few more games, it seems certain they would be the No. 4 seed. 

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Wings locked into sixth

6. Dallas Wings (18-18) 

  • Confirmed first-round matchup: vs. No. 3 Connecticut Sun

The Wings are going back to the playoffs, and they have been locked into the No. 6 seed for nearly a week. They will be playing the Sun in the first round, which figures to be a tough matchup, especially with Arike Ogunbowale sidelined due to a hip injury. For what it’s worth, however, the Wings were 2-1 against the Sun in the regular season. 

Liberty, Mercury take final two spots

7. New York Liberty (16-20)

  • First-round matchup: vs. No. 2 Chicago Sky

Three weeks into the season, the Liberty were 1-7 and on pace to be historically bad. Now, after a gritty win over the Dream on Sunday, they are going back to the playoffs for a second straight season. They closed the season on a three-game winning streak and have played the defending champs well in the regular season. Beating them in the playoffs will be another story, though. 

8. Phoenix Mercury (15-21)

  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 1 Las Vegas Aces

Including a defeat to the Sky on Sunday, the Mercury lost five of their last seven games and backed into the playoffs. Just making it is an accomplishment, though, given everything they’ve dealt with this season. Brittney Griner is still in Russian prison, Tina Charles left in the middle of the season and both Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal reasons) and Diana Taurasi (quad) are sidelined. 

Eliminated

9. Minnesota Lynx (14-22)

The Lynx made an impressive late-season surge to get into the playoff race after a 3-13 start, but with their loss to the Sun on Sunday they ultimately fell a game short of the eighth-place Mercury. Making the postseason in Sylva Fowles’ final season would have been fun, but their first lottery trip since 2010 may ultimately be for the best long-term. 

10. Atlanta Dream (14-22)

The shorthanded Dream were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Liberty on Sunday. After a surprising start, they fell apart down the stretch and lost 11 of their last 15 games. No one expected them to even be in the mix, and it will be frustrating to fall one game short of the playoffs, but another lottery appearance is for the best for their rebuild. 

11. Los Angeles Sparks (13-23)

The Sparks went 3-11 after the All-Star break and will now miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997 and 1998 — their first two years of existence. Even worse, they don’t have their first-round pick this year after trading it away in the Chennedy Carter deal. 

12. Indiana Fever (5-31)

The Fever were the first team eliminated from the playoffs and ended on an 18-game losing streak that was the second-longest in league history. 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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