In true 2020 fashion, the abbreviated WNBA season has come and gone in the blink of an eye. Though it feels like tip off was just a few days ago for fans, WNBA players have been playing their hearts out since late July.
With only two-to-four games left in the regular season for every team, we have a general sense of which teams are in contention for each play-off seed, one through eight. With multi-round buys and first and second elimination games, seeding is vital in the WNBA.
These last few games of the season will be anything but time for stars to rest, as top teams fight tooth and claw for the best chance at a Finals berth. From top to bottom, let’s look at what teams still in the playoff picture have at stake.
The Race for the Eighth Seed
The last few weeks have seen a very entertaining competition between the Dallas Wings, Washington Mystics, Atlanta Dream, and Indiana Fever to try to squeeze their way into the final, eighth spot in the playoffs. Heading into the last week of regular season action, the Dallas Wings have soared out as the clear favorite to snag that eight-seed. Led by second-year supernova Arike Ogunbowale’s 39 points, the Wings prevailed over the Mystics Sunday in a dramatic overtime contest. With Ogunbowale and Rookie of the Year candidate Satou Sabally running the show, this Wings team is rapidly ascending from rebuild to contention. This win put a two-game safety cushion between the Dallas Wings and the Mystics, as well as the rest of the pack. While the Wings have emerged as the favorites for the eighth seed, this young squad knows that they have to keep their foot on the gas and keep pushing. The reigning champion Mystics, led by break-out Myisha Hines-Allen and reigning Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, are still hot on their tail. You also can’t count out the Atlanta Dream yet, with their own ROTY candidate, Chennedy Carter, rounding back into form after missing a few weeks to injury.
- 8 Dallas Wings 7-12
- 9 Washington Mystics 5-13
- T-10 Atlanta Dream 5-14
- T-10 Indiana Fever 5-14
The Five, Six, Seven Shuffle
If results hold, the teams making up the rest of the bottom half of the playoff picture (the half that has to play a single elimination game in round one), are the current five-seed Phoenix Mercury, the current six-seed Chicago Sky, and the current seven-seed, Connecticut Sun. All three of these teams have legitimate MVP candidates on their squads, with Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi on the Mercury, ‘Point God’ Courtney Vandersloot on the Sky, and DeWanna Bonner on the Sun. Each of these teams have already played 20 games, and as such have only two left to play this season to determine seeding. While it would be difficult for a team in this bracket to slip into the single-buy 4 seed, the Mercury or Sky could possibly squeeze past in a scenario where the currently 4th seeded Minnesota Lynx completely fall apart during their last three games (I’m not holding my breath).
More likely, we’ll have the Sky or Mercury in the fifth seed facing off in a single-elimination game against whoever takes that eighth seed. I, personally, would kind of like to see Diana Taurasi in full on rookie-hunter mode against either Satou or Chennedy in a single elimination game. Whoever takes the sixth seed will most likely play against the current 7th-seed Sun–and either way, that is going to be a bloodbath. All three of these teams host some elite talent and fierce competitors on their roster. Throwing them into a single-elimination scenario in the first round of the playoffs is a recipe for one of the greatest games of the year, like the Sky and Mercury gave us in the first round of last year’s playoffs. You’re not gonna want to miss that.
- 5 Phoenix Mercury 12-8
- 6 Chicago Sky 11-9
- 7 Connecticut Sun 10-10
The one through four seeds all get a buy passed the first round of the playoffs, while the top two seeded teams in the WNBA get a double-buy all the way to the semi-finals. After the single-elimination first two rounds, each subsequent round through the Finals is comprised of a best of five series.
While, as I said before, you can’t count the Mercury or Sky out of the race for the four seed, the current fourth seed, the Minnesota Lynx, is just one game behind the Los Angeles Sparks, who are in turn, just half a game behind the currently second-seeded Las Vegas Aces. It’s not easy to make a clear call about who will ultimately snag the two-seed after this week. The Sparks have a multitude of All-Stars, between Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and Chelsea Grey, who have been here before, and who have picked up a lot of momentum as the season’s gone on. The Aces, held down by third-year player and MVP candidate A’ja Wilson, have been one of the best teams in the league despite missing multiple pieces that were key to their playoff run last summer. The Aces, with four games left in their season, have the most runway ahead of them, but they also face off against the Lynx, the Sparks and the one-seed Seattle Storm to end their season. The Sparks, only facing the Mystics and New York Liberty other than the Aces, have a bit of an easier path to getting those two wins. Something to keep an eye on: The second and third seed might ultimately be decided by the Aces/Sparks game that ends the season for the Sparks this Saturday. That game is going to be must-see television, do not miss it. While the Aces play the Storm the next day (yikes), both teams are going to be playing like their season depends on it. Because it does. The difference between being a single buy team and a double-buy team is life or death in the WNBA playoffs.
Also, while I haven’t discussed them as much, don’t sleep on the Minnesota Lynx. Between reigning rookie of the year Napheesa Collier, and veteran center Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx have shown that they still have championship pedigree.
- 2 Aces 14-4
- 3 Sparks 14-5
- 4 Lynx 13-6
As I discussed before, the Aces and Sparks are locked in a dead heat for the two-seed. Above them, however, with sixteen wins and only three losses to their name the whole season, sits Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and the Seattle Storm. While mathematically only a game and a half ahead of the two-seed Aces, the Storm have looked virtually unbeatable this year, and would have to lose almost as many games as they have the whole season for the Aces, who have their own difficult schedule ahead of them, to overtake them. I am at this point comfortable calling the Storm a virtual lock for the one-seed, a double buy, and ‘home court advantage’ through the playoffs. The 2018 WNBA champions got their two best players back this season, and honestly, Sue Bird and likely MVP Breanna Stewart look just as deadly as they did when they won their last championship together. With some time to rest and watch film while the first two rounds play out, the Seattle Storm are going to be scary.
- 1 Storm 16-3
- 2 Aces 14-4
- 3 Sparks 14-5
With seeding still very far from settled, prepare for five days of players giving their everything on the basketball court. They all know how big an impact seeding has for their chances. The difference between only getting one single-elimination game and a buy into the second round could be one or two wins. It’s true all season, but it’s never more apparent than now that every game counts. If you love basketball, it truly does not get much better than this.