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WNBA Weekly Rundown: The Playoff Matchups are Set

Depending on who you’re following, the last week of the WNBA season can either be nail-biting or totally uninteresting. Playoff seeding will likely be the thing on most people’s minds, and if it isn’t, they might just be rooting for a better draft position instead. Needless to say, there was a lot of scoreboard-watching in the WNBA’s final week, so let’s take a look at what implications these games had for the future in the final edition of 2015’s Weekly Rundown.

Playoff Seeding Determined

While some playoff spots were guaranteed a while ago, it took until the last week of the season to determine the last two seeds in the Eastern Conference. After a furious comeback effort by Atlanta, the Dream were finally eliminated from the playoffs when the Mystics won their deciding 17th game on Tuesday. It then took until the very last day of the regular season for the East’s third seed to be finalized, when the Mystics lost to Atlanta and failed to force a tie with the Fever (with whom they’d own a tiebreaker).

Other than that, it was simply a matter of who wanted to rest their stars heading into the playoffs and who wanted to make sure their teams were sharp. The Sky, for example, had clinched the #2 seed in the East with two games remaining, but Pokey Chatman decided to take a risk and play a gimpy Elena Delle Donne (who’d recently missed time with a foot injury) in those contests.

On the other hand, teams like the Liberty, Shock and Mercury all rested considerable portions of their starting lineups. The Shock even went so far as to sit 4/5 of their starters in Friday’s game against the Sky, leaving Brianna Kiesel as their only guard and forcing Fred Williams to play lineups which featured as many as four frontcourt players at once. Ultimately, though, these games were of little consequence, and once the playoffs begin, you can bet that each player is going to try her hardest to suit up.

The first round (semifinal) of the playoffs looks like this:

Eastern Conference

#1 New York Liberty vs #4 Washington Mystics

#2 Chicago Sky vs #3 Indiana Fever

Western Conference

#1 Minnesota Lynx vs #4 Los Angeles Sparks

#2 Phoenix Mercury vs #3 Tulsa Shock

The semifinals will be in a best-of-three, home-away-home format, in which the first game is played on the home court of the higher-seeded team. The series will then play a second game on the home court of the lower-seeded team, and if necessary, will play a third and deciding game on the higher seed’s home floor. 

Lottery Chances Also Determined

Knowing the teams that have made it to the postseason means that we also know which teams will be trying their luck in this offseason’s draft lottery, which will take place on Sept. 24. Remember that the WNBA recently reformed its lottery system, so let’s look at how things will shake out.

The four teams which missed the playoffs this season (Atlanta, Connecticut, Seattle and San Antonio) will first be examined by their cumulative record over the past two seasons, and their lottery chances will be determined from there.

Atlanta Dream: 34-34 (.500)

Connecticut Sun: 28-40 (.412)

Seattle Storm: 22-46 (.324)

San Antonio Stars: 24-44 (.353)

This means that Seattle will have the best chance at landing 2016’s #1 overall pick, and cannot pick lower than third. San Antonio will have the next best odds, followed by Connecticut, with Atlanta being the least likely of the four to win the draft lottery.

Interestingly, the odds could’ve been in San Antonio’s favor. In the final game of the regular season, the Stars (at 7-26) played the Storm, who entered the game at 10-23. If San Antonio lost that game, they would’ve tied Seattle’s cumulative two-season record, in which case the tie would’ve gone to the team with the worse record in the immediately preceding season (which would’ve been San Antonio). Instead, the Stars emerged with their lone road victory of the season, and the Storm were compensated with a 44.2 percentt chance at the #1 overall pick in 2016.

Rookie Report

Storm guard Jewell Loyd made her final case for Rookie of the Year, scoring a career-high 21 points in her hometown of Chicago and following that up with three more games in double-digit scoring. Loyd’s main selling point for Rookie of the Year is that she’s improved significantly each month, and though it’s a small sample size, her September continues that trend. Even with a sparse seven minutes played in the Storm’s final game (see the above paragraph for a hint on why this might have been the case), Loyd finished the month with a scoring average of 13.6 points per game and a FG% of 48.1 percent, both monthly highs.

Fever forward Natalie Achonwa has seen her minutes drop as the season has gone on, but with Lynetta Kizer nursing a knee injury, Achonwa put up a pair of very nice efforts to end her rookie campaign. A 10-point, nine-rebound effort against Atlanta was followed by maybe the best game of her young career: a 13-point, five-rebound performance against New York in which Achonwa didn’t miss a shot. Expect many more games like this from the Notre Dame product; with her size, skill in the post and knack for moving without the basketball, Achonwa figures to be a high-percentage shooter for her career.

Other Notes

Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper picked up his 200th career win on Wednesday as the Dream thumped the Sparks, 90-60. Cooper is the fifth coach in league history to reach that milestone, joining Van Chancellor, Anne Donovan (who also reached the 200-win mark this year), Dan Hughes and active wins leader Mike Thibault.

Elena Delle Donne set one more record in the final game of her fantastic 2015, becoming the most efficient free throw shooter to attempt at least 200 free throws in a single season. Delle Donne shot 95 percent from the line this year, comfortably passing the previous best set by a player who attempted at least 200 foul shots (Katie Smith, who shot 89.4 percent on 275 attempts in 2001). All great offensive players can score for volume while remaining efficient, and in her third season, Delle Donne is on pace to become one of the greatest ever in that department.

Top Performers

Sunday

Ivory Latta: 22 points (8-13 FG, 3-7 3P), 5 assists vs Atlanta Dream

Candace Parker: 33 points (12-17 FG, 5-8 3P), 8 rebounds, 5 assists vs Tulsa Shock

Nneka Ogwumike: 26 points (12-16 FG), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals vs Tulsa Shock

Tina Charles: 18 points (8-19 FG), 14 rebounds vs Minnesota Lynx

Sylvia Fowles: 19 points (7-12 FG), 9 rebounds, 3 blocks vs New York Liberty

Maya Moore: 23 points (9-19 FG), 5 rebounds vs New York Liberty

Tuesday

Maya Moore: 20 points (9-16 FG), 7 rebounds, 5 assists vs Seattle Storm

Odyssey Sims: 27 points (11-23 FG), 7 rebounds vs San Antonio Stars

Wednesday

Kelsey Bone: 19 points (8-19 FG), 10 rebounds vs New York Liberty

Chelsea Gray: 16 points (5-11 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 assists vs New York Liberty

Tina Charles: 16 points (7-15 FG), 13 rebounds vs Connecticut Sun

Epiphanny Prince: 25 points (10-15 FG, 3-4 3P), 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals vs Connecticut Sun

Friday

Sylvia Fowles: 21 points (7-13 FG), 12 rebounds, 3 blocks vs Seattle Storm

Elena Delle Donne: 21 points (9-13 FG), 3 rebounds (17 minutes played) vs Tulsa Shock

Sancho Lyttle: 19 points (9-14 FG), 8 rebounds, 4 steals vs Indiana Fever

Sunday

Elena Delle Donne: 28 points (8-16 FG, 4-7 3P, 8-10 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 blocks vs Connecticut Sun

Kelsey Bone: 31 points (12-24 FG, 7-9 FT), 4 rebounds vs Chicago Sky

Angel McCoughtry: 24 points (10-20 FG), 5 rebounds vs Indiana Fever

Mistie Bass: 20 points (9-11 FG), 12 rebounds (5 OReb), 3 assists vs Tulsa Shock

Monique Currie: 26 points (8-15 FG, 3-5 3P), 5 rebounds vs Tulsa Shock

Brianna Kiesel: 28 points (9-19 FG, 8-10 FT), 5 assists, 4 steals vs Phoenix Mercury

Shavonte Zellous: 22 points (6-9 FG, 8-11 FT) vs New York Liberty

Angel Goodrich: 12 points (6-14 FG), 10 rebounds (she’s 5’4,” c’mon guys), 4 assists, 3 steals vs San Antonio Stars

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