The WNBA season is down to its final games, and the postseason fates of a majority of the league’s 12 franchises still very much hang in the balance.
The top two seeds are a lock with both the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks long ago separating themselves from the pack. Even so, only a single game separates the two Western Conference powers with both having four games left to play. Minnesota just won the season series by beating Los Angeles by just three points in the most recent matchup, and if these two teams meet again in the postseason it would be a dogfight.
The New York Liberty sit five games out of first place and have all but locked in the third seed heading into the playoffs. Beyond them, however, and excluding the already eliminated from contention San Antonio Stars, the entire playoff race is up for grabs.
The Chicago Sky and Atlanta Dream both have a record of 15-14 and are battling it out for the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. That said, only four games separate them from the current 10th-seeded Connecticut Sun. With all three teams still having five games to play, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the fourth- and 10th-seeded teams could swap places. Making it even more complicated is that between the fourth seed and the eighth and final playoff seed, the gap is a mere three wins with five to play.
The most important game of the regular season could very well be Friday when the current seventh-seeded Seattle Storm take on the current ninth-seeded Washington Mystics in D.C. The two teams have split the the season series to date with Washington beating Seattle in overtime early in the season and Seattle avenging that loss by drubbing the Mystics by 29 in the next meeting. Both contests were in the Emerald City, however, with Friday being the first contest on the Mystics’ home court.
The Mystics and Storm both secured huge victories on Wednesday. Seattle beat the third-place Liberty by a final of 102-78, and it was the franchise’s first win in Madison Square Garden since 2010. Meanwhile, Washington annihilated the Sky by scoring a franchise-record 118 points. Both teams wasted no time taking jabs at one another via Twitter, building up the excitement for Friday’s crucial matchup.
If Seattle wins it would gain a game-and-a-half lead over Washington, plus hold the tiebreaker. (The Storm also hold the tiebreaker over the current eighth-seeded Phoenix Mercury.) In addition, if the Indiana Fever loses their matchup to Chicago on Friday, Seattle would sit just a half-game out of the sixth seed.
However, if Washington wins the Storm would fall to the ninth seed and the Mystics would gain sole possession of the eighth spot and hold a half-game lead and tiebreaker over the Storm. A Mystics win would also move the Mercury up to the seventh seed by virtue of their tiebreaker with Washington.
While the game between the Mystics and Storm could very well become the most important in terms of playoff standings this season, every team currently sitting between fourth and 10th could wind up anywhere within that range. With no team having more than five games remaining, the final days of the 2016 WNBA regular season will be an intense, exciting and nail-biting experience for players, coaches and fans alike.
It’s something the WNBA has to be excited about.