After a summer full of thrills and lots of scoring, we are officially in the last week of the WNBA regular season. It's been a wild ride over the past few months and the same can easily be said for the final 16 games of the year.
This is despite the fact that all eight playoff spots have officially been claimed. Since my last post, here are the teams who clinched:
The Sky clinched their first postseason berth since 2016 on August 22 after Minnesota beat Dallas and Los Angeles won over Indiana. The team has been helping its own cause, though, beating top-ranked Washington and Phoenix at home in between losses to the Lynx and the Wings.
Los Angeles Sparks
The Sparks got into the postseason themselves with the aforementioned victory over the Fever on August 22. It is Los Angeles' eighth consecutive playoff berth, the second-highest current streak in the league dating back to 2012.
The defending WNBA champions got back into the playoffs with help from the team they beat for the 2018 title. The Storm clinched the sixth berth on August 25 after the Mystics beat New York.
The new-look Lynx are back to their regular old postseason plans. Minnesota clinched its ninth-straight playoff berth on August 27, in part thanks to Sylvia Fowles scoring a season-high 25 points in a win over her former team, the Sky.
Despite the injuries on this year's team, the Mercury are back in the playoffs for a franchise-best seventh straight year. Phoenix clinched the final berth on August 29 after beating the Atlanta Dream.
With the playoff teams in place, that means we also know who will be competing in the WNBA Draft Lottery later this year. The four teams missing out on the postseason are the Indiana Fever, Dallas Wings, New York Liberty, and Atlanta Dream. The lottery takes the franchise records of the teams from the past two years into play when officials figure out the chances each team has to win the first pick. So, while the Dream has the worst record among the lottery teams this year, they will likely not have the highest odds because they finished with the second-best record in 2018 (23-11). That slot could go to either Indiana or New York. But then again, that might not matter. The Las Vegas Aces, who just missed out on the playoffs last year, won the Draft Lottery with the second-most chances to win. Indiana had the most chances to win but the Fever ended up with the third overall pick.
Even though the aforementioned four squads will go their separate ways after this weekend, every single contest left in the regular season is important for one reason or another. In addition to looking ahead to the future, the lottery teams will again look to play spoiler in the present season, as the playoff seeds are not yet set. And with the standings getting tighter, specifically among the teams playing on, we might not know those seeds until the last day of the regular season on Sunday, September 8.
So, here are four games that I will be keeping an eye on this week, listed chronologically:
Dallas Wings at Connecticut Sun
Wednesday, September 4 (7:00 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)
The Sun (22-9, 2nd place) are near the top of the standings while the Wings (10-21, 10th place) are near the bottom. But anything can happen between these two squads. Connecticut is looking to clinch a double-bye into the semifinals of the WNBA Playoffs, a feat that would be easier with a win on Wednesday. While the Sun have a stellar home record at 14-1, they will have to fend off Rookie of the Year candidate Arike Ogunbowale and the Wings to keep that going.
(Side note: props to Sun star Jonquel Jones, who was born in the Bahamas, for launching a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Dorian there.)
Seattle Storm at Los Angeles Sparks
Thursday, September 5 (10:00 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network)
This game is a must win for the Storm (16-15, 7th place) as they try to secure a first-round playoff game at home. Seattle is just 1/2 game behind Minnesota for the six-seed; the teams who finish in fifth and sixth place respectively host the opening rounds. Meanwhile, the Sparks (19-12, 4th place) are looking to secure a bye into the second round of the playoffs after finishing fifth in 2018. Los Angeles is also just half a game ahead of Chicago, so the Sparks have something to play for as well despite having already clinched their playoff berth.
Indiana Fever at New York Liberty
Friday, September 6 (7:00 PM Eastern)
While both squads would love nothing more than to be playing past this weekend, this contest in particular is a chance for both the Indiana Fever (11-21, 9th place) and the New York Liberty (9-22, 11th place) to try and end their seasons on a high note. Both teams are better than their records might suggest, especially the Fever, who came close to ending their postseason drought earlier this year. This specific contest could be a look into the future – both with their current players and the opportunity to draft future players like Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu.
Minnesota Lynx at Phoenix Mercury
Friday, September 6 (10:00 PM Eastern)
Depending on how this week shakes out, the Lynx (17-15, 6th place) and Mercury (15-16, 8th place) could possibly meet in the playoffs. But this should be a good matchup either way, as both teams look a lot different than the last time they played each other on July 14 (a Lynx win). While Phoenix will try to regain momentum heading into the playoffs, Minnesota is hoping to start its postseason at home after going on the road for its sole playoff game last year. Rookie of the Year candidate Napheesa Collier has already made history for the Lynx this season, and I expect her to be a big part of her team's season-ending road trip.
I'll also be watching two matchups on the last day of the regular season. Phoenix hosts the Las Vegas Aces (20-12, 3rd place) while Los Angeles hosts Minnesota, both on Sunday at 4:00 PM Eastern. You can watch the latter contest on ESPN2. As for the Washington Mystics (23-8, 1st place), the only team not mentioned above, I expect them to win out the rest of the season, as they take on New York, Dallas, and Chicago. The latter two games are at home.
Find the full schedule here and read more about every possible playoff scenario on WNBA's website here.
In Other News…
The Minnesota Lynx met up with some fellow champions this week – the U.S. women's national soccer team. Their fun began on Saturday, when the USWNT took part in the Lynx's practice.
The team then attended the Lynx game on Sunday where, among other things, Minnesota's social media staff had fun with a certain player in attendance.
(Megan Rapinoe, seen in the above tweet, is dating Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm.)
The Lynx returned the favor on Labor Day, visiting the USWNT at practice before attending their friendly vs. Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul. I loved the camaraderie shown between both squads over the past few days, and I hope to see more of it with other women's sports teams in the future.
(Photo: @MinnesotaLynx / Twitter)