With the second half of the regular season underway, the battle for the number one seed is hot. It seems to be a three-team race, but can anyone stop the Seattle Storm when it matters most?
At this point, Seattle sits a half-game back of the number one seed in the WNBA. Both the Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces sit atop the league with a 17-6 record. Nevertheless, Seattle stands out as the favorite.
Seattle is Still the Best
First, the Storm finished the regular season with the best record in the W prior to the break. The defending champs and champions in two of the past three years started 2021 strong.
Then during the break, they sent five players to the Olympic games: Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Stephanie Talbot, and Ezi Magbegor. Three of them, Bird, Stewart, and Loyd, played major rotation minutes for the best team in the World.
After Team U.S.A won Gold, they kicked off the return to WNBA basketball with the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup. They defeated the Connecticut Sun 79-57 in dominant fashion.
Seattle sits 2nd in PPG with 86.6. They are third in field goal percentage (45.1%) and free throw percentage (83.1%), and first in 3-pt percentage (39.5%). The Storm are second in rebounds (36.6) and first in assists (21.6) plus third in turnovers per game (12.5). Furthermore, they have the third-best point differential at +6.3 over their opponents to this point in the season.
It looked like no one could stop the juggernaut that is the Seattle Storm.
No Rest for the Weary
But the Olympic break proved to not provide much time off for the defending champion, Storm. With Bird reaching the end of her 18th season in the WNBA and Stewart just over 1.5 seasons removed from missing a year with a torn Achilles, Seattle made the decision to give two of their big threesome time off.
This left Loyd to fend for herself. While she performed beautifully, the Storm dropped their first two games of the restart. Each game was close, but without Bird and Stewart, Seattle could not keep up.
With Connecticut and Las Vegas well within striking distance, shorthanded Seattle could not keep up in the standings either. Connecticut and Las Vegas, each with something to prove, came out on fire in the second half.
The Storm devastated the Sun in Arizona for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship. Seemingly, in what could have been a huge blow for the team who also lost out on some serious cash. Connecticut took the loss hard, but not how one would think.
The Sun won three straight after that loss, extending their winning streak to five dating back to the first half of the season. This put their streak atop the league after they beat Minnesota who previously held the highest winning streak. The Lynx have won eight in a row since June 23rd, but a determined Sun team put an end to that. They topped them in back-to-back games at home and put themselves atop the standings.
Jonquel Jones led the Sun to the top record and is the only player in the league averaging a double-double. She is a consensus top-five MVP candidate who is second in the league with 20.6 PPG and first with 11.2 rebounds.
Joining her in the frontcourt is a 16.4 PPG scorer and lengthy defender in Dewanna Bonner. Down low is a great interior presence averaging 14.1 a night in Brionna Jones. This core alongside Briann January and Jazmine Thomas filling the guard spots puts them well into contender status.
Las Vegas Aces
On the other hand, the Aces struggled into the break, losing two of their final three games before the Olympics. But they have responded well to jump back to the top of the league, only trailing Connecticut via a tiebreaker.
The Aces have won three in a row including a win over the Dallas Wings before the break. Since returning, they got back-to-back wins over a desperate Washington team fighting to reach the playoffs.
Las Vegas is led by last year’s MVP, A’ja Wilson, and they are right back in contention. They rank first in many statistical categories around the league. They’re first in scoring (90.5), field goal percentage (47.1%), rebounds (39.2), and they have the highest point differential (+9.4),
Kelsey Plum and Liz Cambage have returned to the team after missing the 2020 bubble. The team also added first-time Olympian, Chelsea Gray, the lead ball-handler for another great Vegas squad. Las Vegas looks just as primed as last year for the top-seed and deep playoff run.
The Home Stretch
Here are each team’s final games of the season in the race for the one seed:
Connecticut Sun; 1st; 17-6
Aces, Sparks, Sparks, Mystics, Wings, Sparks, Mercury, Liberty, Dream
With only two games against teams above .500 (Las Vegas and Phoenix), the Sun have a great chance to win seven or more. All of those below .500 teams will be fighting for a playoff birth, though. That makes their first matchup against the Aces crucial to continue to have a tiebreaker over Las Vegas and claim the top spot.
Las Vegas Aces; T-1st; 17-6
Sun, Dream, Fever, Sky, Sky, Lynx, Wings, Sky, Mercury
The Aces share a crucial matchup with the Sun to start their final nine games as well. But they only play three games against teams below .500. Their path to the top seed is more daunting, but not impossible if they can sustain their strong play into the playoffs.
Seattle Storm; 3rd; 17-7
Mystics, Lynx, Sky, Sky, Liberty, Mystics, Sparks, Mercury
The Storm are starting from behind in the loss column and have one less game than the Sun and Aces. Plus, their schedule is more challenging than the Sun, too. Every matchup is against playoff contenders with the hardest competition coming against fourth-seeded Minnesota. But if Bird and Stewart return to the lineup on a regular basis, the one-seed could be theirs for the taking.
Can Anyone Stop the Storm?
The Sun have the best path to the top seed in the regular season with a well-rested and motivated squad. They kept a roster together that was on the cusp of a Finals berth without Jonquel Jones.
The Aces added legit talent to a squad led by a 25-year-old phenom in A’ja Wilson. They are hot out of the gates and have a path to the number one seed as well.
But is it enough? The Storm barely missed out on the top seed last year, before sweeping the Aces in the Finals. This year, they are still right in the mix despite a few roster shakeups, but the big three of Seattle proved they do not need to home-court advantage to win important games.
The Sun and Aces should definitely push for the top seed, but in the end, will it make a difference in the postseason?
So far, this season they are 2-1 on the road against the two top-seeded Sun and Aces. Seattle crushed Connecticut right at the return in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship. And their lone road loss to the Aces came by just three points back in June.
Both the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun have taken strides with offseason moves and a return to normalcy, but can anyone take down the Champs when they return to full strength? A fully healthy and ready-to-go Bird, Loyd, and Stewart is quite the task to take on, home-court-advantage or not.
But let’s see what the Sun and Aces have to say about that if they can claim the top seed as we head down the home stretch on the way to playoff basketball.