The race for eighth in the WNBA Playoffs heats up as the regular season comes to a close. While true contenders clinch their spot in the postseason, four teams battle for the final two seeds.
Playoff Staples: The Top Six
With five games or less left in the season, six teams clinched a trip to playoff basketball with two teams all but eliminated. The Connecticut Sun rides a nine-game winning streak for a narrow but definitive lead atop the standings. The 21-6 Sun holds a 1.5-game lead for the number one seed ahead of the Las Vegas Aces at 20-8.
The race for the third through fifth seeds is much tighter. Minnesota gained control of the third seed at 18-9 after a victory over the Washington Mystics. The Lynx five-game winning streak followed a couple of losses to Connecticut who broke an eight-game winning streak.
Once in control of the top seed at the Olympic break, the Seattle Storm, losers in six out of 10, fell to fourth. At 19-10, Seattle sits three games back of Connecticut and just behind Minnesota in the loss column. Seattle currently sits 1.5-games up on the Phoenix Mercury at 17-10.
The post-Olympic break surge (8-0) by the Mercury propelled them ahead of the race for eighth and into contending status. Below that sits the Chicago Sky in sixth at 15-14, three games back but still 2.5-games ahead of the race for eighth.
With the aforementioned six playoff staples in the dwindling days of the regular season, two spots remain up for grabs. The 11th seed Atlanta Dream and 12th seed Indiana Fever at 7-20 and 6-19, respectively, stand close to elimination. This leaves four teams vying for the final two seeds, in what has been a punitive fight to the finish.
The leadup to the postseason has been a losing battle for the WNBA’s final playoff spot. The four teams have had a combined record of 11-29 over each of their last ten games. Over the last couple of weeks of the season, these four teams face each other three times. Critical matchups that will decide the final two playoff spots and winning the race for eighth.
So, let’s stack up the contenders in the Race for Eighth.
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Contenders in the Race for Eighth
7th – Dallas Wings 12-16
The Dallas Wings plays an enjoyable style of basketball and competes against any team on any given night. The Wings’ offense ranks fifth with an offensive rating of 102.9 and an average of 82.2 PPG. Dallas fires up a lot of threes (22.6 per game, third) and knocks them down at a high rate (36%, fourth).
They also rebound at a high rate, second in the league at 52.5%. But the Wings’ defensive rating is 102.2, eighth. Dallas does not play at a fast pace and defends poorly, but the team shoots well and is one of the better rebounding teams thanks to their league-best 10.2 offensive rebounds per game.
Third-year guard, Arike Ogunbowale, leads the Wings at 19.1 PPG, fifth in the W. Dallas has five players averaging double-figures including Ogunbowale. Marina Mabrey, Satou Sabally, Allisha Gray, and Isabelle Harrison also contribute at a high level.
The Wings have won three out of six since dropping five out of six games. Dallas has won three out of seven since returning from the Olympic break. While the Wings beat the Sky, it lost to Indiana, short-handed Washington, and Atlanta in its recent run. Dallas could be in a much better position, but still sit seventh.
Down the Stretch
The Wings’ final four include Connecticut, New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. A tough schedule despite three of four at home. The Wings hold a 1.5-game lead over the rest of the pack.
Connecticut and Las Vegas will challenge the Wings, leaving New York and Los Angeles as important matchups.
8th – Liberty 11-18
The New York Liberty came a long way since its undefeated start to the season and top half of the league status. A team that plays at the second-highest pace in the league and relies heavily on threes. The Liberty ranks 10th in field goals attempted per game (66.3), but first in three-pointers attempted (28.1). Luckily, New York shoots well from deep, third in the W at 36.4%,
For a team shooting nearly half its shots from deep, the Liberty shoots in the top half of the league in efficiency metrics. It shoots 50.2% in effective field goal percentage and 53.9% in true shooting percentage, good for fourth and sixth in the WNBA.
For a team that takes advantage of its solid shooting from deep as much as the Liberty, the team pays the price in other ways. The Liberty rebounds poorly, with a rebound rate of 47.6% for only 33.6 per game, both rank tenth. And the team turns it over the most with 16.9 per night and a turnover rate of 20.6%, dead last in the W.
But the team led by ballhandlers, Betnijah Laney (5 APG) and Sabrina Ionescu (6 APG), passes the basketball very well. The Liberty averages 19 assists and records an assist percentage of 67.6%, good for sixth and third. The Liberty shows flashes of potential with the pieces in place, but not in the second half.
The additions of Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb proved excellent, but their health has been a roadblock. Howard’s 14.5 PPG and Whitcomb’s 11.9 PPG are second and third on the team to go with Laney’s 17.2. But they play together sparingly. Howard missed a majority of the first half (10 games played) and Whitcomb deals with injuries as the Liberty approach the postseason.
Somehow, the New York Liberty still stands in the final playoff spot. Despite losing six straight and nine of its last 10, the Liberty has a chance.
Down the Stretch
The Liberty only plays three games, less than any of the other contenders in the race for eighth. The schedule sees the team take on Dallas, Connecticut, and Washington.
With Connecticut as the most challenging opponent, the Dallas and Washington games stand out as many win matchups.
9th – Washington Mystics 10-17
The Washington Mystics season of injuries destroyed the potential of a squad with multiple all-stars and former MVP winners. Outside of taking care of the ball (fourth at 15.7% turnover rate and 12.7 turnovers per game), nothing stands out about this team on the stat sheet.
The team shoots a lot of threes (27.8, second) but does not shoot a high percentage on them (32.9%, ninth). The Mystics stand near the middle of the pack or worse in nearly every category. In a season so derailed by injuries, Washington cannot put much consistency together on the floor, both in lineups and performance.
Washington shoots among the worst in the league (40.8% FG%, 11th) and rebounds poorly (33.3 RPG, 11th). The Mystics rank eighth in offense (99.7 offensive rating) and tenth in defense (104 defensive rating). That all equals the eighth best net rating of -4.2. The team does not inspire confidence.
Nonetheless, the group led by Tina Charles stayed in position for a playoff spot. Charles deserves major MVP attention as the season comes to a close. Her 24.8 PPG would rank second all-time. Only a recent injury has held her out five games, but she returned for the final run. Ariel Atkins, the first time Olympic Gold Medalist and WNBA All-Star, is the only other key player who played every game. She averages 15.8 PPG, followed by Myisha Hines-Allen at 13.8 PPG and 7.3 RPG.
The Mystics loaded up on injuries this season. Key players Alysha Clark and Emma Meesseman missed the entire season. Elena Delle Donne returned after missing multiple seasons since the Mystics’ 2018 title run, but only suited up three games. She remains questionable to return for the rest of the season.
Do not get it twisted, this team with a fully healthy Delle Donne and Charles would be a problem. The last time Delle Donne was at full health, the Mystics won the WNBA championship. So, if they can somehow regain health and earn a spot in the playoffs, the Mystics could be a real threat.
Down the Stretch
The Mystics’ final five games include Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Minnesota. That schedule includes three games against teams in the top half of the league.
Seattle, Chicago, and Minnesota all stand out atop the league, while Atlanta sits near the bottom. The matchup with New York is a pivotal one.
10th – Los Angeles Sparks 10-18
The Los Angeles Sparks season whirlwinded to this moment: tenth in the W and on the verge of elimination. With that being said… the Sparks could make the playoffs at half a game out from the eighth seed.
Injuries also plagued LA this season and the return of Nneka Ogwumike made a massive difference for the Sparks. Before the Olympic break, the Sparks recorded only six wins in 19 games. But with the return of Ogwumike, the team rattled off four wins in a row.
Since then, LA has lost five straight, only three of which are within ten points. It nearly matches the Sparks’ previous high of a six-game losing streak.
The Sparks rank worst or near the bottom of the WNBA in many statistical categories. Last in points (72.6), field goal percentage (40.4%), rebounds (29.3), assists (15.5), and offensive rating (91.6).
Ogwumike averages 14.2 PPG and 5.9 RPG in her 14 games, but Erica Wheeler stepped up with 13.5 PPG and 4.8 APG. Including those two, eight players average 7+ PPG. Amanda Zahui B, Kristi Toliver, Brittney Sykes, Nia Coffey, Te’a Cooper, and Chiney Ogwumike also contribute. Nneka Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver, and Chiney Ogwumike only played in a combined 46% of the Sparks’ games.
That in addition to a questionable job at best from head coach, Derek Fisher, leads the Sparks to where they are right now. Four games left and not a great path to reach the postseason.
Down the Stretch
The Sparks’ final four games include Connecticut, Seattle, Atlanta, and Dallas. That schedule is favorable, but for the last-place team out of the four teams in the race for eighth, the Sparks needs every game it can get.
The matchups against Seattle and Connecticut need to lead to at least one win. The Dallas and Atlanta games should be tightly contested as they are almost must-win territory.
Who Will Win the Race for Eighth?
Dallas, New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. The four teams fight in a losing battle in the race for eighth. Only two teams will advance.
Each game is pivotal for each of these teams down the stretch, with three critical matchups to watch to decide who makes the postseason. New York takes on Dallas in Arlington at 8 p.m. next Saturday, September 11th. Washington travels to New York on Friday, September 17th at 7 p.m. And on the last day of the regular season, Sunday, September 19th, Dallas plays host to Los Angeles at 5 p.m. Every one of these games could be major in the race for eighth.
The seventh seed will face the sixth seed and the winner in the race for eighth will take on the number five seed in a single-elimination first round of the playoffs.
As of right now, Dallas sits in seventh and New York clings to eighth. Anything can happen down the stretch and for our sake, hopefully, it will.
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