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WNBA playoff picture, standings, projections: Aces gain ground in race for top seed; Sparks on the brink

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As the final week of the 2022 WNBA regular season begins there are still two playoff spots up for grabs, no seeds have been locked in and only one team — the lowly Indiana Fever — has been eliminated. That leaves plenty to play for in what should be a dramatic last few days. 

As a reminder, the WNBA has once again changed its playoff system. While the top eight teams will still make the playoffs, there are no more byes. Instead, every team will begin play in the first round with a standard bracket format that features the No. 1 seed vs. the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed vs. the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed vs. the No. 5 seed. The bracket will not be re-seeded after the first round. 

The first-round matchups will be best-of-three series, with the higher seed playing Games 1 and 2 at home, and the lower seed hosting Game 3. The semifinals and finals will both be best-of-five series with a 2-2-1 format, which means the higher seeds will host Games 1, 2 and 5, while the lower seeded team will host Games 3 and 4. 

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Current standings

1. Chicago Sky (25-9) — Playoff spot clinched

2. Las Vegas Aces (24-10) — Playoff spot clinched

3. Connecticut Sun (22-11) — Playoff spot clinched

4. Seattle Storm (21-13) — Playoff spot clinched

5. Washington Mystics (20-14) — Playoff spot clinched

6. Dallas Wings (17-16) — Playoff spot clinched

7. Phoenix Mercury (14-19)

8. Atlanta Dream (14-20)

9. Minnesota Lynx (13-20)

10. New York Liberty (13-20)

11. Los Angeles Sparks (13-21)

12. Indiana Fever (5-29) — Eliminated

As the action continues down the stretch, here’s a closer look at the playoff picture: 

Race for the No. 1 seed

1. Chicago Sky (25-9) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 2 (vs. at Aces, at Mercury)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Aces: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sun: won season series 4-0
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 8 Atlanta Dream

The Sky’s defense was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night, as they fell to the Storm in a shootout. Now, their lead over the Aces in the race for the No. 1 seed is down to just one game ahead of the showdown between the two teams on Thursday night. That game will determine the tiebreaker between the two clubs and if the Sky win they’ll clinch first place. 

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2. Las Vegas Aces (24-10) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 2 (vs. Sky, vs. Storm)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sky: 1-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sun: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 7 Phoenix Mercury

The Aces appear to be back on track after they took down the Dream on Tuesday night for their second straight win. They are now just a game behind the Sky for the top seed and home-court advantage in the first round, and will play them on Thursday night in a highly anticipated matchup. If the Aces win that game they will grab the upper hand in the race for the No. 1 seed; if they lose they will be eliminated from contention for that spot. 

Sun likely to shine in third place

3. Connecticut Sun (23-11) — Playoff spot clinched

  • Games remaining: 2 (at Sparks, vs. Lynx)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sky: lost season series 0-4; vs. Aces: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. 6 Dallas Wings

The Sun crushed the travel-weary Sparks on Tuesday to clinch at least a top-three seed and maintain their slim hopes of catching the Aces for the No. 2 seed. They need to win out and have the Aces lose out for that to happen, however, which means they will most likely be the No. 3 seed. 

Two teams fighting for No. 4

4. Seattle Storm (21-13)

  • Games remaining: 2 (at Lynx, at Aces)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mystics: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Washington Mystics

5. Washington Mystics (20-14)

  • Games remaining: 2 (at Fever, vs. Fever)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Storm: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 4 Seattle Storm

One of the tightest races right now is in the middle of the standings where the Storm and Mystics are going head-to-head for fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Storm picked up their biggest win of the season on Tuesday as they scored 111 points in a win over the first-place Sky. 

With two games left to play for both clubs, the Storm are now one game ahead and have the tiebreaker. That means they need just one win or one Mystics loss to clinch the No. 4 seed. The Mystics’ only hope is to win out and have the Storm lose out. 

Wings are in, should soon secure sixth

6. Dallas Wings (17-16)

  • Games remaining: 3 (vs. Liberty, at Mercury, at Sparks)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: 2-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Sparks: 1-2 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Dream: lost season series 1-2; vs. Liberty: won season series 2-0; vs. Lynx: won season series 2-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 3 Connecticut Sun

The Wings are going back to the playoffs. After a major mid-season slump, they have caught fire in recent weeks and clinched a playoff spot on Monday with a win over the Liberty. They’ve now won five straight and six of their last seven games to get back above .500 for the first time since early June. With one more win they will be locked into sixth place. 

Last two spots up for grabs

7. Phoenix Mercury (14-19)

  • Games remaining: 3 (vs. Lynx, vs. Wings, vs. Sky)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sparks: season series tied 2-2, currently own tiebreaker via better record against teams above .500; vs. Wings: 1-2 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Dream: lost season series 1-2; vs. Liberty: won season series 2-1; vs. Lynx: lost season series 0-3
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 2 Las Vegas Aces

The Mercury finally returned home on Saturday, and they got back on track with a massive victory over the Liberty despite being without both Skylar Diggins-Smith (illness) and Diana Taurasi (quad). With this win, the Mercury took the season series with the Liberty and jumped up into seventh place in the standings. 

8. Atlanta Dream (14-20)

  • Games remaining: 2 (vs. Liberty, at Liberty)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: won season series 2-1; Sparks: won season series 2-1; vs. Wings: won season series 2-1; vs. Liberty: 1-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 1 Chicago Sky

The shorthanded Dream ran out of gas in the fourth quarter on Tuesday and fell to the Aces for their second straight loss. This is not a good time for a mini losing streak, and the Dream are now down to eighth place with just a half-game lead over both the Lynx and Liberty. Even worse, they’ve lost the tiebreaker to the Lynx and have two games left with the Liberty. 

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9. Minnesota Lynx (13-20)

  • Games remaining: 3 (at Mercury, vs. Storm, at Sun)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: won season series 3-0; vs. Sparks: won season series 2-1; vs. Wings: lost season series 1-2; vs. Dream: won season series 2-1; vs. Liberty: won season series 2-1 
  • Current first-round matchup: N/A

The Lynx desperately needed a win on Sunday, and they got one as they took care of the Dream in Napheesa Collier’s return to action. Minnesota is now only one game behind both Phoenix (eighth) and Atlanta (seventh) and has the tiebreaker over both of those teams. With three games remaining, including one against the Mercury, the Lynx are right in this. 

10. New York Liberty (13-20)

  • Games remaining: 3 (at Wings, at Dream, vs. Dream)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: lost season series 1-2; vs. Sparks: won season series 2-1; vs. Wings: lost season series 0-2; vs. Dream: 1-1 in season series with two games remaining; vs. Lynx: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: N/A

Despite Sabrina’s Ionescu’s excellent play of late, which included a season-high 32 points on Monday night against the Wings, the Liberty have lost two straight to fall back to 10th place. They’re now one game behind both the Mercury (eighth) and Dream (seventh) with three games to play. Two of them are against the Dream, however, so they still have some faint hopes of getting in. 

11. Los Angeles Sparks (13-21)

  • Games remaining: 2 (vs. Sun, vs. Wings)
  • Tiebreakers: vs. Mercury: season series tied 2-2, currently losing tiebreaker via worse record against teams above .500; vs. Wings: 2-1 in season series with one game remaining; vs. Dream: lost season series 1-2; vs. Liberty: lost season series 1-2; vs. Lynx: lost season series 1-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. N/A

The Sparks were always going to have a tough time with the Sun on Tuesday, but especially so after their travel fiasco this weekend that saw them spend a night at the airport. They suffered a demoralizing 26-point loss and are now on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention. 

Eliminated

12. Indiana Fever (5-29)

The Fever have now lost 16 straight games and were the first team eliminated from the playoffs. With a sixth straight lottery appearance on the way, they’ll be hoping for some luck with the ping pong balls to help end the worst stretch in franchise history. 

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