WNBA Power Rankings: Storm still looking like class of the league as the playoffs begin
The WNBA Playoffs begin Tuesday night with the single-elimination first round matchups
Well that went fast. Another WNBA regular season is in the books, and what a season it was. Liz Cambage returned and set a new single-game scoring record, Courtney Vandersloot set single-season records for assists per game and total assists, Sylvia Fowles set a new single-season rebounding record, Sue Bird became the all-time leader in games played and Rebekkah Brunson became the league's all-time leading rebounder. And those are just a few of the incredible accomplishments.
Now, it's time for the playoffs, which begin Tuesday night with the single-elimination first-round games. Ahead of the first-round games, here is a quick look at the final standings and bracket, along with a refresher about the WNBA's unique playoff format.
Conferences no longer matter for seeding or playoff matchups, with the eight best teams making the playoff regardless of affiliation. That turned out to be good news for the Dallas Wings, who claimed the eighth seed ahead of three different Eastern Conference squads.
The Seattle Storm finished with the best record, earning a bye to the semifinals and homecourt advantage throughout the entire playoffs. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Dream came in second, also earning a bye to the semis, and homecourt in that round.
Next up was the Washington Mystics in third, and the Connecticut Sun in fourth. Those two teams have earned a bye to the second round, and will play at home in that single-elimination round.
The last four teams will all have to play in the first round. The Phoenix Mercury finished fifth, and will host the eighth-seeded Dallas Wings in their single-elimination matchup. As for the other first-round game, that's a Finals rematch, with the No. 6 seed Los Angeles Sparks welcoming the No. 7 seed Minnesota Lynx.
The first two rounds are both single-elimination, with teams being re-seeded after each round. Once things reach the semi-finals, however, it moves to a best-of-five format, with the top-two seeds (the Storm and Dream) hosting Games 1, 2 and 5 if necessary.
The WNBA Finals will follow the same format as the semi-finals.
And now, for the final power rankings of the season, let's take a look at the most dangerous teams heading into the playoffs.
1. Seattle Storm (26-8) -- No. 1 seed
Aside from the fact that this group simply doesn't have much playoff experience, it's hard to find reasons why the Storm shouldn't be the favorites heading into the playoffs. They had the best offense in the regular season, second-best defense, the likely MVP in Breanna Stewart, a proven leader in Sue Bird and a talented supporting cast.
2. Los Angeles Sparks (19-15) -- No. 6 seed
A two-game losing streak to end the season saw the Sparks finish in sixth place in the crowded standings. That means they'll have to win two single-elimination games just to get to the semi-finals, which will be a difficult task. Even still, they should probably be considered one of the favorites given their championship experience, strong defense and top-tier talent.
3. Connecticut Sun (21-13) -- No. 4 seed
A mid-season slump when they were without Alyssa Thomas probably ended up costing the Sun a top-two seed, and now they'll have to win a single-elimination game to get to the semifinals. But if they do, don't be surprised if the Sun go on to win this whole thing. They closed the season winning nine of 10 games and might be the deepest team in the league.
4. Washington Mystics (22-12) -- No. 3 seed
The Mystics' late push for a top-two seed ended up falling short, so they'll have to play a single-elimination game despite going 22-12 this season, which really shows how dumb it is that the second-round is still single-elimination. In any case the Mystics look like they're peaking at the perfect time, and in Elena Delle Donne have one of the league's best players.
5. Atlanta Dream (23-11) -- No. 2 seed
The Dream earned a bye to the semifinals, and thanks to their stout defense they'll be a problem for whichever team they end up facing. Unfortunately, they lost their best player, Angel McCoughtry, to a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago. That kind of loss becomes magnified in the postseason, and will make a title run tough for the Dream.
6. Phoenix Mercury (20-14) -- No. 5 seed
With no clear favorite, this was a perfect season for the Mercury to jump back into title contention. Especially with their big three all healthy and playing at a high level. Unfortunately, they'll have to win two straight single-elimination games for the third straight season just to get to the semis. And even if they do that, the eternal question remains. Is a great trio alone enough come playoff time?
7. Minnesota Lynx (18-16) -- No. 7 seed
The Lynx just might be the hardest team to project heading into the playoffs. There hasn't been much from the regular season that leads you to believe they have another title run in them, but they're still the Lynx. Even with how bad they've looked at times, it's hard to completely count them out now that it's the postseason, especially considering they still have Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles.
8. Dallas Wings (15-19) -- No. 8 seed
Look, the Wings have been pretty much a disaster over the last month or so. They fired their coach and lost 10 of 11 games to close the season, barely holding on to the final playoff spot. But they still have Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, arguably the best one-two punch in the league. Should you bet on a deep run by the Wings? Probably not. Just don't be shocked if it happens.
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