On July 14, Courtney Vandersloot left the Chicago Sky's win over the Los Angeles Sparks with a concussion. She wouldn't play again for nearly two weeks, missing four regular season games in the process. When she stepped back on the court for the Commissioner's Cup championship game early last week, she looked rusty and off the pace as the Sky suffered a home defeat.
That performance – both by Vandersloot and the team – may have been concerning, especially when Candace Parker was sidelined for much of last week with a non-COVID-19 illness. The Sky's narrow one-game lead in the race for the No. 1 seed suddenly seemed smaller than it already was.
But veteran players and teams know how to handle adversity; Vandersloot and the Sky showed as much last season en route to the franchise's first title, and they showed it again this week with two gritty wins that required big-time plays down the stretch. Each time, Vandersloot stepped up in Parker's absence and led the way.
She hit a game-sealing 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter of their win over the Liberty, and either scored or assisted on every single point in overtime of their victory against the Sun. In those two games she totaled 39 points, 14 rebounds and 21 assists while shooting 11 of 21 from the field and 15 of 18 from the free throw line. She also only turned the ball over four times in 65 minutes.
Vandersloot put the Sky on her back with two vintage performances, and if they end up with the No. 1 seed at the end of the season they'll have these two games to look back on as a major reason why.
1. Chicago Sky (23-7) -- Last week No. 1
The Sky's tenuous grip on first place looked to be in danger this week with Candace Parker sidelined due to a non-COVID-19 illness, but Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper stepped up to lead the to two big wins over the Liberty and Sun. In the process, Vandersloot moved past Lindsay Whalen for third place on the league's all-time assist list with 2,350. Vandersloot is now behind only Ticha Penicheiro and Sue Bird.
2. Las Vegas Aces (22-8) -- Last week No. 2
Smooth sailing for the Aces this week. In addition to beating the Sky in the Commissioner's Cup championship – a game that did not count toward the regular season standings – they crushed the last-place Fever twice to extend their winning streak to four games. In their win on Sunday, Chelsea Gray made headlines with one of the all-time unique plays: a behind-the-back inbounds pass.
3. Connecticut Sun (20-10) -- Last week No. 3
A disappointing overtime loss to the Sky on Sunday brought a four-game winning streak to an end and almost certainly dashed the Sun's hopes of making a run at the No. 1 seed. It's also somewhat concerning how much Jonquel Jones has struggled since returning from COVID-19. Still, the Sun have an easy schedule to close the regular season and are in good shape to secure at worst the No. 3 seed.
4. Seattle Storm (19-12) -- Last week No. 4
While the Storm couldn't complete the mini sweep in their back-to-back against the Mystics this weekend, they did get the split they needed to secure the season series and tiebreaker between the two teams. That could be crucial in the race for the No. 4 seed considering the Storm's difficult schedule down the stretch that includes two games against the Aces and one versus the Sky.
5. Washington Mystics (19-12) -- Last week No. 5
Bad news for the Mystics: they only managed a split in their home back-to-back with the Storm this weekend and lost the tiebreaker between the clubs in the process. Good news for the Mystics: they've won four of their last five games, are still tied with the Storm in the standings and have an easier schedule to close the season that includes two games against the abysmal last-place Fever.
6. Dallas Wings (13-16) -- Last week No. 8
The Wings haven't been particularly impressive as of late, but they haven't been a disaster either, which has been enough to move them up to sixth place by default. They're going to have a tough time staying there, however, with the Sky and Aces next up on the schedule this week. For the season they're just 4-10 against teams that are above .500 and have only one win over a team with a winning record in the last two months.
7. Phoenix Mercury (13-17) -- Last week No. 7
The Mercury's East Coast trip got off to a bad start with a 20-point loss to the Liberty, and now they have to play two straight games against a third-place Sun team that has only lost at home five times all season. They really need to steal at least one of these meetings with the Sun, because a three-game losing streak at this point in the season could be devastating. Doing so will be tough, however, as the Sun's second-ranked offense is a bad matchup for their 11th-ranked defense.
8. Minnesota Lynx (12-19) -- Last week No. 11
Here come the Lynx. They picked up two vital victories this week over fellow playoff hopefuls the Dream and Sparks, and are suddenly just one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot. They have a tough schedule down the stretch, but with Sylvia Fowles leading the way in her final season it's clear this team is not giving up on postseason dreams.
9. New York Liberty (11-18) -- Last week No. 10
Sabrina Ionescu dished out a franchise record 16 assists on Sunday as the Liberty got a potential season-saving victory over the Mercury. They've now won two of their last three games to jump back into the mix for a playoff spot, and all seven of their remaining games are against other postseason contenders. That includes a home back-to-back against the eighth-place Sparks, whom the Liberty are now just one game behind.
10. Los Angeles Sparks (12-17) -- Last week No. 6
Though they're still clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot, things are not looking good for the Sparks. They've lost three games in a row, still can't guard anyone and are about to travel across the country to play four games in six days on a brutal East Coast road trip. This week could end up deciding their season, especially with two games against the Liberty and one against the Dream on the docket.
11. Atlanta Dream (12-18) -- Last week No. 9
Just a few weeks ago the Dream were sitting in sixth place and looked to be favorites to claim one of the last three playoff spots. Now, after a frustrating four-game losing streak, that included defeats to three teams they're directly competing with, they sit in ninth place – a half-game out of eighth but also a half-game above 11th. Offense has been a problem for this team all season long, and especially so during this losing streak; they're shooting 38.8 percent from the field over their last four games.
12. Indiana Fever (5-27) -- Last week No. 12
The Fever have now lost 14 straight games, which is the second-longest losing streak in franchise history and tied for the seventh-longest losing streak in WNBA history. If that wasn't bad enough, leading scorer Kelsey Mitchell has been shut down for the remainder of the season due to a plantar fascia tear in her left foot. Perhaps the only upside for the Fever at this point is they have the fewest games remaining (four) of any team.