Just as soon as it's begun, another WNBA season is coming to a close. Injuries and absences to so many key players created a cloud over the start of the season, but it soon gave way to one of the more competitive campaigns in recent memory. With just a week left of regular season action, let's take a look at the playoff picture and where things stand.
At the top, as they have been for much of the season, are the Mystics and Sun. Washington sits in first place and have locked up a top-two seed, while the Sun need just one more win or Sparks loss to do the same. As it stands, the Mystics have a one-game lead over the Sun in the race for the No. 1 seed, but the Sun own the season series between the two, meaning they just have to tie the Mystics and they'll get homecourt advantage all the way through.
Moving down the standings, the Aces, Sparks and Sky are all battling for the two first-round byes that come with the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds. The Sparks can still technically catch the Sun for a top-two seed, but that would require them winning out and the Sun losing out. The Aces and Sky, meanwhile, are out of the running for a top-two spot. The final week should be intense, as all three teams are within one game of each other. Chicago does not own the season series against either team, meaning they'll have to win a top-four spot outright. The Aces and Sparks, meanwhile, tied their season series 2-2, which means the tiebreaker would go to record against .500 or better teams, which is still to be determined.
The final three playoff teams, all of whom have already clinched a spot, are the Lynx, Storm and Mercury. Minnesota and Phoenix are out of the running for a top-four seed, while the Storm could still technically catch the Sparks, but would need all sorts of help. Assuming that doesn't happen, this group will likely come down to a battle between the Lynx and Storm for sixth place and homecourt in the first round.
Rounding out the standings are the Fever, Wings, Liberty and Dream, all of whom have been eliminated from playoff contention. The WNBA uses a cumulative record of the past two seasons to determine lottery odds, which is bad news for the Dream. As it stands, the Liberty are 16-49 over the past two seasons, Fever are 17-49, the Wings are 25-40 and the Dream are 30-35.
1. Washington Mystics (23-8) -- last week No. 1
Another week, another statement made by the Mystics. They absolutely destroyed the Sparks by 29 points on Tuesday night, setting a new WNBA record with their eighth win by 25-plus points. Later in the week, they took care of the Wings to extend their winning streak to three games and maintain their first-place position.
2. Connecticut Sun (22-9) -- last week No. 2
The Sun cruised to two relatively simple victories over the Storm and Liberty this week to keep pace with the red-hot Mystics, who still hold a one-game lead in the race for the No. 1 seed. But by virtue of owning the season series, the Sun just have to finish tied and they'll own homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering they're 14-1 at home and 8-8 on the road, that could be vital.
3. Las Vegas Aces (20-12) -- last week No. 5
The Aces are still hanging on to third place, but they have not been convincing lately. Early in the week they were blown out by the Fever to extend their losing streak to three games, and needed a huge second half comeback to beat the Sparks on Saturday night to avoid dropping four in a row. Their once stout defense has begun to falter; since August, they're 10th in the league with a 104.3 defensive rating.
4. Chicago Sky (19-13) -- last week No. 3
All the Sky had to do was beat the lowly Wings early in the week and they would be tied for third place in the league, but as it stands they're still in fifth, and are going to need some help in getting a first round bye. Still, they crushed the Mercury on Sunday, and loss to the Wings notwithstanding, this team looks dangerous.
5. Minnesota Lynx (17-15) -- last week No. 6
After a rough stretch coming out of the All-Star break, the Lynx are surging. Four straight wins have them back above .500 at 17-15, into sixth place in the standings and at the moment owning home court advantage in the first round. During the streak, which includes wins over the Aces and Sky, their offense has been electric, as they've cut way down on the turnovers and are shooting over 38 percent from downtown.
6. Los Angeles Sparks (19-12) -- last week No. 4
Trying to figure this team out is an exercise in futility. This week they got blasted by the Mystics by 29, barely beat the Fever then blew a 13-point lead to the Aces. All of that after they had won eight out of 10 and looked to be figuring things out. The talent is there, it's undeniable, but the fit and consistency are not.
7. Seattle Storm (16-15) -- last week No. 7
The Storm got blown out by the Sun to start the week, then ended it by blowing out the Dream. In short, their week went as expected. They'll need a strong final week if they hope to move past the Lynx and reclaim sixth place in the standings which would give them homecourt advantage in the first round. That's an important goal for them, as they're 11-6 at home, but just 5-9 on the road.
8. Phoenix Mercury (15-16) -- last week No. 8
The Mercury went 2-1 this week, but they weren't exactly convincing. Their wins came over the Liberty and Dream, two of the worst squads in the league, and they got run out of the gym by the Sky. They have to hope that Diana Taurasi will work her way back into form quickly, because if she's playing like this when the playoffs start they'll be in trouble. In her five games this season she's 3-of-35 from the field.
9. Indiana Fever (11-21) -- last week No. 9
Teaira McCowan's late season surge continued with three more double-doubles this week, including a monster 24-point, 17-rebound performance against Liz Cambage and the Aces. She's been excellent down the stretch, and that's great news for the Fever as they look towards the future after being eliminated from the playoffs.
10. Dallas Wings (10-21) -- last week No. 10
The Wings picked up a surprising win over the Sky early in the week thanks to yet another impressive performance by Arike Ogunbowale. Their rookie star tied her career-high with 35 points in yet another statement game as she makes her case for Rookie of the Year. She's locked in an enthralling race with Napheesa Collier for the honor, and that's about the only thing left worth following for the Wings this season.
11. New York Liberty (9-22) -- last week No. 11
Tina Charles has been sitting out games for rest, even though there's just a week left in the season, which is as good of a sign as any that the Liberty have just completely packed it in at this point. And perhaps rightly so, with every loss drawing them closer to getting the No. 1 pick. They've lost four in a row, and 12 of their last 13 outings.
12. Atlanta Dream (7-24) -- last week No. 12
Now that they have to play teams who aren't also tanking, the Dream are back to losing ways after their brief two-game winning streak against the Liberty and Wings. The only interesting thing left to follow with the Dream is whether or not Angel McCoughtry will be allowed to play in the team's finale.