There are less than 10 days left of the 2021 WNBA season, and the playoff picture is coming into focus. The league-leading Connecticut Sun have locked up at least a top-two seed and should soon clinch the best record to claim homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Aces are on the verge of securing the No. 2 seed and a bye to the semifinals as well.
Down at the bottom of the standings, the Atlanta Dream (11th) and Indiana Fever (12th) are technically still alive somehow, but it would take a miracle for either of them to get into the postseason. And in the middle, the sixth-place Chicago Sky have clinched a playoff spot but will not be able to get into the top-four.
For the rest of the teams, however, there's still a lot to play for over the final week-plus. Let's take a quick look at the playoff picture.
Battle for a top-four seed
The battle for a top-four seed, which comes with a bye to the second round of the playoffs, has come down to three teams fighting for two spots: the Seattle Storm, Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx. Here's how things currently stand.
No. 3: Storm (20-10)
Games remaining: 2 (at Sparks, vs. Mercury)
Have tiebreaker over Lynx
Tiebreaker with Mercury to be determined
No. 4: Mercury (19-10) -- 0.5 games behind Storm
Games remaining: 3 (vs. Sun, at Storm, vs. Aces)
Tiebreaker with Storm to be determined
Lost tiebreaker to Lynx
No. 5: Lynx (18-10) -- 0.5 games behind Mercury, 1 game behind Storm
Games remaining: 4 (vs. Fever, vs. Fever, at Fever, at Mystics)
Have tiebreaker over Mercury
Lost tiebreaker to Storm
The Storm are in the best spot because they're in third place, have the tiebreaker over the Lynx and could still win the tiebreaker over the Mercury. However, Breanna Stewart's potential absence due to a foot injury complicates things for them.
While the Mercury are in fourth as things stand, they have by far the hardest remaining schedule, with games against the top three teams to close their season. That's a big challenge, but it's also a big opportunity to improve their position.
As for the Lynx, they are not out of this by any means. They sit in fifth, but because of a schedule quirk, they still get to play the last-place Fever three more times, and then close against the Mystics. It's very conceivable that they run the table, which would put a lot of pressure on the teams ahead of them to do the same.
Battle for the last two playoff spots
The other battle to keep an eye on down the stretch is which teams come away with the final two playoff spots. There are four teams separated by just two games. Here's how things stand.
No. 7: Wings (12-17)
Games remaining: 3 (vs. Liberty, at Aces, vs. Sparks)
Lost tiebreaker to Liberty
Have tiebreaker over Mystics
Have tiebreaker over Sparks
No. 8: Liberty (11-18) -- 1 game behind Wings
Games remaining: 3 (at Wings, at Sun, vs. Mystics)
Have tiebreaker over Wings
Tiebreaker with Mystics to be determined
Tiebreaker with Sparks to be determined
No. 9: Mystics (10-18) -- 1.5 games behind Wings, 0.5 games behind Liberty
Games remaining: 4 (vs. Dream, at Sky, at Liberty, vs. Lynx)
Lost tiebreaker to Wings
Tiebreaker with Liberty to be determined
Have tiebreaker over Sparks
No. 10: Sparks (10-19) -- 2 games behind Wings, 1 game behind Liberty, 0.5 games behind Mystics
Games remaining: 3 (vs. Storm, at Dream, at Wings)
Lost tiebreaker to Wings
Tiebreaker with Liberty to be determined
Lost tiebreaker to Mystics
The Wings are obviously in the best spot here. They have a 1.5-game lead over the Mystics and a two-game lead over the Sparks, plus the tiebreaker over both teams. It would take a lot for them to miss out.
Sitting in eighth, and with tiebreakers against the Mystics and Sparks to be determined, the Liberty control their own destiny. Win out, and they are guaranteed a playoff spot for the first time since 2017.
Despite all of their injury problems -- Elena Delle Donne might be done for the season again -- the Mystics are still right there. And like the Liberty, they also control their own destiny. If they win out, they get in.
As for the Sparks, they are still alive, but need some help, especially since they've already lost tiebreakers to the Wings and Mystics. They have the worst odds of this group to make the postseason.
1. Connecticut Sun (23-6) -- Last week No. 1
The Sun have now won an incredible 11 games in a row, which is their longest winning streak since 2006, and just one shy of tying the franchise record. With their win over the Sparks on Thursday, they clinched a top-two seed and are now guaranteed a bye to the semifinals. They are, without a doubt, the best team in the league at the moment.
2. Las Vegas Aces (21-8) -- Last week No. 2
A solid 1-1 week for the Aces, who are closing in on a top-two seed. Not too much has changed for them lately. Barring some sort of collapse, they're going to get a bye to the semis, and it's just about being healthy when that series starts. Dearica Hamby is back from an ankle problem, but Liz Cambage is still sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19. There's currently no timeline for her return.
3. Seattle Storm (20-10) -- Last week No. 3
While the Storm have started to turn things around results wise, they're still just 4-5 since the Olympic break and look like they're going to miss out on a top-two seed. Even worse, Breanna Stewart left their last game with a foot injury, and there still hasn't been an update on her status. Hopefully, no news is good news, because Stewart going down ahead of the playoffs would be tough for both the Storm and the league as a whole.
4. Phoenix Mercury (19-10) -- Last week No. 4
It hasn't been pretty in the last few games, but the Mercury just keep on winning. Their streak is up to 10 games now, and they're still undefeated since the Olympic break. Thanks to this run, they've jumped all the way up to fourth place, which as it stands means they'd get a first round bye in the playoffs. Just an amazing turnaround from a team that looked to be heading towards another disappointing season.
5. Minnesota Lynx (18-10) -- Last week No. 5
The Lynx have dropped down into fifth place, though that's much more about how hot the Mercury have been than anything the Lynx are doing wrong. In fact, they were on a five-game winning streak themselves until a bad loss to the Aces. They also still have time to jump back into the top four, as they're only one game behind the third-place Storm and still have four games remaining.
6. Chicago Sky (15-14) -- Last week No. 6
Sometimes you watch the Sky play like they did for large parts of their recent win over the Aces and it's easy to convince yourself that they're actually the best team in the league. We just haven't seen them hit that level consistently enough, and as a result, it looks like they'll miss out on a top-four seed and have to run the gauntlet of back-to-back single-elimination rounds just to get to the semis.
7. Dallas Wings (12-17) -- Last week No. 7
The Wings have not been playing great basketball lately, and last time out were walloped by the Sun. But no one in the bottom half of the playoff race has been doing any better, so they're still just hanging out in seventh place. And at this point, it looks like they might end up making the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
8. Washington Mystics (10-18) -- Last week No. 8
Despite three straight double-digit losses, the Mystics are still only half a game out of the final playoff spot. Even if they get there, though, it's hard to see them making a run with all of the injury problems. Most notably, Elena Delle Donne might be shut down for the season due to recurring nerve problems in her back. This has just not been the Mystics' year.
9. New York Liberty (11-18) -- Last week No. 9
The Liberty somehow didn't have a game in the last week, but every single team around them in the playoff race keeps on losing so they're still sitting in eighth. Currently half a game ahead of the Mystics -- who they play in the final game of the season -- they might end up sneaking into the playoffs, but their play since the Olympic break has not been encouraging.
10. Los Angeles Sparks (10-19) -- Last week No. 10
There was a little stretch there coming out of the Olympic break where the Sparks strung a few wins together and it looked like they were going to make a late run at the playoffs. Those hopes are fading fast, however, as they're now down in 10th place after six straight losses. Now two games back of the eighth-place Liberty with three games to play, they're on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
11. Atlanta Dream (7-21) -- Last week No. 12
A win over the Wings finally snapped the Dream's 11-game losing streak, but while you can never begrudge a team for winning, they would honestly be better off just losing out at this point. There are only a few games left and the season has been such a mess that they might as well try to get the best possible lottery odds out of it.
12. Indiana Fever (6-21) -- Last week No. 11
Back-to-back losses against the Mercury mean the Fever have once again dropped into last place in the league at 6-21 and held onto their lead in the race for the best lottery odds. They're now 12-37 over the last two seasons, for a winning percentage of .244, which is slightly worse than both the Liberty (.254) and Dream (.280).