Winsidr Power Rankings: Volume 7

Welcome back to the latest edition of the Winsidr Power Rankings! We’re in the home stretch now, with an intense battle for seeding happening up and down the standings. The top two teams earn a coveted double-bye, while the #3 and #4 seeds have to play a single elimination game to hit the semis. The #5 through #8 seeds, of course, must win two one-and-dones to advance to a series. These next few weeks will be chaotic, as teams continue to jockey for position.

As a refresher, we poll our staff to aggregate where we think each team currently stands, and we compare it to how we feel they’ve performed since our last check-in. At this point, five teams—the Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx, Seattle Storm, and Phoenix Mercury—have clinched the playoffs. The Sun (nine straight wins) and the Phoenix Mercury (seven straight wins) are playing some of their best ball since the break, strongly helping their placement in the standings. Just one game separates the eight-seeded Washington Mystics from the 10th-seeded Los Angeles Sparks, with New York Liberty squeezed right between them. It’ll be a tight fight to the finish. 

This season, we have beat writers repping the W’s dozen franchises, and each of those reporters have given their brief updates on their respective squads below. Make sure you’re following the writer that covers your beat. Better yet, follow us all! With teams coming back healthier and more rested than when we last checked in, let’s see where they all stand at this point in the race.

12. Atlanta Dream (No. 11 last rankings, 6-20)

Mitchell Hansen, @M_Hansen13: To say the Atlanta Dream have been struggling would be an understatement; going into the week, the Dream have lost a league-worst 11 straight games, putting them at 6-20 with eight games remaining in their regular season. After starting the year off winning four of its first six games, Atlanta has gone 2-18 since the beginning of June, and the downward slide has continued. 

Atlanta is still ahead of Indiana in the league standings, but the Dream have a rough schedule to round out the season, including two games against both Dallas and Washington and featuring matchups against Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Connecticut. Atlanta could end up at the bottom of the standings in the coming weeks, but they hope to play spoiler and snag a win or two to close out the disappointing 2021 season. 

 

11. Indiana Fever (No. 12 last rankings, 6-19)

Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker: Despite being in the bottom spot of these rankings for the first six editions, the Fever look much improved over the course of the last few weeks and have finally climbed out of the cellar. With five wins in their last eight games, Indiana has been propelled by the rejuvenated play of both Teaira McCowan and Kelsey Mitchell, along with strong starting minutes from newcomer Emma Cannon.

Unfortunately for the Fever, the rest of the schedule is no walk in the park, with three games against the Minnesota Lynx, two against the Phoenix Mercury, and one against the Chicago Sky. But if Indy can get performances from Mitchell (25 points, 4-of-7 from deep) and McCowan (15 points, 19 rebounds) like it got against the Los Angeles Sparks, the Fever should certainly be competitive.

 

10. Los Angeles Sparks (No. 10 last rankings, 10-18)

 John W. Davis, @johnwdavis: The good news is the Sparks still have a shot at making the playoffs. The bad news: they will most likely need to win at least three of their last four games to have a legit chance. Ultimately, it’s win or go home time. The Sparks were competitive against two upper echelon teams—the Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx—but ended up losing close games in the fourth quarter.

LA went 1-5 on their recent six-game, 15-day road trip. Nia Coffey has continued her strong play, but it is extremely difficult to win when you only have eight available players.

If the Sparks can pull off victories at home against the Sun and Seattle Storm, they will be in the mix for the final playoff spot. If not, they will be sending a 2022 first round lottery pick to the Dallas Wings, which would provide doubters more ammunition in questioning General Manager / Head Coach Derek Fisher’s long-term future in the WNBA. 

 

9. New York Liberty (No. T-6 last rankings, 11-18)

Geoff Magliocchetti, @GeoffJMags: Victories have emerged in the Liberty’s post-Olympic slate. Alas, for a fanbase that’s been denied a taste of the playoffs since 2017, they haven’t come in the left-hand side of the standings column. 

It’s easy to focus on the immediate scoreboards: the Liberty have almost completely lost control of their playoff destiny through a six-game losing streak (exacerbated by injuries to Sami Whitcomb and Jazmine Jones) and can only helplessly watch as nine off-days linger between a Breanna Stewart-induced heartbreaker in Seattle on Thursday and a crucial contest in Dallas. But there are individual victories throughout the lineup that potentially serve as building blocks. 

 

Bec Allen, for example, has taken full advantage of extended minutes in the starting five in place of Whitcomb. The Opal has flourished after her first Summer Games, averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over her last seven contests. Michaela Onyenwere earned her first double-double on Tuesday in Minnesota, hours before she wrapped up another Rookie of the Month award. Fellow frosh DiDi Richards has discovered a shooting touch to complement her defense. Richards was 9-of-31 from the field in her first 21 games, but, since August 18, she has hit 17-of-27, including 9-of-13 from three-point range (she was 0-for-1 during her time in Waco). Sabrina Ionescu is posting Sabrina Ionescu-esque numbers on a consistent basis again, even coming an assist short of becoming the first WNBA player with two regular season double-doubles last week against Phoenix. 

While the Liberty would obviously never decline a playoff spot, 2021 was always meant to be a year of growth and development, something management has continuously made clear (even in the midst of their 5-1 opening). That’s of little consolation to those expecting the instant gratification of a playoff run, but there’s finally a concrete plan to make things right after the nomadic end of the last decade. 

If anything, basketball historians should take a special interest in the Liberty’s remaining contests; the bearers of seafoam are a trio of three-pointers away from becoming the third team in Association history to sink 300 triples and 20 away from breaking the all-time mark set by the 2019 Washington Mystics.

 

8. Washington Mystics (No. T-6 last rankings, 10-16)

 Jon Bird, @jonbird333: It has been a tough week for Mystics fans and players alike, as the team split their last two games. While the exciting 76-75 come-from-behind win against Dallas (without the likes of WNBA MVPs Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne) showed fans a glimmer of hope, the excitement was short lived, as they dropped their next game to the Connecticut Sun, 85-75.

With games against Minnesota, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Minnesota once more to wrap up their season, the 10-16 Mystics need to find a way to pull off some “upsets” in order to make the playoffs. Key to their future is how they stack up against Minnesota. Tina Charles has historically had a winning record against Sylvia Fowles, highlighted by her 31-point, eight-rebound performance against the Lynx in an 85-81 win on June 8, but with Charles still recovering from a left gluteal sprain, it is unclear if she will be active for their matchup this Saturday.

It is clear that when at full strength the likes of Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Myisha Hines-Allen, Delle Donne, Charles, and company can hang with the best teams in the league (as proven by their tightly contested 84-83 loss against the #2 ranked Aces on August 15). The question remains: can this team return to full health in time for a playoff push?

 

7. Dallas Wings (No. 9 last rankings, 12-15)

 Jasmine Harper, @harperxxwrites: Since the Olympic break, the Wings are 3-3 and working harder than we’ve ever seen them before. The team is without Satou Sabally, as she sustained an Achilles injury prior to the league resumed in August. However, that’s not stopping the Wings from flying high. Led by Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray, the Wings are sitting in a solid playoff position and have their eyes focused on ending their postseason drought. 

Ogunbowale has been on a tear since the break, scoring 15 or more points in five games and 20 or more points in three games. Supported by a blazing Gray and Moriah Jefferson, the Wings are closing out better and better. In their matchup last night against the Atlanta Dream, the Wings looked confident and had really good rhythm. Coming off a concussion injury, Gold Medal Lish led the Wings to the win with 19 points and 10 rebounds, along with some major moments like her buzzer beater AND1, taking a charge in the third quarter, and her overall sharp shooting. We were able to see just how lethal her 3×3 Olympic game is on the WNBA’s big screen.

While they do have a few things to clean up, such as spacing and consistency in shots, Dallas is transforming into the team we always knew they were. They will need to continue bringing the defensive power from players like Kayla Thornton, Bella Alarie, and Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Isabelle Harrison. As Dallas continues to improve nearing the playoffs, teams should be on the lookout. We love to speak on how young the team is, but soon enough we’ll be speaking on how far they’re going in the postseason.

 

6. Chicago Sky (No. 5 last rankings, 14-14)

 James Kay, @James_M_Kay: Since the Olympic break, the Sky have had games where they look like legitimate Finals contenders, and others where they have fallen flat. Chicago completed its season sweep of the Storm, who have struggled since winning the Commissioner’s Cup, which gave the Sky their 10th win on the road (tied for first in the league with the Connecticut Sun). However, the Sky lost 103-83 to the Mercury in Phoenix, then the Liz Cambage-less Aces handed Chicago their 14th loss of the season. 

One of the team’s biggest flaws is its inconsistency from three-point range. Over the last eight games, the Sky are shooting 45.3 percent from beyond the arc in wins, but that number drops to 33.7 percent in losses. Teams have also made a concerted effort to stop sharpshooter Allie Quigley after she averaged 23.7 points per game (PPG) in the first three games back from the break. Since then, she is averaging 9.2 PPG, while shooting 37 percent from the field. 

Chicago’s road ahead remains tough, as they face the Aces two more times and a Mystics team that beat them earlier in the season. However, the Sky are 13-6 with Candace Parker in the lineup, and anything can happen in the playoffs if this team can build momentum in the final stretch. 

 

5. Phoenix Mercury (No. 8 last rankings, 16-10)

Adam Miller, @ajmil0: The Mercury have been on fire since the Olympic break and are currently playing some of their best basketball of the season. While some of the momentum can be attributed to a relatively easy schedule, with wins over the Dream, Fever, and Mystics, they have also throttled playoff-contending teams like the Liberty and Sky.

 

Phoenix has seen inspired play from Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is shooting 58.8 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc. Most recently, she finished with nearly a triple-double against Chicago, scoring 20 points to go with 10 assists and eight rebounds. Diana Taurasi’s return has allowed Diggins-Smith to play off-ball, opening up more catch-and-shoot situations. 

Phoenix, currently a game back of the Lynx and 1.5 behind the Storm, has an opportunity to clinch a top-four playoff spot, which would give the Mercury a first-round bye in the playoffs. The next two weeks include a matchup against Seattle on September 17, which potentially has significant playoff implications if the standings remain close. If the Mercury continue their level of success, they could move up as high as third in the standings.

 

4. Seattle Storm (No. 1 last rankings, 19-10)

 Justin Carter, @juscarts: *deep sigh* The Storm beat the Liberty on Thursday, but this team has been a mess since the Olympic break. Breanna Stewart’s efficiency has taken a big hit. The defense is letting teams score at will. Even that win against New York featured the Storm almost losing until a big run in the fourth.

It’s time to worry about this team. Not only are Connecticut and Las Vegas a step ahead right now, but Phoenix and Minnesota are peaking down the stretch.

Something’s changed in Seattle. After spending most of the season near the top of the Power Rankings, they’ve taken a fall.

 

3. Minnesota Lynx (No. 4 last rankings, 17-9)

Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity: The Minnesota Lynx entered the Olympic break the hottest team in the league, and they have kept up that fire and momentum down the final stretch of the season. The winners of four straight games, the Lynx are 4-2 since the break, having climbed over the Seattle Storm to third in the standings (and third in these power rankings!). The only two losses for Minnesota in this stretch came in back-to-back games to the Connecticut Sun, who sit atop the standings and possibly offer the biggest threat to the Lynx in the playoffs with their ability to match up, slow the pace, and limit Minnesota’s key scorers Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride.

Back on the brighter side of things, the Lynx were able to win out against the Seattle Storm for the first time since June 2018, a huge step in Minnesota’s hunt for a higher seed, and a promising sign for the Lynx as these teams match up in the playoffs. The Lynx were lifted by yet another historic game from Sylvia Fowles, who had 29 points, 20 rebounds, four steals, three blocks, and no turnovers or personal fouls. “She’s so dominant,” teammate Aerial Powers said of Fowles. “She’s a legend. I’m playing with a legend right now.” 

The Lynx had seven days off to rest and practice, which, unfortunately, ended with a few in-practice injuries, namely, Fowles hurting her shoulder on a fall, and starting point guard Layshia Clarendon dealing with a stress reaction in their left leg. Fowles and Clarendon both missed the August 31 game against the New York Liberty, which also saw Damiris Dantas go down in the third quarter with a Lisfranc fracture in her right foot, sidelining her for the remainder of the season. 

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The Lynx were able to win that game against New York, as well as their most recent game against the Los Angeles Sparks (which Fowles returned for). Missing their main offensive orchestrator in Clarendon, the Lynx have struggled to get things working on offense, shooting below 35 percent from the field in both matchups.

“We’ve always preached that when the offense isn’t getting it done, you win anyway,” head coach Cheryl Reeve said after the win against New York. “You win with your defense.” 

The Lynx have been doing just that, holding the Liberty to 32 percent shooting and the Sparks to 31 percent (and just a single field goal in the fourth quarter). We’ve seen over these last two games that Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx are more than willing to grit it out on D, scrape, and win the game the less pretty way. We’ll see if they can keep that up tomorrow against the Mystics. 

 

2. Las Vegas Aces (No. 2 last rankings, 20-7)

Owen Pence, @OwenPence: For fear of sounding like a broken record—the Aces are sitting in the same spot they’ve been at for weeks. Still atop the Net Rating leaderboard and second in the standings, Las Vegas is now 0-3 against Connecticut. The Aces have failed to crack 70 points in their three meetings with the Sun, putting a damper on their positive results. 

Las Vegas has been missing Angel McCoughtry all season but otherwise have stayed uncannily healthy. That tide may be starting to turn, as Dearica Hamby is currently out with a left ankle sprain, and Liz Cambage is in the league’s health and safety protocols after testing positive for Covid-19. 

Claiming the top seed feels far-fetched at this point, but the Aces are still in line for a bye to the semifinals. Two games against Chicago and one each against Minnesota, Dallas, and Phoenix remain on the schedule. 

 

1. Connecticut Sun (No. 3 last rankings, 21-6)

 Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich: It’s hard to argue with the Connecticut Sun—winners of nine straight—as the top seed in this edition of the Power Rankings. As I wrote last week and discussed on the Winsidr Show podcast, Connecticut is finding success by imposing their will on opponents. During this regular season win streak, which dates back to late June, the Sun are out-rebounding opponents 320-219, or 35.3 to 24.3 a game. This advantage allows them to control the pace of games, slowing the tempo and letting their imposing Jones2 frontcourt take over. 

“She doesn’t stop working,” Jonquel Jones said about Bri Jones. “She’s one of those post players where, if she gets someone on her back, it’s over with, because there’s no getting around her. She does a really good job of sealing.”

 

 

And as for JJ, she was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Month, leading her team to a 7-0 record in August. With their eyes on the double-bye, and a playoff-style intensity already alight in their veteran-heavy huddles, the Connecticut Sun have officially put the league on notice.

 

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Largest Climb: Phoenix Mercury (+3 spots)

Largest Fall: New York Liberty, Seattle Storm (-3 spots)

Hyped about where your team ranked? Disagree with the some of our opinions? Sound off on Twitter and let us know! 

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