Phew. Take a deep breath and find a comfortable seat because we are nearing the end of yet another fantastic WNBA season! In a year full of storylines, a lot is on the line for almost every team in the league heading into the final 9-10 games. While we have clear favorites toward the top of the league, let’s take a look at why each of the six teams in the race for a playoff spot has a chance to make it and hear from Winsidr fans about their picks for the playoffs.
First Things First, the Battle for First
Five teams find themselves separated at the top of the WNBA standings and fighting for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Chicago, the first team to clinch a playoff spot this week, leads the pack, followed by Las Vegas, Connecticut, Seattle, and Washington. These five top teams will see plenty of each other over the final weeks of the season, and every game will be crucial for playoff seeding. Over the last 10 games, Chicago has been on a tear, going 9-1, followed by Seattle at 7-3. Las Vegas was on a torrent early in the season before coming down to earth. Have the Aces righted the ship? Can Connecticut and Washington make a push for the top spot, or are they on a collision course for a meeting in the first round of the playoffs? There are plenty of questions left to be answered.
Six Down to Three
As mentioned, there are six teams battling for three playoff spots over the final stretch of games. Below is a graphic, courtesy of ESPN, illustrating how razor-thin the margin of error is for these six teams.
The standings show that these teams are neck and neck in almost every statistical category, including their losing streaks and records over their last 10 games. My favorite stat line here is the DIFF statistic, which is a stat breaking down a team’s PPG versus their opponents’ PPG. For instance, the Lynx only have a -0.9 PPG difference on the season, which is indicative of very close losses for Minnesota. But close doesn’t cut it in the WNBA, and the Lynx find themselves in the 10th spot with the second longest odds (more to come on this shortly) to make the playoffs.
Before we dive into viewers’ responses to individual team’s playoff chances from our playoff poll, let’s take a look at one more graphic that’s sure to raise even more questions about who will break out from the group. The brilliant people over at FiveThirtyEight are good with numbers (MUCH better than I will ever be). So I took a look at their trusty WNBA predictions, hoping I would see some glaring statistics to help me make my choices. Instead, I only found more proof of how difficult these competitors are to parse.
Looking at this graphic, a couple things strike me. Remember, these are predictions. FiveThirtyEight explains, “These forecasts are based on 20,000 simulations of the rest of the season. Elo ratings are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results, margin of victory and quality of opponent.” Based on the ELO rating, Minnesota is the sixth best team with a rating of 1505. But the Lynxhave a measly 29.0 percent chance of making the playoffs, only ahead of the Liberty’s 14.0 percent odds. In fact, according to ELO, the three best teams are the Lynx, Dream and Wings, yet the Dream, Wings, and Sparks actually have the best chances to make the playoffs. If your brain is a jumbled up piece of WNBA indecision now, welcome to the club.
Now to the Poll
On twitter, I shared a poll asking who you all thought would make the playoffs. Thank you to all those who took the time to participate! Minnesota was the overwhelming fan favorite to make the playoffs, despite having the worst record of any of the options. This could mean two things: We are all either delusional about the Lynx’s ability to make the playoffs or willing to die on a hill that doesn’t include Sylvia Fowles missing the playoffs in her final season. Either way, according to Winsidr fans, we will see Minnesota, New York, and Dallas in the playoffs. I can’t say that these are the exact three that I voted for, but the people have spoken!
Let’s break things down and take a look at each of these six teams individually.
(6) Los Angeles Sparks (12-14): Chance of Making the Playoffs — 63.0 Percent
Fans’ reasoning for: “Los Angeles will make it because Nneka Ogwumike! Simple as that, but they will need their guards to step up and be more reliable down the stretch.”
“Sparks They have the most talent of the five teams that aren’t the Lynx. Nneka is having a great season.”
“LA Sparks- They have so much talent it’s hard to keep them off this list. Nneka is going to wil them into the play-offs”
Fans’ reasoning against: “Los Angeles because they are very inconsistent and injuries have plagued them all year.”
“LA Sparks. They have been inconsistent and haven’t had the best season.”
My thoughts: Nneka. That’s it. That’s the thought. The former MVP is having another fantastic season, and LA seems to be flying under the radar as the current seventh seed. Despite the well documented drama the Sparks have gone through this season, they seem to put it all behind them when they get on the floor. They have lived most of this season in the middle of the pack as far as statistics are concerned, but . . . Nneka, right?
(7) Atlanta Dream (12-15): Chance of Making the Playoffs — 82.0 Percent
Fans’ reasoning for: “Their defense has been a constant source of success for them this season and starting to get at full strength with their roster.”
“Dream, because they are starting to get healthy.”
“Dream: Rhyne Howard has breathed life into Atlanta. She’s been consistent and makes her teammates better with her confidence. Howard breathes ATL culture and is most likely going to turn it up in the last half of the season.”
Fans’ reasoning against: “Dream – lots of injuries, inconsistency, but I wouldn’t be surprised about any of these teams making it, things are that even.”
“They’re the team I’d most like to see make it after the Lynx but they have a tough schedule with Aces twice, Lynx twice and Storm at Seattle. But if they win their homes games against NY, Indy and Dallas they might pull it off.”
My thoughts: Atlanta is one of the hardest teams for me to figure out in this group. Many, including myself, thought this would be a rebuilding year for the Dream. Instead, they have been in the thick of things since day one. A great point above is how successful they have been on defense, ranking fourth in defensive rating at 97.3. Rhyne Howard has her eye on the Rookie of the Year trophy if she keeps up her pace, and a healthy Tiffany Hayes could be the difference down the stretch.
(8) Dallas Wings (11-14): Chance of Making the Playoffs — 73.0 Percent
Fans’ reasoning for: “Dallas-too much talent not to even, with the drama.”
“Dallas- I think they have all the tools to go on a nice winning streak. I think Satou and Allisha will this team to a playoff spot, at 6th seed.”
“Dallas. They just have too much talent not to.”
Fans’ reasoning against: “It looks like they are experiencing a leadership crisis with that team, from the head coach to the players.”
“Dallas – they are just all over the place.”
“The Wings- arguably their best player (Sabally) can’t seem to stay healthy and they haven’t been able to gel… not sure what Coach Johnson vision is.”
My thoughts: So we think Dallas is talented but has some coaching issues, it appears? *inserts side-eye emojis* Dallas definitely has the talent to make the playoffs, but those pieces haven’t seemed to fit together into the same puzzle at times this season. Arike Ogunbowale is on a tear, averaging 19.5 PPG, and while Allisha Gray has put together her finest season yet as a pro, she and Satou Sabally have been in and out of the lineup due to injury. Dallas does seem to hold its fate in its hands, currently in seventh place and with seven games remaining to play versus the five other squads in this group of six teams.
(9) Phoenix Mercury (11-16): Chance of Making the Playoffs — 43.0 Percent
Fans’ reasoning for: “Mercury – they have the experience and leadership, but Cunningham has to stay at this level.”
“The Phoenix Mercury will definitely make the playoffs. I feel like after losing Tina Charles they want to make the playoffs even more.”
“Phoenix. SDS will carry them kicking and screaming into 8.”
“The Mercury, I believe they will take LA’s spot.”
Fans’ reasoning against: “Phoenix Mercury: No BG, SDS trade rumors and a declining DT doesn’t sound like a playoff team. They can pull out some solid wins but as a unit they lack the cohesion they need to make a real run. Plus, a new coach means a new system and that’s hard to expect a real playoff run from a disorganized organization right now.”
“Mercury, seem to be imploding”
“Phx- too much disfunction and drama”
“Phoenix. Their coaching is the weakest of the three.”
“Phoenix is a complete dumpster fire.”
My thoughts: Wait, but are y’all sure Phoenix is the drama? My goodness. Fans did not hold back on their thoughts about the Mercury. My heart hurts for this team after all they have endured with Brittney Griner’s unlawful detainment in Russia. Obviously, that is much bigger than basketball, but it has been on the front of Mercury players’ minds since training camp began. Pair that with the Skylar-DT bench incident, Tina Charles leaving, and the Skylar-Nygaard clown emoji scandal and this year has ended up feeling more like a drama series than a basketball season for the Mercury. But somehow they are only one game out of the playoffs and scrapping up wins when nobody expects them to. Go figure! It is clear from the fan reactions that whether you believe in them as a playoff team or not, the Mercury are must watch TV!
(10) Minnesota Lynx (10-17): Chance of Making the Playoffs — 28.0 Percent
Fans’ reasoning for: “Minnesota, because even though they are the farthest behind, they have Reeve as coach, are rolling, and could get Phee back.”
“Minnesota Lynx because they have tiebreakers over NY and Phx and can get one over LA and earn a split with Dallas.”
“Minnesota has a very talented team. Aerial Powers has been doing really good for them lately. And is probably the best team on this list.”
“Lynx won’t let that consecutive playoff appearance record fall, especially not in Syl’s last year. They are finally playing as a team.”
“Lynx a) I’m a Lynx fan b) they’re finally clicking, they’ve shown they can win tough games and I don’t think they’ll let Syl go out without a playoff appearance”
Fans’ reasoning against: *NO NOTES* Let the record show that not a single person mentioned why they thought Minnesota shouldn’t make the playoffs. Sylvia hive, you have been heard!
My thoughts: Minnesota has been able to pull out closer games as of late, being the only team out of this six-team group to have a winning record over their last 10 games (6-4). I’m in agreement with the rest of you that Sylvia must make the playoffs at all costs, and it appears this team has turned things in the right direction. However, the Lynx’s chances are fading as they have nine games remaining to make up two games between them and the playoffs. I keep looking to their -0.9 PPG difference being the best in this group, and I think if the Lynx can find a way to pull out a couple of those close games down this final stretch, then they will be in.
(11) New York Liberty (9-17): Chance of Making the Playoffs — 11.0 Percent
Fans’ reasoning for: “New York, talented team coming together.”
“New York Liberty- they’re starting to understand the new system, players are getting healthy and Sabrina is getting into the groove.”
“Liberty: It took 8 games for Ionescu and Brondello to figure things out, but since then they are closer to a contender than a lottery team.”
Fans’ reasoning against: “New York, because they are the most inconsistent of the bunch.”
“NY, they have a brutal schedule down the stretch.”
My thoughts: According to the NY fans in the chat, Sabrina has acclimated to Brondello’s system and this team seemed to have things figured out….at some point. But it does not help a team trending upwards to come off a break and play Las Vegas in back-to-back games. Dropping consecutive matchups to the Aces followed by a loss to the Sun & today to the Mystics, the Liberty find themselves in 11th and now must face league leading Chicago in back to back contests. The Liberty will have to pull out some challenging wins to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, and have the no room for error thanks to their challenging schedule post all-star break.
Thanks again to all those who took the time to vote. The WNBA playoffs are sure to be more exciting than ever this season. For the first time, the postseason will include a best of three series in the first round before moving on to best of five series throughout the remainder of the playoffs. Last year, Chicago was the first ever sixth seed to win a WNBA title. We will find out soon which eight teams will have the chance to play for a WNBA championship, but there’s plenty of basketball drama to be had before then.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com, FiveThirtyEight.com, and WNBA.com.