As the 26th WNBA regular season nears its conclusion – it is doing so with plenty of drama with the playoffs beginning in only a few days.
As of this writing, six teams have punched tickets to this year’s postseason – the defending champion Chicago Sky, the Las Vegas Aces, the Seattle Storm, the Connecticut Sun, the Washington Mystics and (the latest team to clinch a berth) the Dallas Wings. That is a Wings team that lately has been playing stellar ball even without Arike Ogunbowale.
The Indiana Fever have been the only team that has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and the Los Angeles Sparks – while not yet mathematically eliminated – are the underdog in its upcoming home contest with the Sun. A Connecticut win over Los Angeles should all but finish its season for a Sparks team currently not projected to pick until the second round of the 2023 draft.
Then – there are the four teams still vying for the two remaining playoff berths. Those are the Minnesota Lynx, Atlanta Dream, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury. All have identical 14-20 records. The Lynx defeated the Mercury on Wednesday, the Liberty got back in the win column the same day at Dallas and the Dream lost a hard-fought contest at the Aces.
All four teams will be in action on Friday night. The Liberty will meet up with the Dream for the first matchup of a home-and-home at Gateway Center Arena, the Lynx host the Storm in what will be the second-to-last regular season matchups for both Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles and the Mercury host the Wings.
All four teams – as will the rest of the WNBA – will also take to the court on Sunday in the final day of the 2022 regular season. Minnesota takes to the road for a get-together with Connecticut at Mohegan Sun Arena, the Liberty await the Dream at Barclays and the Mercury host a Sky team that may or may not still be playing for the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
There is going to be no shortage of playoff drama as the 2022 season reaches what is sure to be a thrilling crescendo. And this time the postseason drama will be real as opposed to manufactured ala what other leagues have done.
Need an example of manufactured playoff drama? Look no further than the WNBA’s partner in crime – the NBA. One could say that 16 teams making its postseason is already overreach, but Adam Silver approved an idea that was a result of the 2020 bubble for seeds 7 through 10 to play each other in a four-team tournament where the top two teams would join the other six per conference in the playoffs.
Obviously – the NBA’s Board of Governors was only thinking of one thing – money – when it approved of this idea.
Another example of a league that has attempted to manufacture late-season playoff related drama where there may not be one on an annual basis in Major League Baseball. In the 2011 season – eight teams had the attention of many a baseball fan – the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros. Those games would determine which teams would claim wild card berths in both leagues.
The Cardinals – the eventual champions that season – won the NL’s Wild Card while the AL’s wild card was claimed by the Rays. This encouraged MLB to add a second Wild Card team to both the American and National Leagues.
Again – that was a decision that solely came down to money.
What is happening in the WNBA is anything but forced. It is riveting. For these four teams – Lynx, Dream, Liberty and Mercury to be knotted up at 14-20 with two playoff berths remaining is as organic as it gets. It automatically means that with the other six teams somewhat jockeying for position, Minnesota, Atlanta, New York and Phoenix will gather the attention of the WNBA family as the playoff picture takes its final steps in crystallizing itself.
Phoenix is of course a sentimental favorite for its 2022 season that has had no shortage of emotion between its chemistry issues and playing with heavy hearts because of Brittney Griner. Minnesota is a sentimental favorite because who wouldn’t want to see one more postseason run for the great Sylvia Fowles. Can Rhyne Howard lead the Dream to its first postseason since 2018 when Atlanta nearly made the Finals? Will the outstanding play of Sabrina Ionescu be enough to lead the Liberty to back-to-back trips to the postseason for the first time since its MSG days?
We. Shall. See.