2011 WNBA Playoff Picture: Minnesota Lynx Clinch Western Conference, Atlanta Dream Surging In The Eastern Conference

With every team in action tomorrow night and the regular season coming to a close, the 2011 WNBA Playoff race is only becoming more exciting.

Among the most interesting stories despite everything else going on is the resurgence of the Atlanta Dream, who are making another late-season run after their trip to the WNBA Finals as a fourth seed last season. Kris Willis of SB Nation's Atlanta Hawks site Peachtree Hoops as well as SB Nation Atlanta is optimistic about the Dream's chances to move up into third place this season in his analysis of their remaining games.

Atlanta Dream Continue March Towards WNBA Playoffs - Peachtree Hoops
Keep in mind that Atlanta began its run to the WNBA Finals last season as the No. 4 seed in the East also. The Dream are 2-0 this season against Indiana and are 1-2 against Connecticut. It is also worth mentioning that Atlanta is 2-1 against Washington this season but all three games have been very competitive. If Atlanta can take care of business against Tulsa and the Mystics and then hold serve at home, they have a good chance at overtaking the Liberty who have an extremely difficult schedule the rest of the way.

For whatever it's worth, the Dream are also only 2.5 games behind the second place Connecticut Sun who took a surprising loss to the unexpectedly upstart Tulsa Shock on Sunday. The Dream are gaining more momentum coming off a big win in Indiana against the first place Fever on Saturday, which has to be considered a big confidence boost if they don't end up moving up.

In addition to trying to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Fever are also still chasing the Minnesota Lynx for the top record in the league and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lynx clinched the Western Conference with their win over the San Antonio Silver Stars and, as Roman Augustoviz of the Star Tribune described, the Lynx have the inside track.

Whalen deserves look for MVP, but probably is longshot | StarTribune.com
And the Lynx, barring a complete collapse, should finish with the best overall record. East-leading Indiana is 3-1/2 games back of the Lynx, whose magic number is 3. Any combo of Lynx wins and Indy losses adding up to three gives Minnesota the best WNBA record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Elsewhere in the Western Conference, while the Seattle Storm moved within a game of clinching their spot in the playoffs with their 65-63 win over the Los Angeles Sparks last night, the Sparks still remain only 1.5 games out of the playoffs with 1.5 games left.

2011 WNBA Playoff Picture: Minnesota Lynx Clinch Western Conference, Seattle Storm One Game Away From Clinching Playoff Berth - SB Nation Seattle
As close as they played Seattle at KeyArena, Tuesday's game at the Staples Center is quite winnable for them. Then after a game in Phoenix, their final three games are at home, including a head-to-head meeting with the Silver Stars for a chance to gain a game on them directly. Nevertheless, the Sparks' consecutive close losses could end up stinging even more if they miss the playoffs.

The Silver Stars have six games remaining, including their final two of the season against the 3-25 Tulsa Shock and 5-23 Washington Mystics. With Danielle Adams back, it's not inconceivable that they could go on a late-season run to create some space between themselves and the Sparks.

Likewise, going back to the East, the fifth place Chicago Sky are only 1.5 games behind the Atlanta Dream despite their surge. But the Sky will have to overcome a formidable final stretch to even have a chance to get in - four of their final five games are on the road, including a west coast swing against the Lynx, Sparks, and Storm.

Related Links:

WNBA Standings

2011 WNBA Playoff Picture: Minnesota Lynx Clinch Western Conference, Seattle Storm One Game Away From Clinching Playoff Berth - SB Nation Seattle

Atlanta Dream Continue March Towards WNBA Playoffs - Peachtree Hoops

Whalen deserves look for MVP, but probably is longshot | StarTribune.com

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