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Previews: The race for eighth heats up with Mystics, Wings and Sparks in action

Will the Washington Mystics (9-14), Dallas Wings (10-14) or Los Angeles Sparks (10-14) earn the eighth and final playoff berth? Thursday night could go a long ways toward answering this question. The Mystics host the Wings while the Sparks face the Connecticut Sun (18-6) for the first of two games. The Las Vegas Aces (17-7) and Atlanta Dream (6-18) also are in action.

Los Angeles Sparks v Washington Mystics
With Elena Delle Donne (jersey #11) back on the court, Natasha Cloud (jersey #9) and the Mystics are back in contention for the playoffs.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Looks like we might get a down-to-the-wire race for the eighth and final playoff spot!

Thursday night, the three contenders — the Dallas Wings (10-14), Los Angeles Sparks (10-14) and Washington Mystics (9-14) — are in action, with the Mystics hosting the Wings at 7 p.m. ET (Amazon Prime) while the Sparks are traveling to Connecticut to face the Sun (18-6), also at 7 ET.

Of course, some might argue that the eighth seed really doesn’t matter, as these teams are unlikely to affect how the playoffs ultimately unfold.

However, due to the WNBA’s do-or-die first-round format, the eighth seed is always dangerous. These three teams, in particular, have the potential to be especially threatening to the fifth seed and, if they advance, the third seed in the likewise win-or-go-home second round.

Although inconsistent, the young Wings have shown that they can hang with any team and, in a close contest, no opponent wants to see Arike Ogunbowale on the court. Ogunbowale, along with Marina Mabrey, has the ability to get unconsciously hot and single-handedly shoot and score her team to victory.

Even as their offense remains a work in progress, the Sparks’ defense can go into lockdown mode. LA also can count on the experience and leadership of 2016 champions Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver.

Finally, the Mystics might be the most intimidating of the potential eight seeds. Not only is two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne healthy, but so is Myisha Hines-Allen. And Tina Charles (left gluteal strain) won’t be gone long, giving head coach Mike Thibault a complete roster to work with for the first time since DC won the title in 2019.

On Tuesday, Washington strengthened their position for the eighth seed, demolishing Los Angeles with an offensively-electric first half to take the season series over the Sparks. However, DC must get the win over Dallas on Thursday, as the Mystics lost the previous matchup between these two teams. With a win, the Wings would lock up the season series. The Wings already own the edge over the Sparks, having won the first two contests between the two squads.

Los Angeles’ positioning appears quite precarious, with the potential to soon become more precarious. Of late, Connecticut has been where teams’ dreams go to die, as the scorching Sun have won six games in a row and are 11-1 at home for the season. A two-game trip to Connecticut could sap all of the momentum that LA has generated during their 4-1 stretch since the post-Olympic resumption of play.

Unfortunately, the Atlanta Dream (6-18) are not part of this playoff of race, losing nine-straight games. As they welcome the Las Vegas Aces (17-7) to the ATL on Thursday evening (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), it seems unlikely that the Dream can escape the futility of a 10-game losing streak.

Game information

Atlanta Dream (6-18) vs. Las Vegas Aces (17-7)

When: Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Gateway Center Arena @ College Park in Atlanta, GA

How to watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports Southeast, MYLVTV or TSN2

Key to the matchup: For South Carolina native and Gamecock legend A’ja Wilson, Atlanta is as close as it comes to a homecoming game. Wilson should be happy to head south after a horrible night in Connecticut where scored a season-low four points after going 1-of-15 from the field. A matchup with the relatively undersized Dream front court should help her rebound from the rough performance in reigning-MVP fashion.

Dream injury report: Tiffany Hayes (questionable; knee), Candice Dupree (out; back), Crystal Bradford (out indefinitely; foot), Cheyenne Parker (out for season; personal), Chennedy Carter (out indefinitely; suspension)

Aces injury report: Angel McCoughtry (questionable; knee) (May enter game for just a few seconds to get ovation from Atlanta crowd. She has a season-ending ACL injury.)

Connecticut Sun (18-6) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (10-14)

When: Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Areana in Uncasville, CT

How to watch: NESN+, Spectrum Sportsnet, SN1+ or NBA TV Canada

Key to the matchup: Already the WNBA’s best team, the Sun are even better at Mohegan Sun Arena. In fact, they are nearly unstoppable, with their only home loss being a Jonquel Jones-less defeat at the hands of the Seattle Storm. In their 11 home wins, they have compiled an offensive rating of 106 and a defensive rating of 89.7, which together are good for an overall net rating of 16.3. Coincidentally, the often offensively-challenged Sparks have posted an 89.7 offensive rating on the road, a number earned against opponents of lesser defensive quality than the Sun. If these trends hold, it is hard to see LA gaining much traction against CT.

Sun injury report: Alyssa Thomas (out for season; Achilles)

Sparks injury report: Jasmine Walker (out for season; knee)

Washington Mystics (9-14) vs. Dallas Wings (10-14)

When: Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.

How to watch: Amazon Prime, NBC Sports Washington or Bally Sports Southwest+

Key to the matchup: For much of her first season at the helm, Wings head coach Vickie Johnson has shuffled through different starting lineup combinations. Since the Olympic break, Johnson has tapped Bella Alarie as a frontcourt starter. Unlike Charli Collier, who had served as a post starter for much of the season, Alarie is not simply getting a few token minutes. In August, her minutes per game have more than doubled, as she is logging over 21 minutes per contest. In Dallas’ win over Chicago, she saw a season-high 25 minutes, chipping in eight points and eight rebounds with a team-best plus-20. It will be interesting to see how Alarie factors into Johnson’s rotation as the Wings’ playoff push ramps up.

Mystics injury report: Tina Charles (out; left gluteal strain)

Wings injury report: Satou Sabally (out; Achilles), Allisha Gray (out; concussion protocol)