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Previews: Who will claim the eighth seed?

Five games are on deck for the final day of the 2021 WNBA regular season! Not only that, the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks are striving to secure a playoff berth. The Mystics meet the Minnesota Lynx while the Sparks play the Dallas Wings. The three other contests are Connecticut Sun-Atlanta Dream, Phoenix Mercury-Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky-Indiana Fever.

Atlanta Dream v Washington Mystics
On the final day of the regular season, can Natasha Cloud and the Washington Mystics claim a playoff berth?
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Although the team records are not inspiring, the race for the eighth seed between the Washington Mystics (12-19), Los Angeles Sparks (12-19) and New York Liberty (12-20) is at least (somewhat) exciting.

The Mystics are in the driver’s seat for the final playoff spot. With a win over the Minnesota Lynx (21-10) in Sunday afternoon’s 3 p.m. ET contest, they earn the right to meet the No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury in a single-elimination first-round playoff game on Thursday. If the Mystics lose, Los Angeles can extend its postseason streak to 10-consecutive seasons with a win over the Dallas Wings (13-18) at 5. The Liberty, who are not in action on Sunday, need both the Mystics and Sparks to lose to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Washington meets a Minnesota team that is not yet locked into the third seed. The teams split the previous two matchups. Washington won in early June behind one of Tina Charles’ 10 30-point-plus performances. In early September, Minnesota ran away with the easy win, with former Mystic Aerial Powers scoring 20 points off the bench.

The Sparks face a Dallas team that already is looking toward the playoffs. However, how Vickie Johnson deploys her players and constructs her always changing lineups will be interesting. With a single-elimination game against the Sky in Chicago on Thursday, will Johnson opt to dial back the minutes for the likes of Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray or will she look to take advantage of a final opportunity to experiment with player combinations? Nagging injuries to Satou Sabally and Moriah Jefferson, in addition to Isabelle Harrison’s pending return from COVID-19, further complicate Johnson’s choices.

Regardless, Los Angeles must take care of business.

Considering his past performances in high-stakes games, the pressure is on head coach Derek Fisher to have his squad ready — on both ends of the floor. While the Sparks have established themselves as one of the league’s best defenses, their offense often leaves something to be desired. Against a Dallas team that ranks in the bottom half of the league defensively, and likely will not be playing with the utmost focus on that end, Fisher needs to find a way to help his squad generate easy scoring opportunities. Calling Nneka Ogwumike’s number would seem to be a smart strategy!

The day’s action begins at 1 with the league-leading Connecticut Sun (25-6), winners of 13-straight games, hosting the Atlanta Dream (8-23). With the Sun locked into the No. 1 seed and the Dream eliminated from playoff contention, this game is of no consequence. However, it would not be out of character for both teams approach this game like any another game.

The Phoenix Mercury (19-12) and Las Vegas Aces (23-8) are settled in their playoff positions, with Phoenix the No. 5 seed and Vegas the No. 2 seed. They take the court at 3 in the Valley. Considering the Aces will have adequate time off before the third round of the playoffs begin, it seems likely that key players will see rather significant minutes. In contrast, the Mercury play the eventual eighth seed on Thursday, suggesting head coach Sandy Brondello might be more measured with the minutes of Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Diana Taurasi (left ankle) will not play.

There also is nothing on the line for the two teams — the Indiana Fever (6-25) and Chicago Sky (15-16) — involved in the day’s final 6 p.m. game. The Fever are eliminated from the playoffs while the Sky are the No. 6 seed. Although depleted, Indiana is likely to fight until the season’s end, with all healthy players taking the court. Things are more questionable for the Sky. Although they cannot influence their playoff positioning, this maddeningly inconsistent team, coming off a blowout loss to the Aces, could use another opportunity to establish some cohesion and momentum before the playoffs begin.

Game information

Connecticut Sun (25-6) vs. Atlanta Dream (8-23)

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arean in Uncasville, CT

How to watch: NBA TV, NESN+ or NBA TV Canada

Key to the matchup: As playing his players is a core tenant of Sun head coach Curt Miller’s coaching philosophy, expect the Sun starters to play, and play rather significant minutes. After a chaotic season, Dream head coach Darius Taylor wants his squad to end its season on a note of positivity. If they can steal a rare win in Mohegan Sun, the Dream would finish the month of September 3-4, a rather strong response to their 11-game losing streak than spanned July and August. Yet, a victory seems unlikely for Atlanta. Not only is Connecticut 15-1 at home with a 91.0 defensive rating, but Atlanta, despite Tiffany Hayes’ recent return to form, still is prone to extended (and excruciating) offensive droughts.

Sun injury report: none

Dream injury report: Tianna Hawkins (doubtful; right foot), Crystal Bradford (out for season; left foot), Chennedy Carter (out indefinitely; suspension), Cheyenne Parker (out for season; personal), Candice Dupree (probable; back)

Phoenix Mercury (19-12) vs. Las Vegas Aces (22-8)

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 3 p.m. ET

Where: Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ

How to watch: ABC or SN1

Key to the matchup: For the players who take the court in this contest, tuning up for the playoffs will be the No. 1 priority. On Vegas’ end, making sure Dearica Hamby is up to speed should be a primary concern. The Aces’ performance in the 2020 playoffs took a dramatic hit when Hamby went down with an injury, underscoring her importance. Encouragingly, she followed up a 2-point and 3-rebound performance against the Wings with 17 points and seven boards against the Sky. For the Mercury, scoring contributions from beyond the Big 3 could determine how far they advance in the postseason. Seeing Kia Nurse and Sophie Cunningham comfortably swish multiple 3-pointers would be a welcome sign for the Phoenix faithful.

Mercury injury report: Diana Taurasi (out; left ankle), Alanna Smith (questionable; health and safety protocols)

Aces injury report: Angel McCoughtry (out for season; right knee)

Washington Mystics (12-19) vs. Minnesota Lynx (21-10)

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 3 p.m. ET

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

How to watch: ESPN3, NBC Sports Washington or TSN2

Key to the matchup: In Washington’s June 8 win over Minnesota, they got strong scoring performances from their key players. Not only did Tina Charles score 31 points, but Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins also got buckets, with Hines-Allen tallying 19 points and Atkins contributing 17. Natasha Cloud also added 11 points and eight assists. While head coach Mike Thibault again will not be on the sidelines due to health and safety precautions, such play surely would make him smile from the comfort of his couch. It also likely would ensure that the Mystics get the win and make the playoffs.

Mystics injury report: Elena Delle Donne (out indefinitely; back)

Lynx injury report: Layshia Clarendon (questionable; right fibula), Damiris Dantas (out for season; right foot), Rennia Davis (out for season; left foot stress fracture)

Dallas Wings (13-18) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (12-19)

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: College Park Center in Arlington, TX

How to watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports Southwest+ or TSN2

Key to the matchup: That no Wings player wants to go viral for getting crossed over and dropped by Erica Wheeler could advantage the Sparks! However, more than showing off her handles, the Sparks could use a hot shooting night from Wheeler, especially from 3-point range. Her percentage from deep in wins versus losses is rather stark. In losses, Wheeler has shot barely better than 27 percent from 3. In LA wins, she has stroked it from deep, converting more than 51 percent of her attempts from behind the arc. It will be a good thing for the Sparks if @EWeezy_For3eezy lives up to her Twitter handle!

Wings injury report: Satou Sabally (probable; Achilles), Moriah Jefferson (probable; hamstring), Isabelle Harrison (questionable; health and safety protocol), Bella Alarie (probable; knee)

Sparks injury report: Chiney Ogwumike (out; right knee), Kristi Toliver (out; left hand), Jasmine Walker (out for the season; right knee)

Chicago Sky (15-16) vs. Indiana Fever (6-25)

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL

How to watch: CBS Sports Network, The U or

Key to the matchup: How much will we see Candace Parker play? Will Sky head coach James Wade preserve Parker for Thursday’s playoff game against Dallas, especially considering it has been an injury-plagued season for the Chicagoland legend? The playing time for long-tenured vets Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley also could be curtailed. Yet, it is a home game held less than a week after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared Sept. 16 “Candace Parker Day,” suggesting fans will expect to see the hometown superstar and her star running mates on the court. All the more, since Wade has struggled to settle on regular rotations throughout the season, he and his squad could use another opportunity to gain more comfort with different lineup constructions.

Sky injury report: Stefanie Dolson (out; knee)

Fever injury report: Tiffany Mitchell (out; left knee), Danielle Robinson (out indefinitely; right ankle), Jessica Breland (out for season; left thumb), Chelsey Perry (out for season; right knee), Bernadett Határ (out indefinitely; right ankle), Kysre Gondrezick (out indefinitely; personal leave), Aaliyah Wilson (out; left knee)