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Playoff Race Check In: Minnesota Lynx clinch spot, Los Angeles Sparks rise to No. 8 seed

The past weekend of WNBA action scrambled the race for playoff seeding. Catch up on where teams stand entering the final week of the regular season, as well as how Tuesday’s games could shake things up again.

Phoenix Mercury v Minnesota Lynx
Napheesa Collier and the Minnesota Lynx have clinched a playoff berth.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2023 WNBA playoff field currently stands as:

  • No. 1: Las Vegas Aces (32-6)
  • No. 2: New York Liberty (30-7)
  • No. 3: Connecticut Sun (25-12)
  • No. 4: Dallas Wings (20-17)
  • No. 5: Minnesota Lynx (19-19)
  • No. 6: Atlanta Dream (17-20)
  • No. 7: Washington Mystics (17-20)
  • No. 8: Los Angeles Sparks (16-21)

On Friday night, the Dallas Wings clinched a third-consecutive playoff berth, defeating the Indiana Fever. Dallas failed to repeat the feat on Sunday afternoon, with the loss to Indiana preventing them for sealing the No. 4 seed. Also on Friday, the Minnesota Lynx earned a critical overtime win over the Atlanta Dream; at tipoff, the Dream were above the Lynx in the standings. On Sunday, Minnesota not only protected their claim on the No. 5 seed but also officially punched their ticket to the playoffs, besting the Phoenix Mercury for a second-straight home win. Napheesa Collier was the catalyst in both victories with a pair of doubles-doubles: a 27-point and 17-rebound performance against Atlanta and a 22-point and 16-rebound effort against Phoenix.

Four teams—the Dream, Washington Mystics, Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky—remain in contention for the final three spots.

After hanging with the New York Liberty for three quarters on Sunday afternoon, the Sky suffered an untimely scoring drought at the start of the fourth quarter, leading to a 86-69 loss. The Sky’s loss was a lifeline for the Sparks, who entered the day in ninth place. LA did more than tread water. Despite the unexpected absence of Nneka Ogwumike, the Sparks, propelled by the return of the essential Layshia Clarendon, earned 72-64 victory over the Mystics, who were shaken by an injury to Kristi Toliver. The loss dropped the Mystics below Dream in the standings. After letting a win slip from their grasp in Minnesota on Friday night, Atlanta was off for the rest of the weekend.

There’s a good chance the playoff standings experience more twists and turns before the regular season concludes on Sunday, Sep. 10. Here’s a look how Tuesday’s games could swing the state of the race for playoff seeding:

Los Angeles Sparks (16-21) vs. Connecticut Sun (25-12)

WNBA: AUG 27 Los Angeles Sparks at Connecticut Sun
Can Nneka Ogwumike and the Sparks successfully elude Alyssa Thomas and the Sun to earn a much-needed victory?
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Confirmed as the No. 3 seed, the Sun have nothing at stake when they welcome the Sparks on Tuesday evening.

Except it is an opportunity for Alyssa Thomas to bolster her MVP case. While she already has claimed the WNBA’s single-season record for double-doubles and triple-doubles, a few more of each would enhance her MVP credentials. However, it might be smarter for head coach Stephanie White to prioritize the Sun’s playoff readiness by limiting the minutes of Thomas and the Sun’s other high-minute contributors. After already seeing Brionna Jones go down the season, a risk averse approach would but understandable, albeit out of line with attitude exhibited by Thomas.

Regardless of the Sun’s approach, the Sparks need every win they can muster to fend off the Sky, who own the tiebreaker over the LA. Unfortunately, Los Angeles has lost the two previous games against Connecticut, including the Aug. 27 loss that snapped a six-game winning streak. And while they were victorious without Nneka Ogwumike on Sunday, head coach Curt Miller has to hope she’s back in the lineup on Tuesday, as it’s hard to imagine the Sparks surviving much longer without their star.

Chicago Sky (15-22) vs. Indiana Fever (12-25)

Chicago Sky v Indiana Fever
Another big scoring performance from Courtney Williams can help the Sky take care of the Fever, and maintain their playoff prospects.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sparks certainly will be hoping that, despite elimination from playoff contention, the Fever give the Sky all they can handle.

Based on how the season series between these two teams has played out, expect Indiana to make Chicago earn the victory. While both the Sky and Fever have a two-point win over the other, Chicago currently claims the head-to-head edge due to a five-point overtime win.

Fortunately for Chicago, their perimeter corps has succeeded in putting up the points against Indy. In their early-June overtime win, Marina Mabrey tossed in 28 points for the Sky, earning 13 of those points from the foul line. Courtney Williams also has a 28-point explosion against the Fever, adding in eight assists to help the Sky sneak out of Indianapolis with the 89-87 win in early July. It’s also worth noting that Kahleah Copper missed Chicago’s lone loss to Indiana; in the two wins, she’s averaged nearly 20 points.

The expected return of Alanna Smith, who has missed Chicago’s last two games after leaving their win over the Seattle Storm due to a concussion, should give the Sky an energy boost.

New York Liberty (30-7) vs. Dallas Wings (20-17)

Dallas Wings v New York Liberty
If Courtney Vandersloot and the Liberty cannot contain Arike Ogunbowale, they risk losing a second game to the Wings.
Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

Had the Wings won on Sunday, little would have been at stake in this game. Instead, a Wings victory would help ensure that a late-season slide does not allow the fast-rising Lynx to overtake the No. 4 seed.

Locked into the No. 2 seed, New York’s situation resembles that of Connecticut, as the strengthening of Breanna Stewart’s MVP case is the only potentially pressing concern for the Liberty. Based on head coach Sandy Brondello saying it was “smart” to rest Sabrina Ionescu on Sunday, even thought her ailing calf had improved, it seems safe to assume that New York will not overextend any key players.

With a win, the Wings could join the Aces as the only team to hand the Liberty two losses, while also taking the season series over New York. Arike Ogunbowale appears to enjoy this matchup, twice scoring 25 points on the Liberty.

Washington Mystics (17-20) vs. Phoenix Mercury (9-28)

Washington Mystics v Phoenix Mercury
Brittney Sykes and the Mystics must lock down the victory against Moriah Jefferson and the Mercury.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

This is the third and final game of a thus-far-winless three-game West Coast road trip for the Mystics, who, after finally seeing a clean injury report for the first time this season, since have suffered more injuries, with Shakira Austin again bothered by her hip issue, Ariel Atkins dealing with a nasal fracture and Kristi Toliver going down with a potentially-serious knee injury.

In early August, Washington, when at the apex of their injuries, dropped a game in Phoenix. Of course, in the near-month since, the Mercury not only have been eliminated from playoff contention but also have acquired their own lengthening injury list. Those circumstance make it likely that, even if less than fully whole, the Mystics can head back to the East Coast with a win.

Game schedule

Los Angeles Sparks (16-21) vs. Connecticut Sun (25-12)

When: Tuesday, Sep. 5 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT

How to watch: X/Twitter

Sparks injury report: Nneka Ogwumike (questionable; knee), Chiney Ogwumike (out; foot), Nia Clouden (out; knee), Lexie Brown (out; non-COVID illness), Katie Lou Samuelson (out; maternity leave)

Sun injury report: Brionna Jones (out; Achilles)

Chicago Sky (15-22) vs. Indiana Fever (12-25)

When: Tuesday, Sep. 5 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN

How to watch: NBA TV

Sky injury report: Alanna Smith (probable; concussion), Rebekah Gardner (out; knee), Isabelle Harrison (out; knee)

Fever injury report:

New York Liberty (30-7) vs. Dallas Wings (20-17)

When: Tuesday, Sep. 5 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: College Park Center in Arlington, TX

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Liberty injury report: Sabrina Ionescu (probable; calf)

Wings injury report: Kalani Brown (questionable; health and safety protocols), Lou Lopez Sénéchal (out; knee), Diamond DeShields (out; knee)

Washington Mystics (17-20) vs. Phoenix Mercury (9-28)

When: Tuesday, Sep. 5 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Mystics injury report: Ariel Atkins (out; nasal fracture), Shakira Austin (out; hip) , Kristi Toliver (out; knee)

Mercury injury report: Diana Taurasi (questionable; toe), Sophie Cunningham (doubtful; jaw), Shey Peddy (out; concussion), Skylar Diggins-Smith (out; not with team)