The Phoenix Mercury (18-8) face the Washington Mystics (12-13) tonight in Phoenix with an opportunity to be the first team in the WNBA to clinch a playoff spot. The Indiana Fever (19-6), the team with the league's best record, were unable clinch last night after losing in Sacramento to the Monarchs who currently hold the worst record (8-18).
Didn't the Kings also finish last in the NBA? Not a good year for Sactown.
With just over three weeks left in the regular season the playoff picture in the West is starting to take shape. Beyond the Mercury who hold a 3 1/2 game lead over the Seattle Storm with only 8 games left it looks like it's going to come down to three teams fighting it out for the final two spots.
San Antonio, Los Angeles and Minnesota all have 11 wins and either 13 or 14 loses.
Lets look at those three team and handicap their chances.
LA Sparks (11-13) - The Sparks were a preseason favorite to win it all this season. Loaded with talent from last year's ROY/MVP Candace Parker to WNBA legends Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Betty Lennox this team is flat out stacked. Head Coach and Laker great Michael Cooper announced before the season that this would be his last year with the team and expectations where high that he would finish strong.
Most thought that the team would be able withstand the lose of Parker early in the season (pregnancy) and finish strong. For whatever reason (and see this excellent article for more ideas on that) the Sparks just haven't put it together.
Fortunately for them they still have all that talent and Parker is rounding into form. The Sparks have won 6 of 9 in the month of August after starting the season with a dismal 3 and 8 record.
Closing out their season they face the Silver Stars three times (including tonight) and Phoenix twice. They've also got the Lynx who they are chasing for a playoff spot and a streaking Atlanta Dream team. The only "easy" matchups in their final 10 games are the Connecticut Sun and the Chicago Sky. 6 of their last 10 games are at home.
Minnesota Lynx (11-14) - The Lynx got out to a great start to the season winning 7 of their first 10 games. After losing star Seimone Augustus due to torn ligaments in her knee the young Lynx team managed to keep up the pace behind the fantastic play of Charde Houston and Nikki Anosike who is challenging Lauren Jackson for the best post player in the game this year.
Unfortunately, the Lynx lack of depth and their youth is catching up to them as they have only managed to win 2 of their last 10 games.
The Lynx only play 3 of their final 9 games at home but their schedule isn't horrible. Other than Seattle, LA, and San Antonio they don't face any other top opponents. In fact they have four of thier final games against the three teams with the league's worst records (Monarchs, Shock and the Liberty).
San Antonio Silver Stars (11-14) - The Silver Stars also got out to slow start (4-9) without center Ann Wauters. Despite getting Wauters back this team who won the Western Conference last year has remained inconsistent. They lack bench scoring and enough ball handlers to complement super stars Becky Hammon and Sofia Young.
The Stars finish the season with 5 of 9 at home. They face LA three times along with Indiana, Minnesota and Seattle giving them a pretty tough closing stretch as well.
The Lynx by far have the easiest schedule to finish the season but they have been playing so poorly of late that it is hard to see them making it to the playoffs. The best news for them is that the Sparks and Silver Stars match up three more times with each other and they both have plenty of other tough games left. If the Lynx do sneak in it will likely be because San Antonio lost 5 or 6 of their final 9 games.
LA is starting to put it together and should close strong enough to win the 3rd seed with San Antonio taking the 4th. That would give us a first round match up of Seattle and LA and Phoenix and San Antonio.
Four classic basketball cities fighting it out in the playoffs. I can't wait.