WNBA playoff picture, standings, projections: Lynx clinch playoff berth after 0-6 start; Sparks reclaim eighth

The final week of a thrilling and historic 2023 WNBA regular season, which will wrap up on Sept. 10, has arrived. As expected, the defending champion Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty have separated themselves from the pack, but there remains plenty to play for. 

At the top of the standings, the Aces have set a new regular-season wins record with 32, and are closing in on the No. 1 seed, as it looks like the New York Liberty are going to run out of time to catch them. Below them, the Connecticut Sun are now locked into the No. 3 seed, while the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx have both clinched playoff berths. 

After that, the seeds are completely up for grabs. At the moment there are two main duels going on. One between the Atlanta Dream and Washington Mystics, who are tied at 17-20 and battling for the No. 6 seed, and another between the Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky, who have been fighting it out for the eighth and final spot for weeks. 

The lottery will feature the Indiana Fever, Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury, who have all been eliminated. The latest casualty was the Fever who hung on for much longer than anyone expected heading into the season, but were officially knocked out with their defeat to the Wings on Friday. 

Here’s a closer look at how things stand:

Current standings

  1. Las Vegas Aces (32-6) — Playoff spot clinched
  2. New York Liberty (30-7) — Playoff spot clinched
  3. Connecticut Sun (25-12) — Playoff spot clinched
  4. Dallas Wings (20-17) — Playoff spot clinched
  5. Minnesota Lynx (19-19) — Playoff spot clinched
  6. Atlanta Dream (17-20)
  7. Washington Mystic (17-20)
  8. Los Angeles Sparks (16-21)
  9. Chicago Sky (15-22)
  10. Indiana Fever (12-25) — Eliminated
  11. Seattle Storm (11-26) — Eliminated 
  12. Phoenix Mercury (9-28) — Eliminated

Note: Two-team ties are decided first by head-to-head record and then, if necessary, better record against .500+ teams. Ties between more than two teams are determined by combined head-to-head record against the other teams. 

Aces and Liberty clear at the top

1. Las Vegas Aces (32-6)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Liberty: season series tied 2-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Sparks
  • Key remaining games: None

After their first slump of the season in late August, the Aces have bounced back with big wins over the Mystics and Storm and are closing in on securing the No. 1 seed. They have a 1.5-game lead over the Liberty and their last two games are both against the last-place Mercury who have essentially given up on the season. 

2. New York Liberty (30-7)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Aces: season series tied 2-2
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 7 Washington Mystics
  • Key remaining games: None

The Liberty are rolling. They used a huge second-half run to pull away from the Sky on Sunday and have now won six games in a row and 12 of their last 13 to clinch at least a top-two seed. While they still have a slight chance to catch the Aces for the top spot, it’s looking like they will run out of time. 

Sun locked into third

3. Connecticut Sun (25-12)

  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 6 Washington Mystics

No one expected the Sun to be this good this season without Jonquel Jones, but they’ve clearly established themselves as the “best of the rest” behind the Aces and Liberty. They have clinched a playoff spot, and after their defeat to the Liberty on Friday are locked into the No. 3 seed. 

Let the seeding battles begin

4. Dallas Wings (20-17)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Dream: won season series 2-0; vs. Lynx: season series tied 2-2; vs. Sparks: lost season series 1-3; vs. Mystics: won season series 3-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Minnesota Lynx
  • Key remaining games: at Dream (Sept. 10)

The Wings are going back to the playoffs for the third consecutive season, and have their first 20-win campaign since 2008, when they still played in Detroit. Their inconsistent play in recent weeks, which includes a loss to the Fever on Sunday, is a bit concerning, however. 

5. Minnesota Lynx (19-19)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Wings: season series tied 2-2; vs. Dream: lost season series 1-2; vs. Sparks: won season series 4-0; vs. Mystics: won season series 2-1; vs. Sky: season series tied 1-1
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 4 Dallas Wings
  • Key remaining games: at Sky (Sept. 8)

The Lynx made easy work of the Mercury on Sunday to clinch a playoff spot and open up a 1.5-game lead over the Dream in the race for the No. 5 seed. They are just the second team in WNBA history to make the playoffs after starting the season 0-6, joining the 2015 Sparks.  

7. Atlanta Dream (17-20)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Wings: lost season series 0-2; vs. Lynx: won season series 2-1; vs. Sparks: season series tied 2-2; vs. Mystics: winning season series 2-1; vs. Sky: won season series 4-0
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 2 New York Liberty
  • Key remaining games: at Mystics (Sept. 8), vs. Wings (Sept. 10)

This has been a roller coaster season for the Dream. When they’re good, they’re really good, but when they’re bad, they’re really bad. They’ve had winning streaks of seven and three games, but also four different three-game losing streaks. They are likely going to snap their franchise-record four-season playoff drought, but their performances in recent weeks have been concerning. 

7. Washington Mystics (17-20)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Wings: lost season series 1-3; vs. Lynx: lost season series 1-2; vs. Dream: losing season series 1-2; vs. Sparks: lost season series 1-2; vs. Sky: won season series 4-0
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 2 New York Liberty
  • Key remaining games: vs. Dream (Sept. 8)

The Mystics just cannot catch a break in regards to injuries. Just as it seemed like they were finally getting healthy again, they lost Ariel Atkins to a nasal fracture, had to sit Shakira Austin for precautionary reasons after she took a hard fall on her previously injured hip and saw Kristi Toliver go down with a non-contact knee injury. 

8. Los Angeles Sparks (16-21)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Wings: won season series 3-1; vs. Lynx: lost season series 0-4; vs. Dream: season series tied 2-2; vs. Mystics: won season series 2-1; vs. Sky: lost season series 1-3
  • Current first-round matchup: vs. No. 1 Las Vegas Aces
  • Key remaining games: 

The Sparks got a vital win on Sunday over the Mystics to snap a three-game losing streak and jump back into the eighth and final playoff spot. They have a one-game lead over the Sky, but do not have the tiebreaker between the teams so they will need to finish above them at the end of the season to get into the playoffs. 

9. Chicago Sky (15-22)

  • Tiebreakers: vs. Sparks: won season series 3-1; vs. Mystics: lost season series 0-4; vs. Lynx: season series tied 1-1; vs. Dream: lost season series 0-4
  • Current first-round matchup: N/A
  • Key remaining games: vs. Lynx (Sept. 8)

Perhaps no team in the league is as desperate to make the playoffs as the Sky, who do not have a first-round pick in the 2024 draft as a result of former head coach and GM James Wade’s short-sighted offseason. After briefly reclaiming the eighth spot from the Sparks, they were blown out in the second half by the Liberty on Sunday and dropped back down to ninth. 

Eliminated

10. Indiana Fever (12-25)

The Fever were knocked out of the playoffs on Friday with their defeat to the Wings. But while they’ll be in the lottery for a seventh consecutive season, this isn’t the same old Fever. They’ve won more games this summer than they did in 2021 and 2022 combined, and there are some positive signs for the future. 

11. Seattle Storm (11-26)

The Storm were officially eliminated from the playoffs after their loss to the Sky on Sunday, ending a seven-year postseason streak. This was unfortunately to be expected given the departures of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird in the offseason, and a trip to the lottery will help the Storm reset for the future. 

12. Phoenix Mercury (9-28)

The Mercury’s claim to the longest active postseason streak in the league is no more. For the first time since 2012, they were eliminated from the playoffs with their defeat against the Wings on Sunday. This group needs a fresh infusion of talent, though, so heading to the lottery is for the best. 

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