With the 2021 WNBA regular season ending Sunday, one playoff berth remains to be claimed. But we know now which four teams will have byes to start the playoffs: the Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm.
Under the format that the league went to in 2016, seeds 5-8 play in single-elimination first-round games. Those winners advance to single-elimination second-round games against the No. 3 and 4 seeds. Those winners face the top two seeds in the best of best-of-five semifinals.
As the top two seeds, the Sun and Aces get the biggest advantage of a double-bye into the semifinals, with no worry about playing one bad game and being eliminated.
Thus far under this playoff format, every champion has been a 1 or 2 seed: the No. 2 Los Angeles Sparks in 2016, No. 1 Minnesota in 2017, No. 1 Seattle in 2018, No. 1 Washington Mystics in 2019 and No. 2 Seattle in 2020.
There are no games Saturday. Here are how things look going into Sunday and the last five games before the WNBA playoffs begin. (Check back then — and keep an eye on the WNBA standings — as we continue to update the playoff picture.)
Which teams have already clinched a playoff berth?
What’s going on at the top of the standings?
Las Vegas’ dominant 103-70 victory at Chicago on Friday secured the No. 2 seed for the Aces (23-8), the second year in a row that they’ve earned the double-bye. Last year, they did it without guard Kelsey Plum, who had an Achilles injury. This season, she might be named both Sixth Woman of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year.
“It feels so good to be back with the team,” Plum said of the 2021 season. “It’s tough watching; I feel like I could have made a difference out there [last year].”
Connecticut (25-6) had already locked down the No. 1 seed on Sept. 11. The Sun will finish the regular season Sunday against Atlanta, looking for their 14th win in a row. The Aces take on Phoenix (3 p.m. ET, ABC).
Neither game has any playoff implication, but Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said the Aces hope to be able to get some game time for center Liz Cambage, who was sidelined by COVID-19 protocol and last played Aug. 28.
“That’s the biggest key is to get her back on the court,” Laimbeer said. “Getting game-conditioned is not going to happen for a long time. But you’ve got to start someplace.”
What about seeds 3-4?
These seeds belong to Minnesota and Seattle, although we don’t know the order yet.
On Friday, Minnesota beat Indiana behind another huge game from veteran Sylvia Fowles (21 points and 10 rebounds), moving the Lynx to 21-10. They conclude the season Sunday against Washington. Also Friday, defending WNBA defending champion Seattle finished its regular season at 21-11 with a victory over Phoenix.
If the Lynx win Sunday, they’re 22-10 and will claim the third seed. If they lose and finish 21-11, the Storm get the No. 3 seed by virtue of their regular-season tiebreaker over Minnesota.
The Storm’s Jewell Loyd, who had 37 points in a tour-de-force performance Friday, said it was on her mind that a win meant Seattle would avoid a first-round game. And especially with Storm forward Breanna Stewart out with a foot injury, the more time Seattle can buy in hopes of her recovery, the better.
The fact that the Storm are done with the regular season and don’t have to play Sunday helps, too.
“You think of what a few more days gives for Breanna Stewart, for our minds … we’ll take a couple of days off and come back at it,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “I think for this group in particular, the last few weeks have been very difficult. It’s been up and down. And when you get some time to reset and refresh, it helps get our minds, our hearts and our bodies in the correct way that we need to pursue a playoff push.”
What else is set?
With its loss Friday and Minnesota’s victory, Phoenix (19-12) now is the No. 5 seed and will host a first-round playoff game against No. 8, which is to be determined. The Mercury played again Friday without Diana Taurasi, but they’re still hoping she returns for the playoffs.
Chicago (15-16) entered this weekend with nothing but its final record on the line, as the Sky already had secured the No. 6 seed. They know now they will host Dallas (13-18) in the first round. The Wings got the No. 7 seed when Washington lost to New York on Friday.
What about the last spot?
Washington (12-19), Los Angeles (12-19) and the New York Liberty (12-20) are vying for the final playoff berth.
The Mystics will take the spot if they win their finale Sunday against Minnesota. That would make them 13-19, and even if the Sparks win and get to the same record, Washington has the tiebreaker.
Los Angeles hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2011, and in their entire history dating back to the league’s 1997 inaugural season, the Sparks have been out of the playoffs just four times. To make it this year, the Sparks need to beat Dallas on Sunday and for Washington to lose.
The Liberty wrapped up the regular season with their victory over Washington on Friday, and now they wait and watch Sunday’s results. If both Washington and Los Angeles lose and all three teams finish 12-20, New York gets the playoff berth. The Liberty would have the best record in head-to-head games between the three at 3-2, while Washington would be 3-3 and Los Angeles 2-3.
First round (single-game elimination)
Thursday, Sept. 23
No. 8 at No. 5 Phoenix
No. 7 Dallas at No. 6 Chicago
Second round (single-game elimination)
Sunday, Sept. 26
TBD at No. 3
TBD at No. 4
Semifinals (best of five)
Game 1: Tuesday, Sept. 28
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 30
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 3
Game 4: Wednesday, Oct 6*
Game 5: Friday, Oct. 8*
WNBA Finals (best of five)
Game 1: Sunday, Oct. 10
Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 13
Game 3: Friday, Oct. 15
Game 4: Sunday, Oct. 17*
Game 5: Tuesday, Oct. 19*
* If necessary