Seven teams have clinched WNBA playoff positions as the league heads into its final weekend of regular-season play. But the eighth seed remains up for grabs, with the Washington Mystics trying to hold off the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty, and sneak into the postseason.
The Mystics sit at 12-18 with two games remaining to play. That puts them one game ahead of the Sparks (11-19), and 1.5 games in front of the slumping Liberty (11-20).
Slump knocks Liberty out of WNBA playoff position
For much of the season, New York sat comfortably in playoff position. But the Liberty have now lost eight in a row at the worst possible time to put themselves on the brink of elimination.
While they no longer control their own destiny, the Liberty can significantly advance their cause on Friday when they host the Mystics in a critical head-to-head matchup. A Washington win would eliminate New York, while the Liberty will stay alive if they snap their losing streak. Washington and New York are currently knotted at 1-1 in their season series, meaning the Liberty will own the potential tiebreaker if they win Friday.
“We’re gonna play our heart out, regardless of whether it’s a must-win for us,” Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu told reporters. “It’s about figuring out what we need to do to win, and how to finish this year on the right note.”
The Mystics also have a game on Sunday against the Minnesota Lynx. Washington will clinch a playoff spot with a win in either game. However, the Mystics will be without coach Mike Thibault in both contests, as he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.
“Luckily, the testing and the vaccinations have done their job,” Thibault’s son, Eric Thibault – who will take over coaching duties for the final two regular-season games – told reporters. “He’s feeling good.”
Sparks need wins and help to catch Mystics
The Sparks also remain in the mix, though they too will need some help to catch the Mystics. While Los Angeles is just one game back of Washington with two to play, they lost the season series to the Mystics 2-1, meaning they must finish ahead of Washington to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Los Angeles begins its quest to stay in the playoff hunt on Thursday night when it visits the Atlanta Dream. The Sparks stand as a 2.5-point favorite in that matchup, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“The game for us right now is composure and consistency,” Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike told reporters after an emphatic 81-53 win over the Seattle Storm. “For us to be able to see that we’re capable of having that type of game from start to finish shows that there’s a standard by which we have to operate.”
No matter who sneaks into the final playoff spot, they will face an uphill climb to win the WNBA Championship. The bottom four seeds must survive two rounds of single-elimination games just to reach the best-of-five semifinals against one of the top two seeds.
The Mystics stand as a +4000 pick to win the WNBA title, with the Sparks (+10000) and Liberty (+15000) ranking as extreme longshots. The top-seeded Connecticut Sun rank as the +190 favorites to win a championship this year, ahead of the Las Vegas Aces (+240).