NEW YORK (AP) — As the WNBA enters its final few weeks of the regular season, the race between teams battling for playoff berths and byes is heating up.
Connecticut, Las Vegas and Seattle are all vying for the coveted double bye. The Sun have the inside track holding a one-game lead over the Aces and a three-game margin on the Storm. Only one of Connecticut’s remaining six opponents has a winning record. That doesn’t mean Sun coach Curt Miller is taking anything for granted.
“It’s all about matchups in this league,” he said. “We got beat by Indiana and they throttled us. They match up well with us. L.A. matches up well with us. We’re going to take it one at a time and Washington is next and that’s all we’re thinking about.”
The Mystics are one of four teams battling for the final playoff spots. Washington is expected to be without Tina Charles for a few more games as she recovers from a left gluteal strain. Elena Delle Donne returned for a couple games after sitting out nearly two years with back issues. She had to skip the team’s last game — a 18-point rally against Dallas — because the back issues flared up again.
Washington, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles are all within a game of each other for the final two playoff spots.
Minnesota, Phoenix and Chicago are the other group contending for the fourth through sixth position in the postseason. Finishing fourth would get a team out of the first round of the playoffs.
This week’s WNBA poll:
1. Connecticut (20-6): The Sun are on an eight-game winning streak, including six in a row to start the final part of the season after the Olympic break. The Sun are nearly unbeatable at home, where they are13-1 this season.
2. Las Vegas (19-7): Coach Bill Laimbeer gave Angel McCoughtry a special moment, allowing her to play the final few seconds in Atlanta, where she played her entire career before coming to the Aces last season. She’s been sidelined this season, recovering from an ACL injury.
3. Minnesota (15-9): A relatively light week allowed coach Cheryl Reeve to give Napheesa Collier a couple days off to rest. Reeve said Collier has been dealing with plantar fasciitis this season.
4. Seattle (18-10): The Storm have dropped three consecutive games, including a pair at home to Chicago. They had a grueling road trip coming out of the Olympic break and have looked tired. The good news for Seattle is its remaining four games are all spread out over the next few weeks.
5. Phoenix (15-10): The Mercury have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning six consecutive games, including three in a row on the road. Brittney Griner sprained her ankle in one of the victories over New York in the game’s final 70 seconds. She missed the second victory over the Liberty and coach Sandy Brondello expected her 6-foot-8 center back soon.
6. Chicago (14-12): A pair of impressive wins in Seattle have vaulted the Sky into the mix of teams looking to avoid a first-round matchup in the playoffs. The next three games may determine if they can earn that opening round bye as they face Phoenix and have a home and home with Las Vegas this week.
7. Dallas (11-15): The Wings would be sitting in a much better position to make the postseason for the first time since 2018 if they hadn’t blown the double-digit lead to Washington in the last game. The good news is Dallas finishes the season with five of its final six games at home.
8. Washington (10-15): The Mystics playoff chances most likely rest on the health of Charles and Delle Donne.
9 New York (11-16): The Liberty have a difficult schedule ahead with four of their final five games on the road. They’ve lost four straight and maybe headed to the draft lottery for a fourth consecutive season.
10. Los Angeles (10-16): The Sparks finished off a disappointing road trip with consecutive losses in Connecticut. The team has four of its final six games on the road.
11t. Atlanta (6-19): The Dream are looking to end a 10-game losing skid. Going forward, the team will have to figure out what it wants to do with suspended player Chennedy Carter — the No. 4 pick last season. She’s been out since early July for conduct detrimental to the team.
11t. Indiana (5-19): Another disappointing season for the Fever will end with another trip to the draft lottery. Indiana has never picked first in the WNBA draft and may have its best chance after this dismal year.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Skylar Diggins-Smith of Phoenix was voted as the Player of the Week after averaging averaged 27 points, six assists and 2.5 steals to help the Mercury sweep New York last week. Other players receiving votes included Kahleah Copper of Chicago, Sylvia Fowles of Minnesota and Brionna Jones of Connecticut.
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Sky vs Aces, Thursday and Sunday. These teams play a home and home set that may go a long way to determining playoff positioning for both squads. The Sky will be finishing off a five-game road swing in Las Vegas on Thursday.
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