A chaotic sprint to the goal for the WNBA season

The Chicago Sky, the reigning champions, are assured of a top two spot in the upcoming WNBA playoffs. Indiana Fever Rebuild is the only non-competing team. Everything else is at stake.

The final week of the WNBA regular season should be a showcase of the parity and chaos the league has seen all season. Six of the league’s 12 teams are battling for the final three playoff spots, and the teams that have already won are still battling for placement.

At the top of the standings, Sky are 25-8 and have a two-game lead in the race for the No. 1 spot. Chicago can’t fall further than No. 2 after a win over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday but still has to hold its own against the Las Vegas Aces, who spoiled Sue Bird’s last game of the regular season at the Climate Pledge Arena with a win of the Seattle Storm. Chicago and Las Vegas face off in their last regular-season meeting on Thursday.

The Sun is solid in third but could still pass the Aces for the No. 2 seed. However, a bigger fight is brewing among them as Seattle and the Washington Mystics battle it out for home field advantage in what will almost certainly be the Nos. 4-5 playoff matchup. The Storm has a scheduling disadvantage, with games on the road against Chicago and Las Vegas surrounding a trip to Minneapolis. The Mystics, meanwhile, finish with two games against bottom club Fever and play their final game of the regular season at home.

Of the teams hoping for one of the final playoff spots, the Dallas Wings are in the best shape. They hold a 16-16 record with four games remaining – all against teams that sit below them in standings. Dallas could secure a spot this week with a win in one of their two games against the Liberty, the first of which was scheduled for Monday night.

Below the wings, however, the race is wide open. With three games each, the Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury are tied 14-19 despite the Dream owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Liberty are 13-19 with four games remaining, and the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks are stuck at 13-20.

The Dream, the Mercury and the Liberty were all on the track with no key players. Atlanta guard Tiffany Hayes has missed three games with an ankle injury, while Phoenix announced on Monday that Diana Taurasi would miss the rest of the season with a quad injury. The Liberty finally recovered for Saturday’s game against Phoenix when Betnijah Laney returned to action two months after knee surgery, but forward Natasha Howard went down with them an ankle injury.

Those injuries could leave the door open for 10th-ranked Lynx as they hold season tiebreaks over Phoenix and the Liberty and play the Mercury in a must-win game on Wednesday. But the rest of Minnesota’s schedule is daunting, with games home against Seattle and away against Connecticut. In his favor is the comeback of Napheesa Collier, who returned less than three months after giving birth on Sunday. (A motivating factor for her was the chance to play again with Sylvia Fowles, who is retiring at the end of the season.)

After all, the Sparks may face the toughest path to a playoff spot for reasons on and off the court. Los Angeles had been in position for the No. 6 after beating Dream on July 21. But with the drama of four-time All-Star Liz Cambage leaving the team, the Sparks lost six straight games and fell to 11th place.

A win on Sunday against the Mystics kept their hopes alive. But they have to play back-to-back games against third-placed Sun this week before taking on rising Wings. And to make matters worse, the Sparks became embroiled in a travel nightmare while attempting to leave Washington.

After their flight was delayed and then cancelled, some Sparks members spent the night at the airport when there weren’t enough hotel rooms for all the players. Nneka Ogwumike, a former league MVP, said in a video posted on Twitter“It’s the first time in my 11 seasons that I’ve ever had to sleep at the airport.”