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Elena Delle Donne, Mystics peaking at the right time: WNBA Film Room

(Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces remain in a tier of their own at the top of the WNBA standings with one month left in the regular season. The Seattle Storm continue to knock on the door, currently just two games back of the first-place Sky and playing their best basketball of the season.

The Aces made a splash this week, signing Kelsey Plum to a contract extension that will keep her with the team through 2024. In the middle of a dominant season, the All-Star Game MVP was on track to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market this offseason. With Plum re-signed, the Aces will return their entire core for the 2023 season, showing their commitment to the current team under head coach Becky Hammon.

The Minnesota Lynx made a strong push the last two weeks, but have since dropped two of their last four games to remain in 11th place at 10-17. Following a tough travel swing, the Lynx have five days to rest and regroup before they host the Connecticut Sun in a back-to-back series this weekend. Minnesota’s playoff hopes are still very much alive as four teams are currently log-jammed in the standings, fighting for the eighth and final spot with nine games left to play.

D.C. gets stingy

In their first 21 games of the season the Mystics allowed their opponents 76.1 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field. In their last six, Washington has flipped the script, allowing a league-best 72 points per game on 41 percent shooting.

Despite inconsistencies with the rotation and the occasional rest days for Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics have put themselves in a perfect position to make a playoff run. Currently fifth in the standings at 16-11, Washington sits just four games back of the top seed.

This Mystics team has parallels to last year’s Chicago Sky, who started the season on a losing streak and peaked at the right time to win their first WNBA championship. If the Mystics can continue to rely on their defensive tenacity, stay healthy and keep Delle Donne on the floor, they have enough offensive firepower to make anything happen at the end of August.

Connecticut gets reinforcements

On Monday, the Sun added Bria Hartley to their roster for the remainder of the season.

The ninth-year guard was traded from the Phoenix Mercury to the Indiana Fever in a three-team deal with the Chicago Sky in February that also included Diamond DeShields and Julie Allemand. Hartley averaged 8.7 minutes and 2.5 points in just 10 games for the Fever before she was waived last Friday.

Her divorce agreement with Indiana for $175,911 made her an affordable pickup for the Sun, who were dealt a tough blow at the beginning of the season when they lost starting guard Jasmine Thomas to an ACL injury. Without Thomas, Connecticut’s backcourt has lacked depth and experience on both ends of the floor, and the Sun have struggled with turnovers and defense at the guard position.

In 2020, Hartley had one of the best seasons of her career while playing at full strength for the Mercury, averaging 14.6 points, 4.5 assists and shooting 39 percent from the 3-point line in 25 minutes per game. If the former UConn standout can rediscover even just a portion of that form this season, the Sun’s bench will be even more dangerous down the stretch.

The 2020 WNBA champion Storm are in the midst of a late-season push. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Storm hit their stride

After going 11-7 to start the season, Seattle is 6-1 since June 29 and is riding a four-game win streak into Wednesday’s game against the Sky.

The most glaring difference between the Storm’s first 18 games and last seven is their offensive production. While they aren’t shooting any better from the 3-point line, their overall field-goal percentage has increased along with their pace of play. The Storm have done a much better job of not settling for jumpers, and instead being aggressive and getting to the free-throw line more consistently.

Defensively, Seattle is also giving up fewer points to opponents, averaging 72 points conceded in the last seven games. Take a look at some of the Storm’s key statistics during the two stretches.

First 18 games vs. last seven

PPG: 78.7 — 86.0
FG%: 42.0 –46.6
TO per game: 13.3 — 14.6
RPG: 32.0 — 36.0
SPG: 8.5 — 9.6
FT attempts: 14.1 — 18.9
Defensive rating: 96.0 — 87.7
Pace: 95.47 — 99.09
Opp. PPG: 76.9 — 72.3

This is a big week for the Storm as they look to extend their winning streak on the road against Chicago on Wednesday and Phoenix on Friday. They return home Sunday to play the Atlanta Dream.

Week 11 Power Rankings

  1. Chicago Sky (19-6) —
  2. Las Vegas Aces (18-7) —
  3. Seattle Storm (17-8) +1
  4. Washington Mystics (16-11) +1
  5. Connecticut Sun (16-9) -2
  6. Atlanta Dream (11-14) —
  7. Dallas Wings (11-14) +4
  8. Phoenix Mercury (11-16) +2
  9. Minnesota Lynx (10-17) -1
  10. Los Angeles Sparks (10-14) -3
  11. New York Liberty (9-15) -2
  12. Indiana Fever (5-22) —

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.