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WNBA playoff race: Who has the best chance of making the cut?

(Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

Eight teams make the WNBA playoffs, and as it stands, all but one squad — the 5-22 Indiana Fever — are in contention. That means 11 teams are fighting to get into the postseason with one month remaining in the 2022 regular season.

While the Sky, the Sun, the Mystics, the Aces and the Storm are all above the .500 mark, the remaining six teams are the ones to watch as the playoff race intensifies. With just two games total separating them, the Dream, Liberty, Wings, Sparks, Mercury and Lynx all have a chance to receive bids.

Despite similar records and a playoff race that seems wide open, these teams are not created equal. Three will be in, and three will be out. Let’s predict which side of the aisle each team will be on by mid-August.

Mercury: 11-16, ninth in standings

It’s hard to believe the Mercury were the Finals runner-up last season, but since the Sky topped them 3-1, a lot has happened. Of course, Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia looms large. Her on-court presence has been vital for the Mercury since she entered the league in 2013 — she averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds last season. But more than that, her absence is weighing mentally on every member of the Mercury.

Then, there was the “contract divorce” with 12-year veteran Tina Charles 18 games (and 12 losses) into the season, and Twitter-fueled drama between Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi and coach Vanessa Nygaard that leant itself to Diggins-Smith trade rumors around the All-Star break.

All that to say, there are a lot of factors working against the Mercury. And yet, I still like their chances to make the playoffs.

The supposed drama between Diggins-Smith and Taurasi is meaningless. On the court, the two play well together and that’s all that matters. Plus, they have loads of postseason experience and talent around them. Shey Peddy and sharp-shooter Sophie Cunningham continue to perform, and if the Mercury have a healthy Diamond DeShields and Kia Nurse down the stretch, they can be a dangerous team.

A big factor in the Mercury’s losing record has been their inability to hit the glass. Phoenix has been out-rebounded in all but six games this season, including Sunday’s loss to the Dream, in which Atlanta grabbed 43 boards to Phoenix’s 28.

In or out? In.

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The Dream, led by rookie Rhyne Howard, are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. (Jim Cowsert/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dream: 11-14, sixth in standings

Of these six teams, the Dream and the Wings have the best winning percentage (44%), which is a good start for a Dream squad that’s trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Their win over the Mercury on Sunday snapped a three-game slide that included losses to three of the teams that appear to be playoff locks — the Sky, Mystics and Sun. With that victory, the Dream are 7-2 against the other five teams fighting for playoff position.

Rookie of the Year frontrunner Rhyne Howard leads the team with 14.7 points per game and a team-best 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. She’s aided on the offensive front by Tiffany Hayes (14.5 points per game), who’s played just five games after returning from a knee injury on July 3. Overall, though, the Dream have struggled to produce offensively. They’re last in the league — behind even the Fever — with an average of 77.5 points per game. The Dream also average a league-worst 17.2 assists per game, and turn the ball over a league-high 17 times a game.

Yet, the Dream have still managed to win against the teams they need to beat to get into the postseason. Their rebounding stats against the Mercury point to a bigger trend this season, with Atlanta ranking fifth in the league on the boards. The Dream are also helped by a solid bench. Second-year guard Aari McDonald is playing 25 minutes a game and averaging 10.6 points and 1.7 steals to lead the secondary unit.

In or out? In.

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Arike Ogunbowale has her team on the cusp of the playoffs once again. (Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wings: 11-14, seventh in standings

The Wings are a hard team to figure out. Offensively, they have three consistent weapons in Arike Ogunbowale (19.5 points per game), Allisha Gray (14.3) and Marina Mabrey (12.7), and they take care of the ball. Dallas averages a 15.3 percent turnover rate, which is the second best in the WNBA.

Despite that, their offensive efficiency is lacking. As a team, the Wings shoot 42 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc, and their shot selection isn’t always the best. Take their most recent loss to the Sky. Dallas went into the fourth quarter up by six points before Chicago closed out the win on a 30-16 run in which the Wings made just four field goals. Overall, the Wings have struggled with consistency, winning consecutive games just once since May 24. They’ve also played half their season without Satou Sabally (11.3 points, 4.8 rebounds per game) while she was nursing a knee injury, which didn’t help matters.

But Dallas can find an advantage on defense with the continued development of players like Teaira McCowan (the 2018 NCAA Defensive Player of the Year at Mississippi State), Veronica Burton (a three-time Big Ten DPOY) and Awak Kuier, who at 6-foot-4 has an even bigger wing span that can disrupt offenses. If Dallas can find a way to score with more regularity and its defense continues to blossom, the Wings will be a playoff team.

In or out? In.

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Sabrina Ionescu is having her best season yet, but New York has many other limitations. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

Liberty: 9-16, 11th in standings

After starting the season 1-7 and losing 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney to a knee injury, things looked dismal for the Liberty. Since then, they’ve gone a much more respectable 8-9 that included a 7-4 month of June.

Guard Sabrina Ionescu has been an obvious bright spot for the up-and-down Liberty, leading her team in points (17.3), rebounds (7.1) and assists (6.2). And fellow 2022 All-Star Natasha Howard also does a little bit of everything, averaging 15 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest. The Liberty have several other intriguing weapons, starting with Han Xu and Marine Johannès. Han has made a name for herself as a 6-10 center who can shoot 3s, while Johannès is an elite playmaker who serves as a second point guard.

But despite an arsenal of scoring options, the Liberty don’t generate offense in two key places. The first is at the free-throw line. New York attempts 15 free throws a game, which is last in the league. Secondly, the Liberty don’t create chances on the offensive glass or off of turnovers. They are 10th in the WNBA in both offensive rebounds (6.9) and 11th in turnovers forced (12.6). Plus, New York is currently on a four-game losing streak, something their 36.0 win percentage can’t afford.

In or out? Out.

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Katie Lou Samuelson has provided a spark from deep in her first season with the Sparks. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sparks: 10-14, eighth in standings

The Sparks started their season with a bit of drama, as GM and coach Derek Fisher was fired after a 5-7 start. Things haven’t improved much under Fred Williams, with L.A. going 5-7 since then for a 10-14 overall record.

Fisher’s time with the Sparks was clearly up, as he failed to achieve a winning record during his three and a half seasons, but changing leadership midseason almost always means sacrificing results the rest of the way. hat being said, the Sparks have a lot of offensive weapons and they are in the top half of the league with a 45.2 field goal percentage. All-Star Nneka Ogwumike is leading the way with 18.3 points per game, and Liz Cambage brings a size advantage at 6-9 and offensive might at 13.3 points a contest. Katie Lou Samuelson (10.8) and Brittney Sykes (10.7) round out Los Angeles’ double-digit scorers.

The Sparks’ struggles come on the defensive end. Their opponents shoot 45.9 percent from the field, the second-highest mark in the WNBA. They also give up a league-worst 1.14 points per scoring attempt and 0.95 points per play, the second-worst mark. And the defensive woes don’t stop there: The Sparks grab just 24.5 defensive rebounds per game, ranking 10th in the WNBA. The inability to shut down opponents is a dagger in a postseason race, so despite players like Ogwumike thriving on offense, the Sparks face an uphill battle.

In or out? Out.

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Sylvia Fowles has been Minnesota's most consistent player in her final season. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lynx: 10-17, 10th in standings

After the Fever, the Lynx have the worst win percentage at 37 percent. They still have a chance at the postseason; it’s just dwindling.

When the Lynx are at their best, they look like a postseason squad. From July 6-12, Minnesota enjoyed a three-game win streak that included victories over the league’s top teams — 102-71 over the Aces and 81-78 over the Sky — and an 118-107 OT win over the Mercury. During that stretch, Ariel Powers was unbeatable, averaging 29.7 points a game. Her offense is much-needed for the Lynx, half of whose wins this season have come when Powers is the leading scorer.

Sylvia Fowles leads the Lynx with 15.1 points and 10 rebounds a game in her final season, numbers that are comparable to her career stats. Unfortunately for Fowles, the Lynx don’t share her consistency. They’ve had both a four- and a five-game losing streak this season, and they have also lost twice to the five-win Fever.

In or out? Out.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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Team USA, Germany Play Pre-Olympic Exhibition Game in London

Team USA's 5x5 Basketball Team stands for the National Anthem before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Team USA looks to rebound from Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game loss in an exhibition against Germany today. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball's 5x5 team will tip off in an exhibition against Germany in London this afternoon, getting in one last tune-up before the Summer Olympics begin.

The US is hunting an eighth-straight gold medal this year, with group stage play starting on July 29th.

Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to face Germany in pre-Olympic exhibition.
Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to take on Germany in London. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

US to use All-Star loss as fuel

Coming off the weekend's All-Star Game loss, the Olympians are ready to repeat history: They earned their Tokyo gold medal immediately after losing the first Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game back in 2021.

Breanna Stewart, who led Team USA with a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double on Saturday, said that the defeat "is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities, [and now] we can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better."

Today’s tilt against Germany will see the US work to lock in their defense, particularly in the paint. They'll also lean into their positional versatility before heading to Paris.

WNBA pro Satou Sabally leads Team Germany in today's pre-Olympic exhibition game against Team USA.
WNBA pro Satou Sabally helped Germany to their first-ever Olympic berth. (Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Olympic debutants Germany enter first US clash

The exhibition marks the first-ever US-Germany linkup. The German team will make their Olympic debut in Paris after decades of failing to qualify for major international competitions. Their sixth-place 2023 EuroBasket finish sent them into February’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they punched their ticket to the 2024 Games.

Leading Germany's run was two-time WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally, who put up career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, and steals with Dallas last season. Her 20-point, 11-rebound double-double was the difference-maker in Germany's must-win 73-71 Olympic qualifying victory over Brazil.

Other German players to watch include 2022 NY Liberty draft-pick — and Sabally's sister — Nyara Sabally, along with Liberty sharpshooter Leonie Fiebich.

Where to watch the Team USA vs. Germany game

Today’s exhibition tips off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on FS1.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: USWNT Star Jaedyn Shaw Is Expecting “Dubs All Around”

retired uswnt star kelley o'hara interviewing san diego wave and uswnt forward jaedyn shaw
'1v1' is back with Jaedyn Shaw joining Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, San Diego Wave and USWNT star Jaedyn Shaw joins two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from the 19-year-old Wave FC phenom about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her experience with international competition at this point in her young career, and how she's preparing to take on the 2024 Summer Games.

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The 91st: Complete USWNT & Olympic Soccer Preview Featuring Jess McDonald

Logo for JWS USWNT Olympic show The 91st
The latest season of JWS' awarding-winning Olympics show 'The 91st' premieres today. (Just Women's Sports)

We're back! Hosts Jordan Angeli, Duda Pavao, and retired USWNT forward Jess McDonald deliver a full preview of this year's Olympic soccer tournament in Paris.

Watch for full analysis of USWNT manager Emma Hayes's coaching style, this team's shifting identity in this new USWNT era, and a projected starting XI for the team's group stage opener against Zambia. The 91st hosts also break down all three Olympic groups — including top players and teams to track throughout the tournament — plus give their predictions for the medal rounds and individual awards.

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