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WNBA Power Rankings: Wings, Mystics and Liberty battle for playoff spots

(Jesse Louie/Just Women’s Sports)

Five WNBA teams have clinched their playoff spots and, with just over two weeks left of the regular season, three more are still up for grabs.

The power rankings go beyond the standings, taking into account momentum, head-to-head results, strength of schedule and advanced stats. As the playoff race among the teams in the middle tier gets particularly tight, let’s see who has the best chance to come out ahead.

12. Atlanta Dream (6-19) -1

Congratulations to the Atlanta Dream, who have lost 10 games in a row and supplanted the Fever on the bottom rung of the power rankings for the first time this season. Atlanta’s calling card all season has been its high-scoring offense, and even that’s fallen off of late. The Dream were once in the top five of WNBA offensive rating. Now, their offense is averaging just 74 points per game after the Olympic break.

11. Indiana Fever (6-19) +1

Congratulations to the Indiana Fever, who are finally looking down at a team on the power rankings. Five of Indiana’s six wins have come since July 3, infusing the team with necessary optimism all while they stay close to the probability of earning the No. 1 spot in the 2022 draft. An interesting statistic: The Fever and Dream lead the league in the percentage of points scored from mid-range, a trend most teams have moved away from in favor of the long ball and shots at the rim.

10. Los Angeles Sparks (10-17) —

Every time you want to believe Los Angeles can go on a run, another star player gets hurt and the offense goes dry. Defense has never been the problem for the Sparks, who are second in the league in points allowed per game at 78.4. On the offensive side, they’re not only the lowest-scoring team, but they are also last in field-goal percentage and assists per game, suggesting the chemistry is off.

9. New York Liberty (11-17) -2

It’s getting ugly in New York. Natasha Howard is back in full swing and Sabrina Ionescu looks more like the player the Liberty drafted first overall in 2020, but neither of those positive strides has translated to wins. The Liberty have lost five straight and eight of their last nine dating back to July 9, and suddenly they are in danger of missing out on the playoffs after a strong first half.

8. Washington Mystics (10-16) +1

Elena Delle Donne returned to the court on Aug. 22 after nearly two years away and teamed up with Tina Charles, finally forming the potent frontcourt lineup the Mystics envisioned when they signed Charles as a free agent in 2020. Then, Charles went down with a glute strain and Delle Donne’s back started acting up again. With the Liberty free-falling, there’s no ruling Washington out of the playoffs just yet, but health is paramount.

7. Dallas Wings (11-15) +1

Dallas has been a tough team to gauge this season. They’ve had their moments of brilliance, notably beating the Storm earlier in the year and playing them close in their other meetings, and then they’ve had games where their inexperience is on full display. The good news for the Wings is four of their final six games are against teams beneath them in the standings, and in the early-round single-elimination games of the playoffs, anything can happen.

6. Phoenix Mercury (16-10) —

Just like last season — and just as we predicted — the Mercury have hit their stride late in the season, having won their last seven games and clinched a playoff spot Tuesday night. Team USA’s gold-medal run at the Olympics clearly wore off on the Mercury’s three stars, with Skylar Diggins-Smith alone averaging 19.6 points per game since the break. Their recent strength of schedule has left much to be desired, but they made a promising statement against Chicago this week.

5. Seattle Storm (18-10) -4

The Storm’s drop in the power rankings doesn’t mean they’ve fallen out of title contention. A three-game losing streak is out of character for the defending champions, especially when it includes losing to the same team back-to-back. In those three games, the Storm shot 26.8 percent from 3, which is significantly below their league-leading average. Once they find their stroke again, they should get back to their winning ways.

4. Chicago Sky (14-13) +1

As the Sky showed in their 3-0 regular-season series against the Storm, they have one of the most dangerous benches in the league. Coach James Wade has started bringing Stefanie Dolson and Diamond DeShields, who have three All-Star Game appearances between them, off the bench, making it hard for opponents to defend Chicago’s speed, size and length for a full 40 minutes.

3. Minnesota Lynx (16-9) +1

The Lynx aren’t overpowering opponents, but they’re playing smart basketball, ranking second in the league in field goal percentage (45.5) and in effective field goal percentage (50.6), which accounts for the value of 3-point attempts. It doesn’t hurt that Sylvia Fowles is making a case for WNBA MVP with her play and coach Cheryl Reeve has one of the sharpest minds in the game.

2. Las Vegas Aces (19-7) —

The Aces continue to get it done on both ends of the floor, leading the league with 88.8 points per game and 38.9 rebounds per game. For a team that plays an inside game and attempts the fewest 3-pointers in the WNBA, Las Vegas is also shooting a second-best 36.8 percent from beyond the arc.

1. Connecticut Sun (21-6) +2

Interestingly, no team plays their bench less than the Sun, whose non-starters average 8.8 minutes per game. You wonder how long their starters can keep up that pace through the postseason, but then again, I have a hard time betting against a starting lineup that includes Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones.

Caitlin Clark stuns in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports. It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before. Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, answers need to be had from head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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