@PHOENIXMERCURY

In a 22-game sprint of a season, the WNBA playoff race is heating up. And if the last few game days have shown us anything, almost all of the 12 teams in Bradenton, Florida, still have a shot at being a top eight seed.

Seattle, which was comfortably sitting atop the standings, dropped two games in a row, including one to current eight-seed Indiana. The current 12th-seed, New York, is still just three games out of playoff contention.

Once in the playoffs, teams five through eight have to survive a single-elimination first round. But even before then, expect a tight race for the right to even play in the postseason. Every game counts, but some count even more. As the regular season nears a conclusion, here are four games in the next week that should have a major impact on the playoff standings.

 

INDIANA FEVER VS. PHOENIX MERCURY (9/3)

Phoenix is currently 3-5 in the West and 6-2 against the East, which makes a lot of sense when the top four teams in the WNBA are all in the West. Besides the loss to Indiana in the second game of the season, and a loss to Dallas to start a three-game skid, the Mercury have for the most part won the games they were supposed to and lost the ones they weren’t. While Phoenix punched above its weight in wins against Las Vegas and Chicago, it also lost to that same Chicago team and will need to face that Las Vegas team again.

The Mercury cannot afford another loss to Indiana and need to show everyone, especially themselves, that they can win these kinds of games. It won’t be easy, as Phoenix is in the midst of transitioning to a guard-first lineup without Brittney Griner, who left the bubble for personal reasons. They’ll also be without Bria Hartley, who was having a career season before tearing her ACL.

Indiana, meanwhile, is a borderline playoff team at the moment despite a .313 winning percentage. A win over Seattle went a long way towards building confidence, and the Fever had a lot to say after that game. Nevermind that their only other win against a current playoff team came against Phoenix. Indiana is getting 18.5 points per game from Kelsey Mitchell, and while third pick Lauren Cox has yet to find her rhythm, Julie Allemand is legitimately in the Rookie of the Year conversation. Originally drafted in the third round in 2016, Allemand chose instead to continue playing with her French-league squad club team, but was signed in the offseason and has thrived in a starting role.

ATLANTA DREAM VS. LAS VEGAS ACES (9/5)

In the first meeting in the second game of the 2020 season, this game was decided by 30 points in favor of the second-ranked Aces. To be honest, unless a lot changes, this game won’t have as much impact on the playoff race (though the Aces would love to lock up one of the top two spots and earn a bye through to the semis) — it could, however, have a massive impact on the season awards race.

For the second time this season, A’ja Wilson and Chennedy Carter will take the court opposite of each other. Wilson has put together a convincing case for her first MVP award in her third season in the league. In the first game against Atlanta, Willson scored 21 points and collected 11 rebounds in just 26 minutes. Carter, meanwhile, was averaging 19.4 points per game before injuring her left ankle on August 10. At the time, she was considered a top candidate for Rookie of the Year, and in just her second game back from injury on Sunday, she showed everyone why, putting up 26 points on the Los Angeles Sparks. In order to make up for lost time after sitting out for two weeks, Carter will need to put up some monster performances to close the season, especially in games against potential MVP candidates. Her 11-point output in the first meeting was her lowest of the season.

CHICAGO SKY VS. LOS ANGELES SPARKS (9/6)

With five starters in double digit scoring and the offense humming, Chicago is poised for a deep playoff run, but will want to sneak into the top four to avoid an extra elimination game. Before the hiccup against New York, Chicago was riding high on a four game win streak, including a quality victory over Las Vegas. The difficulty now will be closing out the season strong, and after losing to Seattle Saturday, they don’t have any more games they can spare.

Los Angeles had won nine straight before losing to Minnesota on Monday, and franchise cornerstone Candace Parker is still leading the way. Chicago won the first matchup, and it was not particularly close, but the Sparks have looked like a different team with Sydney Wiese and Brittney Sykes starting. They’re bona-fide championship contenders, especially when healthy. Anytime two of the best offenses in the league meet, there are guaranteed fireworks. And when playoff seeding is on the line, you should definitely expect a show.

 

SEATTLE STORM VS. MINNESOTA LYNX (9/6)

Surprising many people, Minnesota appears to be a high-end playoff team as the end of the regular season nears. After two straight seasons at 18-16, the Lynx are well above .500 this time and a position group of concern heading into the season — guard — now seems to be a strength. Behind Rookie of the Year candidate Crystal Dangerfield, Minnesota has been rotating its guards and finding what works. Now, getting Odyssey Sims back to join Shenise Johnson, Lexie Brown, and Rachel Banham, head coach Cherly Reeve has a lot of decisions to make.

After a 13-3 start, the only surprise as far as Seattle is concerned is a recent two-game skid. Both losses came with Sue Bird out due to injury, which shows her continued importance to the success of this team. The Storm have already avenged their loss to Indiana, and will have an opportunity to face the Aces next time they tip off. But this game against the Lynx, who have the only defense that rivals Seattle’s own, will tell a lot about where these two teams are at. Seattle is still the team to beat, but if Sylvia Fowles can make a healthy return, Minnesota is not far behind.