With eight regular-season contests remaining over the final three weeks, only five games separate the top eight teams currently in playoff position. The Storm (19-7), which has a 2½-game lead for first place in the standings, begins the mad dash to the finish line 7 pm. Tuesday at Phoenix (15-11).
Buckle up buttercup, because it’s going to be a mad dash to the WNBA finish line.
Following an entertaining All-Star Game in Minneapolis that drew nearly 16,000 to the Target Center, the WNBA returns to action Tuesday to conclude one of the most competitive seasons in years.
With eight regular-season contests remaining over the final three weeks, only five games separate the top eight teams currently in playoff position.
Furthermore, 11 of the league’s 12 teams are still in the hunt for one of the eight postseason seeds.
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The Storm (19-7) has a 2½-game lead for first place in the standings over Atlanta (16-9), which has won eight straight and posted a 9-1 record in the past 10 games.
Defending WNBA champion Minnesota (15-10) has seemingly recovered from a wobbly 3-6 start, when it fell to eighth in standings. The Lynx have climbed to third place while riding a three-game winning streak.
Los Angeles, the 2016 league champion and 2017 runner-up, is tied with Phoenix at 15-11. Dallas and Washington are locked at 14-11 while Connecticut (14-12) currently holds the No. 8 playoff seed.
Las Vegas (12-13) is 1½ games out of the final postseason spot followed by Chicago (9-17) and New York (7-18). Indiana (3-23) is eliminated from playoff contention.
“There will be a lot of games that will have a playoff feel,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “This team is learning from those experiences, win or lose.
“We’re collecting data and understanding ourselves in those situations. For this team, it’s a good learning process. … Win or lose, we need to play in those games and have the experience of learning what we did well or hopefully not too many situations what we didn’t.”
For the Storm, the race to the finish begins 7 p.m. Tuesday at Phoenix, which caps a stretch of five consecutive road games. Seattle plays just three home games among its final eight contests.
“We want to maintain our momentum and keep building on what we’ve done all season so far,” guard Jewell Loyd said after the All-Star Game. “It’s tough. Everyone here (at All-Star Weekend) came in from a long road trip or is about to go on a long road trip.
“Body-wise, that’s a tough thing. But it’s the same for everybody and it’s our job to finish as best we can. It’s also going to come down to who is able to rest more.”
The WNBA playoffs begin Aug. 21, and the top two seeds receive a bye to the third round (semifinals).
“You have to treat every game like it’s a playoff game,” guard Sue Bird said. “For us, that means not relaxing, not being complacent.
“Yes, we had a good first part of the season, but that doesn’t mean anything. You have to peak in the playoffs. I know that’s the message that I’m going to be sending in our locker room. Just don’t relax because it’s going to be crazy competitive.”
Aside from the playoff jockeying, the league’s MVP race and scoring title will be decided in the final weeks.
Storm forward Breanna Stewart leads the WNBA with a 22.8 points per game average while Dallas center Liz Cambage, who scored a league-record 53 points in a game last week, is second at 22.1.
Aside from the front-runners, Washington forward Elena Delle Donne (20.5 ppg.) and Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi (20.3) are in contention for the MVP and scoring titles.
“The only thing that I’m focused on is winning these games,” Stewart said weeks ago. “Winning a scoring title is nice, but so what. Winning a MVP (trophy) is nice, but that’s not what you play for, at least I don’t.
“We’ve done a good job up until this point of getting as many wins as possible because we haven’t focused on anything other than what’s in front of us — the next game. And really, that’s all that matters.”