The WNBA changed its playoff format to where the top eight overall teams will advance. Seattle (9-15) is tied with Washington for the eighth and final spot and has 10 games remaining.
After a media blitz in which Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart showed nearly every Seattle news outlet their gold medals from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the players were briefed on a different reality — the WNBA playoffs.
The Olympians rejoined the Storm this week, practicing for the first time Thursday. Coach Jenny Boucek and her staff sat the team down Wednesday to break down all the scenarios in the Storm’s possible playoff picture.
“It’s so they have an idea of how hard this is going to be,” Boucek said.
The WNBA changed its playoff format to where the top eight overall teams will advance. Seattle (9-15) is tied with Washington for the eighth and final spot and has 10 games remaining — four at home.
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Seattle resumes play Friday against league-leading Los Angeles (21-3) at KeyArena.
The Sparks and Minnesota (21-4) clinched berths before the WNBA’s monthlong hiatus for the Olympics. New York (18-8) is a comfortable No. 3 seed while 4½ games separate fourth-placed Atlanta (13-12) from Connecticut (8-16), which is 11th in the league standings.
“My gut says it’s going to be tough, but my gut says that we can do it,” Bird said. “The one thing Jenny really highlighted was every team we play against is somebody jockeying for a spot. But it’s fun. That’s why you play.”
Playing for titles is commonplace for Bird and Stewart. Bird, 35, collected her fourth Olympic gold medal in Rio. Stewart won an NCAA title and Olympic gold medal in the span of five months.
“It’s Olympic gold, so it’s quite a bit different from anything else I’ve ever done,” said Stewart, who won four consecutive NCAA titles with the University of Connecticut. “Everything I’ve done has a special place and they can’t really compare to one another, but Olympic gold is at the top.”
Stewart also is the leading candidate for the WNBA Rookie of the Year award. The 6-foot-4 forward is a key piece in the Storm’s playoff chances. She leads her team in scoring (19.2 points a game), rebounding (9.3) and minutes played (35.2).
Boucek wouldn’t reveal her starting lineup for Friday, but said molding the Olympians back into the rotation wasn’t seamless. While Stewart, Bird and Japanese forward Ramu Tokashiki competed in the Games, the rest of the team had two weeks off and spent the remaining time in individual development, conditioning and practices.
“I have to erase all of the plays I just ran for the past month and incorporate these ones, but I had to do that when I joined the national team,” Bird said of her transition back to WNBA play. “And in this scenario, we’re underdogs. Every team we play, we’re not supposed to win, so it’s a completely different mindset.”