The WNBA’s regular season is hitting its stride.
by Clay Kallam
The Chicago Sky are not really a threat to win the WNBA championship—after all, they’re a game below .500 with five games left—but if they do find a way to make the Playoffs, it will mean much more than happy fans, happy players and a successful first season for Head Coach Pokey Chatman.
If Chicago makes the Playoffs, the Sky get at least one more home game, and it could be hoped that enough fans would turn out so that owner Michael Alter would make a few thousand dollars more. And for every additional Sky Playoff game, he would make a little more money and the team would get a little more local publicity.
Given Chicago’s lack of box-office success since its founding, these are not inconsequential events, and a Playoff run, however brief, would mean more to the Sky than to any other franchise in the league, and thus is more important to the league and the sport than any other team’s Playoff run.
Which means that Tuesday’s game in New Jersey just might be the most critical of the season, because without a win by Chicago over New York, the Sky’s Playoff hopes will shrink to near invisibility.
Here’s the deal: Chicago is 14-15 and New York is 16-13. The winner of Tuesday’s game will hold the tiebreaker, so a Chicago loss means that the Liberty must crash and burn the rest of the way for the Sky to get past them. (It’s possible, given New York’s tough schedule, but it’s also possible that Minnesota, Indiana and Connecticut, the Liberty’s last three opponents, will have nothing to play for in those games, and thus New York’s perceived disadvantage against teams with better records would very likely disappear.)
But even if Chicago wins (then 15-15) and New York loses (16-14), the Sky must find a way to beat Indiana at home (and the Fever will need to win to clinch home court advantage in the East) and then get two wins on the brutal season-ending Western swing of Minnesota, Los Angeles and Seattle, with L.A. playing for postseason advancement and Seattle for homecourt advantage.
Atlanta (15-13) might also appear to be in range, but the Dream have the tiebreaker over Chicago and a very friendly schedule: three games against bottomfeeders Washington (5-23) and Tulsa (3-25). If Atlanta wins those three games, and loses the other three, Chicago would have to go 5-0 to get into postseason.
The other excitement in the East is Connecticut’s pursuit of Indiana for the top spot, which is a lot less likely now that the Sun found a way to lose to Tulsa. Still, a Connecticut home win Friday could put some pressure on the Fever, who would then have to do more than just beat Washington and one other team to finish first.
The West is simpler, especially with Minnesota dominating (and where are the Cheryl Reeve haters now?). The Lynx need two wins in their last five to clinch home court throughout the playoffs, and since they start with Washington, it’s really only one—which should be no problem for the league’s best.
The battle for second between Seattle and Phoenix will turn on the Sept. 9 game between the two in Seattle, but the Mercury have two games against Tulsa and Seattle only one, so there’s a slight edge to Phoenix. In addition, the Mercury’s last game, should it matter, will be against a Minnesota team with nothing play for, while Seattle will be hosting a Chicago team that might desperately need the win.
But that fight is just for one more home game in postseason, while San Antonio and L.A. are playing for postseason. The Sparks’ inexcusable loss to Tulsa could be the killer, but if they beat San Antonio at home Sept. 6—and figure out a way to beat Tulsa after that—they have a decent chance.
Still, the Silverstars have both Tulsa and Washington, plus three other home games, so if they can find an interior presence (and Becky Hammon can make a shot), they have a significant edge for the fourth and final spot.
Unfortunately, of the four critical games remaining, only one will be on NBA TV (San Antonio at Los Angeles Sept. 6) so fans will have to settle for LiveAccess in order to watch the other three game—and it’s a shame. The caliber of play has never been higher in the league, and if the WNBA wants to promote itself, it needs to find a way to get these very intense games out to as wide an audience as possible.
And to get Chicago into the Playoffs.