With the New York Liberty’s 97-86 loss to the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture became a little clearer, but there is still much to be settled. Actually, there’s a lot to be settled.
Here are some possible scenarios for each of the conference’s six teams, though there are many that can still happen:
(1) Detroit Shock (23-6, 1st in East; clinched a playoff spot):
Up 4 ½ games on the second-place Indiana Fever with five games to play, the Shock can sew up the top seed in the East Saturday with a win over the Fever. The defending champs have won five straight and clearly stand as the favorite in the East, and perhaps the WNBA, to take home the title.
(2) Indiana Fever (19-11, 2nd in East; clinched a playoff spot; 4.5 games back of first):
The Fever have won three of four without Tamika Catchings (the only loss coming to Connecticut) and are still in striking range of first place. They’ll need to beat Detroit Saturday – and again in the season finale on Aug. 19 – and hope the Shock lose out. It’s an unlikely scenario, but if the Fever can pull it off and return Catchings from injury, they’ll have all the momentum one could wish for entering the playoffs.
They still haven’t secured the second spot, though. Even if they beat the Sun on Wednesday, they still don’t own the season series against Connecticut. If they can win three out of their last four, though, they’ll clinch it, even if the Sun win out.
(3) Connecticut Sun (16-13, 3rd in East; 7.0 games back)
With a win tonight, the Sun will take another step toward a playoff berth, though it won’t officially clinch it. A victory will put Chicago out of range of catching them, but the Sun still have to worry about New York. At 12-17, the Liberty can win out and if the Sun, after beating Chicago, lose out, they’ll both own a 17-17 record and a 2-2 record against each other.
It then goes to the next tiebreaker, which is record within the conference. Holding true to our scenario, the Sun would own a 9-11 mark and New York would be at 11-9, meaning New York would have the final spot.
That, of course, is only one scenario – and an extreme one – and it doesn’t include Washington and its playoff possibilities. But if the Sun win Saturday and again in Washington on Tuesday, then everything surrounding the Sun would be mute – they would be in the playoffs. Their seeding however will still be up in the air.
(4) Washington Mystics (14-15, 4th in East; 9.0 games back)
Washington is playing great with four straight wins and with two games between it and New York, it looks in great position to clinch a spot. But the Mystics need to keep on winning. They still have two games against Connecticut (Tuesday and the season finale on Sunday, Aug. 19), meaning they still have a chance of catching the Sun for third.
They don’t have it easy though. They play at Seattle on Saturday and at Sacramento on Sunday. They also trail New York, 2-1, in the teams’ season series, so winning next Thursday at home against the Liberty will be a big step toward earning a postseason berth. Essentially, the worse they can finish at is 14-20 – which could put them in last – and the best they can finish is 19-15, which could be good for third.
(5) New York Liberty (12-17, 5th in East; 11.0 games back)
The Liberty don’t have to win out to make the playoffs, but it’s getting to that point. They’re down 2-1 to the Sun, 2-1 to Washington and tied 1-1 with Chicago in all their season series, so a lot still has to be figured out before we get into all the tiebreakers and such.
At this point, it might be a little too early to say exactly what they need to.
(6) Chicago Sky (12-18, 6th in East; 11.5 games back)
If the Sky lose to the Sun Saturday, they’ll be out of the running for the third playoff spot but they’ll still have a chance at the fourth. And if they win, well ... that changes everything.
Check back here Sunday for an updated look at who’s in and who’s out.