September 4, 2021 

Looking at Seattle’s possible paths through the WNBA playoffs

Analyzing the possible WNBA playoff seedings for the Seattle Storm and the ways they can get there

(Note: For the sake of simplicity, this article will treat head-to-head tiebreakers as half-game leads.)

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With two weeks left in the WNBA season, the Seattle Storm sit third in the overall standings, 2.5 games back of a double bye in the playoffs and 1.5 games up on the Phoenix Mercury for a single bye. But there are a range of scenarios for where they finish — and we’re going to look at all of them.

Before we delve too deeply into all the WNBA playoff details, a quick summary:

  • If the Storm win out, they’re guaranteed a bye.
  • If the Storm win out and the Minnesota Lynx lose any games, the Storm are locked into the three-seed. (Barring disaster in Las Vegas.)
  • If the Storm lose to the Mercury, they’re probably facing double elimination — and vice versa.
  • If the Mercury finish with at least two more wins than the Lynx over the next two weeks, chaos.

Now for the details:

Thanks to the Chicago Sky (14-14) losing on Thursday night, the Storm can finish no lower than fifth in the standings. Given that Seattle (19-10) sits three games back of the Connecticut Sun (21-6) and holds a 2-1 record against them, the top overall seed is technically in play.* That’s not going to happen, though. Trust me.

The Las Vegas Aces (20-7), currently in second, hold a 2.5-game lead over the Storm and have five games remaining. And all five will come against playoff teams — though two of those are against the Sky, who Las Vegas just beat.

With Seattle’s remaining games coming against the Washington Mystics (10-16), the Los Angeles Sparks (10-18) and Phoenix (16-10), it has an opportunity to challenge for a double bye. The Mystics, likely missing Elena Delle Donne, could be something of a wild card: Seattle put Washington away when the two played at full strength last month but lost to a Delle Donne-less Washington at home in June. The Sparks are what the Sparks have been all season — every final score looks like a cruel reincarnation of a 90’s playoff game — only now they’ve lost five straight and haven’t beaten a full-strength playoff team since August 2020. The Mercury have been on a tear, winning seven straight, though just one of those came against a team currently in playoff position.

If the Storm drop one of those games, they can only get a double bye if Las Vegas loses out. But if they win out, the Aces could win up to one game and Seattle would still overtake them.

If the Storm don’t win out, they’ve got the potential of Phoenix passing them to worry about.

The Mercury sit 1.5 games back of Seattle and next play three games against the league-worst Indiana Fever (6-19) and Atlanta Dream (6-20) before ending with a game apiece against the top three teams in the league.

If the Storm beat Phoenix in their season finale, they clinch a bye and finish above the Mercury in the standings. If they lose that game, things get dicey. If Seattle loses to Phoenix on Sep. 17, the Mercury move ahead if they have fewer losses than the Storm.

If Phoenix beats Seattle but loses more games over that span, it will end up behind the Storm.

Minnesota (17-9), which currently sits one game behind Seattle, is also a variable here. But with three games left against the Fever, two against the Mystics and one against the Aces, the Lynx are facing a relative cakewalk. If they lose more games than the Storm over the next two weeks, they finish behind Seattle. If they finish with the same or fewer losses, they jump Seattle, locking the Storm into an elimination game.

Are you dizzy yet?

To summarize, over the next two weeks:

  • Seattle jumps the Aces if it has at least two more wins than them
  • Seattle stays ahead of the Lynx if it has no more losses than them
  • Seattle stays ahead of the Mercury if it either wins their head-to-head or has fewer losses
  • Seattle cannot fall behind the Sky

We’ll take a look at the Storm’s prospective matchups through the playoffs later, as things continue to shake out.

*The Storm can end up with the top seed if:

  1. They win out, Connecticut and Las Vegas win no more than one more game each and Minnesota loses at least once; or
  2. They go 2-1, Connecticut and Las Vegas each lose out, Minnesota loses at least two more games and Phoenix either goes 5-1 with a loss to Seattle or loses at least two more games

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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