Fresh WNBA Power Rankings: Can NY Liberty Survive 6-Game Losing Streak?

Jackie Powell@@classicjpowContributor ISeptember 8, 2021

Fresh WNBA Power Rankings: Can NY Liberty Survive 6-Game Losing Streak?

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Editor's note: Welcome back to Bleacher Report's WNBA power rankings, where we will examine the standings and happenings on and off the court each week. We are going to change things up for the next couple of weeks. In addition to providing a ranking of all 12 WNBA teams, we will be examining where each team is in its respective postseason race. But what about the teams that are clearly out of the playoffs; how do they fit into all of this? Well, read more to find out.

    In the final two weeks of the WNBA regular season, multiple races have formed toward the top, middle and bottom of the league's standings. These final games mean something for every team, even if the postseason isn't in its future.

    At the top, injuries are both challenging and fueling the Aces and Lynx. Minnesota remains just behind a gassed Vegas squad.

    In the middle, the Mercury are still on a nine-game winning streak and trying to swipe the No. 4 seed from the defending champion Storm. That would guarantee home court and a first-round bye.

    But the most down-to-the-wire race features four teams fighting for the last two playoff spots.

    Can the injury-riddled but experienced Mystics and Sparks claw their way in? Or will the Wings and the Liberty—younger, but hungry—claim the last two spots?

    The WNBA is heading toward the finish line of the regular season without any stops. From here on out, games will be played almost every day to help decide the final playoff spots and positioning in the 2022 draft.

Lottery Watch

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    12. Indiana Fever (6-21) (No change)

    11. Atlanta Dream (7-20) (No change)

    The Fever and Dream both won a game last week. Indiana came back in the final three minutes to defeat L.A. at home, while Atlanta snapped its 11-game losing streak and finally won a game without Chennedy Carter. The Dream out-hustled the Dallas Wings on the road in their third and final head-to-head 69-64.

    The Dream aren't technically eliminated from playoff contention yet, but the Fever are out. Expect both to remain at the bottom of the WNBA standings unless the sky falls (not the team, of course). FiveThirtyEight predicts both teams will finish at the bottom of the standings.

    So what's next? Both teams won't be actively racing for the best draft odds. The WNBA is too small and competitive for intentional tanking, plus the draft lottery odds are based on the most recent two seasons' worth of cumulative records rather than just one.

    But that doesn't mean we can't talk about where those odds stand right now. As of now, the Fever have the lowest winning percentage in the past two years with a 12-37 overall record. The Liberty, who still have their 2-20 record from 2020 included, follow the Fever with a 13-38 record. The Dream sit three games behind the Liberty in the loss column with a 14-35 two-season cumulative record.

A Four-Team Race for Two Playoff Spots

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    Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

    10. LA Sparks (10-18) (No change) 

     9. Washington Mystics (10-18) (↓ 2 spots)

     8. New York Liberty (11-18) (↑ 1 spot) 

     7. Dallas Wings (12-17) (↑ 1 spot)

    The four teams chasing two playoff spots are separated by a game-and-a-half at most. This race is going to come down to which team can win the games it should.

    The Wings are holding down the No. 7 seed, a game up on the Liberty. Both teams have dealt with their own injuries, with Sami Whitcomb and Jazmine Jones battling ankle and foot issues in New York. In Dallas, Satou Sabally is still out with an Achilles injury, Isabelle Harrison is in the league health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19, and Moriah Jefferson missed the game Tuesday night with a hamstring issue. The Wings have played better than the Liberty recently, but New York has a 2-0 head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Dallas. Their matchup Saturday will be critical for both teams.

    The Liberty are still on a six-game losing skid but played better last week, competing with both the Lynx and the Storm until late in the fourth quarter. With three games left in their regular season, New York plays Dallas and Connecticut on the road, with its final game of the season at home against the Washington Mystics. To return to the playoffs for the first time in four years, it will be win or stay home.

    The even more injury-riddled Mystics and Sparks are hobbling to the finish line. Tina Charles returned in the Mystics' loss to the Lynx, but Myisha Hines-Allen has sat out for two straight games with a non-COVID illness, and Elena Delle Donne hasn't been available since Aug. 26. The Sparks announced Monday that Kristi Toliver will be out for two to three weeks with a fractured left pinky. Even if the Sparks can defeat both the Dream and Wings in the final week, the Mystics would have to win one game. The Liberty would need to lose all three of their remaining games for L.A. to advance. It's not impossible but also not likely. 

    Since Washington's loss to Seattle, FiveThirtyEight believes the Liberty have slightly higher playoff odds than the Mystics because of the number of games the Liberty have left in total. While both have two games left against sub-.500 teams, including one against each other, the Liberty have three games remaining while the Mystics have four.

    If the Liberty can beat at least the Mystics, and the Mystics win at most two of their remaining games, New York will advance with the tiebreaker over Washington.

Teams Eyeing a First-Round Bye

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    6. Chicago Sky (15-14) (↓ 1 spot)

    5. Phoenix Mercury (18-10) (↓ 1 spot)

    4. Seattle Storm (20-10) (↑ 2 spots)

    Chicago clinched a playoff berth with a convincing win against a banged-up Vegas team, but the only way the Sky can finish above the Mercury—who currently hold the No. 5 seed—is if they win their final three and the Mercury don't win another game this season. That's possible with Phoenix facing the Sun, Seattle and the Aces to end the season, but not probable unless something goes horribly wrong against the Dream. 

    After snapping a three-game losing streak against New York on Thursday, it's impossible for the Storm to fall behind the Sky. But the defending champs want more than that. They want at least one bye, if not two. 

    The Storm have an easier schedule than the Mercury and can secure that first-round bye and home court if they lose fewer games than Phoenix. The two teams are currently tied in the loss column with 10 defeats each.

    While the Storm dominated the Mystics 105-71 on Tuesday night, finishing above the No. 4 seed appears highly doubtful for the Storm. They'll have to not only get past the struggling Aces but also find a way to move past the Lynx, who play three of their final five games against the Indiana Fever.

The Coveted Double-Bye Race

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    3. Las Vegas Aces (20-8) (↓ 1 spot)

    2. Minnesota Lynx (18-9) (↑ 1 spot)

    1. Connecticut Sun (22-6) (No change)

    The Las Vegas Aces have struggled without Liz Cambage—who tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently in league health and safety protocols—and Dearica Hamby, who sprained her ankle and has been out since Aug. 26. With Kiah Stokes starting, the Aces have struggled to manufacture looks in the paint, their bread and butter.

    The Lynx have won five in a row despite being without point guard Layshia Clarendon and Damiris Dantas, who is out for the rest of the season with a Lisfranc injury. Without two key players this past week, the Lynx grinded it out against a gritty New York team, took advantage of the dysfunctional Sparks offense and overpowered the banged-up Mystics, who could only play Tina Charles for limited minutes.

    Vegas and Minnesota will battle for the No. 2 seed Wednesday night as the Lynx currently hold the tiebreaker, sitting 1.5 games behind the Aces. After beating the Wings 83-56 on Tuesday night, the red-hot Sun play three of their four remaining games against teams that are below .500. Unless there's an upset and the Lynx continue rolling, there isn't much that could take Connecticut away from one of the coveted double byes.

Must-See Matchups Coming Up

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Minnesota Lynx at Las Vegas Aces, 9 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPN2

    New York Liberty at Dallas Wings, 8 p.m. ET Saturday on League Pass

    Connecticut Sun at Phoenix Mercury, 10 p.m. ET Saturday on League Pass

    A scheduling change was announced this past week, moving the Lynx-Aces game to prime time Wednesday. The streaking Lynx sit a game-and-a-half behind the Aces for the coveted No. 2 seed. Minnesota owns the tiebreaker—they've beaten the Aces twice, once on the road and at home.

    The two games Saturday could mean the ending or continuation of two of the longest streaks in the league. The Liberty have lost six consecutive games, and the Mercury have won nine in a row. Their two matchups against the Wings and the Sun will determine: 1) Which young team wants the postseason more. Dallas is currently a game up on New York, and if the Liberty win Saturday, the teams could be tied. If New York wins Saturday, the teams could be tied. The Liberty currently hold a 2-0 tiebreaker over the Wings. And 2) Are the Mercury for real? During its win streak, Phoenix has defeated only one team (Chicago Sky) with a record over .500.

W25 Announced and Vote for the GOAT Is Full Speed Ahead

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    Lisa Leslie was among the league's Top 25 players of all-time list, revealed last week. Fans will decide her place in the Top 25, to be revealed during this year's WNBA Finals.
    Lisa Leslie was among the league's Top 25 players of all-time list, revealed last week. Fans will decide her place in the Top 25, to be revealed during this year's WNBA Finals.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    On Sunday during halftime of Aces vs. Sky, the broadcast announced the W25, a list that honors the league's best and most influential players in its first 25 years. Our own Ari Chambers of HighlightHER listed the full 25 players, separating them into two groups, including 10 current players and 15 retired or inactive players.

    There was a specific set of requirements that allowed players to be able to qualify for the honor, and nominees had to fulfill four of the seven criteria, which included:

    • Winning a major individual award (MVP, DPOY, MIP, ROY, Sixth Player of the Year, etc.)

    • Selection to either the All-WNBA first team or All-WNBA second team

    • Selection to the WNBA All-Defensive first team or the WNBA All-Defensive second team

    • WNBA All-Star selection

    • WNBA championship

    • Ranking within the top 40 career leaders in a major stat category (points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks)

    • Receiving the WNBA's season-long Community Assist Award

    The W25 was voted on by media members, women's basketball pioneers and longtime advocates of the game. While the general consensus was positive around the players who were selected, there were some in the WNBA Twitter-sphere who had other ideas.

    Some players of note who were missing from the W25 included three-time WNBA champion Deanna Nolan and New York Liberty icon Teresa Weatherspoon. #WNBATwitter clamored that players who didn't meet the criteria such as Vickie Johnson, Candice Dupree and Dawn Staley deserved consideration. 

    But there was one player in particular who many agreed should never have been left off the W25 in the first place. Five-time WNBA champion and current Lynx assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson was left off the list, while her teammates from her Lynx championship teams (Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen) made the cut. Her former teammate Devereaux Peters took to Twitter to share some stories about playing with Brunson.

    Now all of those players named to the W25 will be entered in for the fan vote to decide who is the greatest player of all time (GOAT). Fans can vote here on or by tweeting the player's name along with the #WNBAGoatVote. Retweets do count as one vote as well. Voting continues until 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 19, and the results will be revealed during the 2021 WNBA Finals.