WNBA playoff picture is coming into focus

If the season ended today, the Sky would play the Dallas Wings with a semifinal series against the Seattle Storm or Washington Mystics on deck.

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AP

The WNBA playoff picture is coming into focus, and the Sky’s road to consecutive titles appears daunting. 

No WNBA team has won back-to-back titles since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks, so history isn’t on their side.

Single-elimination games and byes have been jettisoned in the new postseason format.

The new seeding format pits No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. 

The postseason begins with a best-of-three series, with the higher seed hosting the first two games. The winning teams advance to best-of-five semifinals, then to the eventual WNBA Finals. 

If the season ended today, the Sky would play the Dallas Wings with a semifinal series against the Seattle Storm or Washington Mystics on deck. The Connecticut Sun clinched their playoff berth Thursday night after beating the Storm 88-83. The race for the final three spots in the playoffs will be tight as only the Indiana Fever have been eliminated from contention.

The scrapping of single-elimination games could be perceived as an advantage for top teams because there’s less opportunity for Cinderella upsets. The Sky have taken some pride in contributing to the shift in format after winning two single-elimination games last year en route to their semifinal series against the Sun. 

And while the new format caters to the favorites, it doesn’t erase the challenge that awaits the Sky as the regular season concludes.

Of their eight remaining games, five are against top-five teams. 

After the Sky’s 93-83 loss to the Las Vegas Aces for the Commissioner’s Cup on Tuesday, coach/general manager James Wade said he doesn’t care whom his team has to play. 

“They have to play us,” Wade said Tuesday. 

Regardless, the tough schedule could be beneficial for the Sky. Despite having the best record in the league, they admittedly have several areas in need of improvement. 

The loss to the Aces underscored a few, beginning with their in-game adjustments. Through a long stretch in June, the Sky led the league in fourth-quarter points.

Now they’re tied for third with the Aces and Phoenix Mercury, averaging 20.9 points. The come-from-behind mentality isn’t always benign, especially if it leads to a lack of urgency, as seen in their last two matchups against the Aces. 

“We’ve had some slow starts against this team and had to claw our way out,” Candace Parker said Tuesday.

“It’s more so about not facing adversity. I think we’re built for [adversity]. But it’s not getting ourselves into it.”

The benefit of series play is teams get an opportunity to adjust. It would behoove the Sky to hone that aspect of their game before the postseason begins.

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