There’s more on the line than a No. 1 seed for the Sky in Sunday’s season finale against the Mercury
To regain the No. 1 seed, the Sky need a victory Sunday against the Mercury and a loss by the Aces to the Storm on the final day of the WNBA regular season. If the Sky lose, they would still need an Aces loss but also a Sun victory over the Lynx to reclaim the top spot.
PHOENIX — Sky general manager/coach James Wade and his players hadn’t been on the court at the Footprint Center since the WNBA Finals last season between the Sky and the Mercury.
Returning to the place where the Sky started the series that resulted in their first WNBA title evoked some thoughts from Wade, mostly about where his team is now.
‘‘We didn’t realize it until we got on the court [for practice],’’ Wade said. ‘‘Me and [assistant coach] Emre [Vatansever] shared a moment. I guess I didn’t realize it because we didn’t win the series here.’’
It was a nice reminder of what took place last season, but Wade said the Sky’s focus is on what they need to do right now. Ideally, that means reclaiming the No. 1 seed in the WNBA standings. The Sky’s 89-78 loss Thursday to the Aces in Las Vegas dropped them out of the top spot — and the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs that comes with it.
To regain the No. 1 seed, the Sky need a victory Sunday against the Mercury and a loss by the Aces to the Storm on the final day of the WNBA regular season. If the Sky lose, they would still need an Aces loss, but would also need a Sun win over the Lynx to reclaim the top spot.
They also have a chance to secure a lottery pick in the WNBA Draft next spring if the Mercury don’t make the eight-team playoffs. The Sky have the Mercury’s first-round pick in the 2023 draft by virtue of a three-team trade in February in which Wade sent restricted free agent Diamond DeShields to the Mercury and received Julie Allemand from the Fever.
No one could have predicted the season the Mercury would have in 2022. Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained on drug charges in Russia for nearly six months, and Tina Charles, who was supposed to help them return to the Finals, instead parted ways with them and signed with the Storm in June.
The Mercury’s on-court drama has played out all season and culminates in their game against the Sky, who can help eliminate them from the playoff chase and secure the aforementioned lottery pick.
The easiest way for the Mercury to earn a spot in the playoffs is to beat the Sky. If they lose, they need the Lynx to lose to the Sun and the Dream to lose to the Liberty to reach the postseason.
If the Mercury are eliminated from the playoff race, they will fall into the lottery, which gives the four teams who missed the postseason a chance of drawing the first pick based on the teams’ cumulative record in the last two seasons.
The Fever are the most likely team to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, with a cumulative record of 11-56 in the last two seasons entering their season finale Sunday against the Mystics.
Meanwhile, Wade has the Sky in position to secure the No. 1 playoff seed for the first time in franchise history and perhaps open the door to landing South Carolina star Aliyah Boston with the first overall pick of the 2023 draft.