WNBA Playoffs: Seeding and tiebreaker scenarios for every team still in the hunt

With one weekend of regular season basketball left, the WNBA Playoff picture is still far from complete. Starting Friday night, every team will play at least one more game, and most of them have postseason implications.

With so much congestion in the standings and an atypical playoff format, what exactly these games mean could be a bit confusing.

Fear not, we are here to help. Here’s everything we know and everything that can still happen to set up the 2017 WNBA Playoff picture:

Who is actually going to the playoffs?

Good question. Eight of the league’s 12 teams will qualify, and we already know who seven of those teams are.

The Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks, Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Washington Mystics, Phoenix Mercury, and Dallas Wings are all definitely in.

Making this weekend all the more exciting, only two teams have been officially eliminated.

The Indiana Fever and San Antonio Stars are both definitely out.

That leaves three teams battling for one spot.

The Seattle Storm, Chicago Sky, and Atlanta Dream are all fighting for their playoff lives this weekend.

Cool, so what do we know about seeding?

Surprisingly, no team has locked up their seed just yet. We do, however, know a few things:

  • Either the Lynx or Sparks will be the 1 seed. The other will be the 2 seed.
  • Either the Sun or Liberty will be the 3 seed. The other will be the 4 seed.
  • The Sky and Dream can only qualify as the 8 seed.
  • The Storm can be seeded 7 or 8.
  • The Wings can be seeded anywhere from 5 to 8.
  • The Mystics can be seeded anywhere from 5 to 7.
  • The Mercury can be seeded 5 or 6.

How can teams clinch a spot?

That’s what we’re really going to be looking at, right? Who’s in and who’s out? Here’s how the three teams who have yet to clinch can do so:

The Storm can clinch if… they win at least one of their two remaining games (at Washington, at Chicago) OR if the Dream and Sky both lose one of their remaining two games. If the Storm finish tied with either of those two teams, the other team will own the tiebreaker (a tie with Chicago would require the Storm lose to the Sky on Sunday, giving the Sky the edge in the season series).

The Sky can clinch if... the Storm drop both of their remaining games, including their matchup vs. the Sky AND the Sky win at Minnesota Friday. In this scenario, the worst-case scenario would be a tie with the Dream, but the Sky own the tiebreaker by beating Atlanta three out of four times.

The Dream can clinch if… the Storm drop both of their remaining games, the Dream win both of theirs, and the Lynx beat the Sky on Friday. In this scenario, the Sky would defeat the Storm (a Storm win puts them in the playoffs and renders the discussion moot). If the Sky also beat the Lynx, the best Atlanta could do is tie them, and Chicago owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta.

How can teams clinch their seeds?

Lynx: The Lynx are the 1 seed if they win their final two games OR if both them and the Sparks split OR if both them and the Sparks go 0-2. The Lynx currently have a one-game lead on the Sparks, but Los Angeles owns the tiebreaker.

Sparks: See above. If they finish ahead of or tied with the Lynx, they are the top seed. If not, they are the 2 seed.

Sun: The Sun are the 3 seed if they win their final two games OR if both them and the Liberty split OR if both them and the Liberty go 0-2. The Sun and Liberty split their season series, so after that, things get wacky. See the section below this one.

Liberty: See above. If they finish ahead of the Sun, they are the 3 seed. If they finish behind the Sun, they are the 4 seed. If they finish tied, buckle up.

Mystics: The Mystics are the 5 seed if they win their final two games OR if they split and the Mercury split OR if they lose both, the Mercury lose both and the Wings lose their final game. If the Mystics finish tied with or behind the Mercury, they are the 6 seed. If they finished tied or behind the Mercury AND tied with the Wings, they are the 7 seed. Both the Wings and Mercury own tiebreakers over the Mystics.

Mercury: The Mercury are the 5 seed if they finish tied or ahead of the Mystics. If they do this, they would also be, at worst, tied with the Wings. The Mercury own the tiebreaker over the Wings. The Mercury are the 6 seed if the Mystics are the 5 seed.

Wings: The Wings are the 5 seed if they defeat the Liberty AND both the Mystics and Mercury lose their final two games. The Wings are the 6 seed if they beat the Liberty AND the Mercury lose their final two games. The Wings are the 7 seed if they lose to the Liberty AND the Storm do not win their last two games. The Wings are the 8 seed if they lose to the Liberty AND the Storm win their last two games.

Storm (if they qualify): The Storm are the 7 seed if they win their final two games AND the Wings lose to the Liberty. The Storm are the 8 seed if they finish behind the Wings AND tied with or behind the Mercury.

The Sky and Dream can only qualify as the 8 seed.

OK, let’s talk about that crazy Liberty-Sun tiebreaker

Ugh, do we have to? OK, fine. Here we go.

The first tiebreaker is always head-to-head, but the Liberty and Sun split 2-2, so that’s useless.

Then, we move on to record in games against teams .500 or above. Before we get into that, you should know that beyond this step, it goes to point differential in head-to-head matchups. The Liberty outscored the Sun 343-340 in their four games, so if the teams remain tied after this step, the Liberty win the tiebreaker.

So let’s get into record vs. teams .500 or above.

As of today, those teams are the Lynx, Sparks, Sun, Liberty, Mystics, and Mercury.

The Liberty own an 8-8 record against those teams.

The Sun own a 7-7 record against those teams, but their final two are against the Sparks and Mercury. If only the teams listed above finish .500 or better, the Sun will need to sweep their final two games to earn the tiebreaker over the Liberty. They would then be 9-7.

What happens if the Wings defeat the Liberty to finish at .500 and New York is tied with Connecticut?

If everything else stays the same and this happens, then the Liberty are 10-9 against teams .500 or better. The Sun would enter the weekend 9-8. Two wins would give the Sun the tiebreaker, while one or two losses would hand it to the Liberty.

What if the Wings defeat the Liberty and the Mercury finish below .500?

In this scenario, the Liberty own the tiebreaker regardless. Even if the Sun defeat the Sparks, they would only be 8-8 against teams at or above .500, which could only match the Liberty. As mentioned above, the Liberty own the tiebreaker beyond that.

Confused? Me too. Head spinning? Yup.

Sit back and enjoy the games. Everything will sort itself out.

I need a nap.