The Chicago Sky have not locked into a playoff spot just yet
The Chicago Sky’s victory Tuesday night over the Atlanta Dream spelled euphoria for a team that had not been to the playoffs since 2016.
Chicago’s 87-83 win seemed to mark the final step for the Sky to secure their entrance into the playoffs. But a nightmare scenario could still sink the Sky’s hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since their Elena Delle Donne trade shook the league. According to a source familiar with the current tiebreaker scenarios: “Chicago has not yet clinched a playoff berth due to the possibility of multiple-team ties to which tie-breakers cannot yet be applied.”
So we set out to determine exactly what that possibility is. While the league has not confirmed it, this is our best estimate.
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The WNBA has a specific set of rules laid out in case more teams than available playoff spots end the season with the same record. In most cases, ties are between two teams and simply come down to their head-to-head record.
While teams like the Los Angeles Sparks, Seattle Storm, Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx could either end up with the tiebreaker or a better record than the Sky, they would still leave one playoff spot open, rendering that scenario null.
That leaves the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty or Dallas Wings as teams that could beat out Chicago for the remaining spot. If any of those three teams win out, then they would equal the Sky’s 16 wins, resulting in a tiebreaker. This, of course, assumes that Chicago completely tanks and loses every last game this season.
Chicago, however, has the head-to-head edge over each of those teams, meaning that the Sky would win any tiebreaker scenario that might come up. The Sky do not play the Fever or the Liberty again this season, and a loss to Dallas would not give the Wings the advantage.
The Sky could still find themselves in danger if they get caught with the same record as two other teams. In the case of a three-team tie, the best winning percentage in all head-to-head games between the three teams is used.
Since the Sky do not have any remaining games against the Fever or the Liberty, the Sky would still come out with the best cumulative record in a Fever-Liberty-Sky tie.
While the Sky could still drop a game to the Wings, they would still have a 5-1 cumulative record against New York and Dallas. Chicago would still advance in a Liberty-Sky-Wings tie.
The three-team tie that could doom Chicago’s playoff hopes is a Fever-Sky-Wings tie. While the Sky have the edge individually against both teams, a Dallas win would drop Chicago to a cumulative 4-2 record, tying them with Indiana.
That disaster scenario would send the Fever and Sky into the unheard of third tier of WNBA playoff tiebreakers, leaving Dallas behind as a simple pawn in Indiana’s postseason Hail Mary.
The third step for tie breakers comes down to which team has the best record against teams with a .500 record or above.
If the Fever win out, they would likely add six wins against teams meeting that criteria, in addition to a win earlier this season against the Minnesota Lynx, who may finish with a .500 or better record. In that scenario, Indiana would beat out Chicago by one win, meeting the tiebreaker criteria and grabbing a playoff spot.
Of course, all of this relies on some of the most bizarre scenarios the WNBA has never seen, and would go down as one of the closest playoff decisions in sports history. But still, the Chicago Sky are not out of the woods yet, however close they are to knocking on the door of the playoffs.
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