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All 4 remaining WNBA teams’ playoff chances, ranked

The WNBA playoffs will be wildly competitive. Here is a case for each team to win it all.

Connecticut Sun v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The WNBA played one of its most competitive season ever in 2018. The proof: the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx, the past two champions who most expected to square off in a Finals trilogy when the season started, played each other in a single-elimination first-round game.

Fans of the ‘W’ couldn’t have seen the teams with far and way the biggest star power falling victim to the league’s youth so soon. This season was an overall shock and a billboard for one of the league’s biggest strengths: parity.

As the Lynx and Sparks looked vulnerable, other stars emerged. Breanna Stewart came into her own as a true superstar for the top-seeded Seattle Storm, 6’8 Liz Cambage returned to the Dallas Wings as one of the most dominant scorers ever, Tiffany Hayes broke out as the Atlanta Dream’s bucket-getter, and the Washington Mystics found the right pieces to complement star forward Elena Delle Donne.

All eight teams had realistic paths to the Finals, though now just six remain. The WNBA’s new playoff system, which begins the tournament with two rounds of win-or-go-home games, is a big reason why.

Two years ago, the WNBA announced a number of changes to its postseason format, most notably that the top eight teams regardless of conference would qualify. But the league also introduced single-elimination rounds — both the first and second rounds of the playoffs are played in a win-or-go-home format (No. 5 vs. No. 8, No. 6 vs. No 7. in Round 1, No. 3 vs. the lowest-seeded winner and No. 4 vs. the highest-seeded winner in Round 2.) The top two seeds — this year, the Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream — receive double-byes and begin their best-of-five series against the two single-elimination winners on Sunday.

A wide-open league combined with a wide-open playoff system is sure to produce chaos. Anyone truly can win. Here’s the case for each team to do it, ranked from least to most likely to pull it off:

8. Dallas Wings (ELIMINATED)

RECORD: 15-19, No. 8 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Liz Cambage (23 PPG), Skyler Diggins-Smith (17.9 PPG)

The Wings are clearly the weakest of the eight teams in the playoffs, having barely escaped a nine-game losing streak to qualify for postseason play. But Cambage’s dominant 43-point, playoff-clinching performance on Friday showed exactly why this team is so dangerous — especially in a single-elimination game.

Cambage is the most potent scorer in the league, and she’s perfectly paired with one of the game’s most willing and accurate passers, Skylar Diggins-Smith for the ultimate one-two punch. How can teams stop a 6’8 big who can work the post and drain shots from distance, especially when one of the quickest guards in the league is around to set her up?

The question is if their supporting talent is enough to match up with the deathpool that lies ahead. Dallas’ tumultuous end to the season suggests it won’t, but stranger things have happened.

7. Minnesota Lynx (ELIMINATED)

RECORD: 18-16, No. 7 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Maya Moore (18 PPG), Sylvia Fowles (17.7 PPG)

It’s wild to say the winner of four of the last seven titles has the second-worst odds to win again, but that’s how this year has gone for Minnesota. The Lynx finished just 18-16 and limped into the playoffs, their worst record since Cheryl Reeve’s first year as coach in 2010.

No matter what, this will be the end of the franchise as we know it. Lindsay Whalen is set to retire, and there’s a chance Rebekkah Brunson follows.

But it’s so hard to count this team out despite the evidence of the last few months. Who on Earth will deny Maya Moore a chance at winning anything?

The Lynx might not have all five players at their best, or a healthy Sixth Woman in Danielle Robinson, but they still have Moore and reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles, two of the best to ever do it on the floor at once, and the legendary Reeve coaching them.

If the Lynx catch fire in the postseason, will anyone be that surprised?

4. Connecticut Sun (ELIMINATED)

RECORD: 21-13, No. 4 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Chiney Ogwumike (14.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG), Jonquel Jones (11.8 PPG)

Connecticut doesn’t have one superstar, but it does have a fleet of co-contributors that’s proven to be enough all season long. If 6’6 Jonquel Jones plays inside-out, Chiney Ogwumike holds down the middle, and Courtney Williams, Alyssa Thomas, and Jasmine Thomas contribute on the perimeter, best of luck to any team without ample depth.

The Sun has the second-best offense in the ‘W’, as they play with a quick pace and have reliable shooters everywhere. Next to Seattle, Connecticut might have the most complete playoff roster top-to-bottom.

3. Los Angeles Sparks (ELIMINATED)

RECORD: 19-15, No. 6 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Candace Parker (17.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 4.9 APG), Nneka Ogwumike (15.5 PPG), Chelsea Gray (14.9 PPG)

The Sparks’ No. 6 seed won’t reflect it, but they’re still one of, if not the best team in the league. Injuries hurt: 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike missed six games this season (they went 2-4 in her absence), and Candace Parker missed three. But the team that won it all two seasons ago and nearly won last year is all healthy now.

Parker and Ogwumike were worthy all-stars, and Chelsea Gray has turned the team’s core into a Big 3. Jantel Lavender, Essence Carson, and Alana Beard fill in key roles, and this deep team is led by a real pro on the bench in Brian Agler. Nobody should be surprised if they took another trip to the Finals.

4. Atlanta Dream

RECORD: 23-11, No. 2 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tiffany Hayes (17.2 PPG), Elizabeth Williams (9.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG)

The Dream were the league’s biggest surprise of the season, finishing with the second-best record despite having the ninth-best odds to win the title in preseason. Atlanta’s roster has talent, but on paper, it didn’t have the look of a top-two team. That is why new coach Nicki Collen will win Coach of the Year.

I wonder if there’s enough to win come playoff time though, especially considering four of the wins came by one possession or less. The Dream’s No. 2 seed wasn’t won by pure dominance. They also won’t have five-time All-Star guard Angel McCoughtry, who tore her ACL on Aug. 9.

The case for Atlanta to prevail anyway begins with Tiffany Hayes, who had a breakout year and threw her name into the mix among the best scorers in the league. She’ll be the reason the Dream reach the Finals or the reason they fall short due to McCoughtry’s injury.

With Hayes, Renee Montgomery, Elizabeth Williams, and the emergence of shot-swatter Jessica Breland, Atlanta still won four of its final five games without McCoughtry. Even now, this team can cook anyone at any minute.

3. Phoenix Mercury

RECORD: 20-14, No. 5 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Diana Taurasi (20.7 PPG, 5.3 APG), Brittany Griner (20.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG), DeWanna Bonner (17.3 PPG)

Diana Taurasi’s Mercury team is finally at full strength. DeWanna Bonner, who missed last season after the birth of her twins, is back and in all-star mode alongside Brittney Griner and new acquisition Briann January. The team’s been shaky as the season’s worn down, but with a legend at point, a transcendent center, and versatile co-stars surrounding them, Phoenix will be a tough out.

They’ve won two single-elimination games to give themselves a chance, and that’s never been a problem historically. They did it in each of the last two years, and Taurasi has never lost a win-or-go-home playoff game in her career. This year has been no different.

2. Washington Mystics

RECORD: 22-11, No. 3 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Elena Delle Donne (20.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG), Kristi Tolliver (13.9 PPG)

Nobody could’ve predicted the Mystics to go on this type of late-season run without all-star Emma Meesseman, who didn’t play this season to prepare for the FIBA World Cup. Washington won eight of its last nine games of the season, a stretch that included dramatic game-winners from Kristi Tolliver in Dallas and Natasha Cloud against the Sparks.

But LaToya Sanders has filled Meesseman’s role perfectly, Elena Delle Donne has been her superstar self, Toliver’s raining threes per usual, and Cloud could be this year’s most improved player.

If Delle Donne and Toliver get it going from three and Sanders is down low cleaning up their misses, this team is tough to compete against.

There’ just one team playing at a higher level right now.

1. Seattle Storm

RECORD: 26-8, No. 1 seed
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Breanna Stewart (21.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG), Sue Bird (10.1 PPG, 7.1 APG)

After back-to-back No. 1 picks in 2015 and 2016, the Storm were going to rise sooner or later. Luckily for us, it’s arrived while WNBA legend Sue Bird is still at the top of her game.

Jewell Loyd’s been a knockdown shooter, and Breanna Stewart may be this season’s MVP. Their biggest free agent pickup, Natasha Howard, has made a major contribution, even making this team a Big 4.

The Storm are having one of the most efficient offensive seasons in league history, as their ability to space the floor makes them one of the toughest to guard in the league. They’ll will go down as one of the best three-point shooting teams ever, not only for being the most willing to fire, but for their accuracy (37.6 percent).

The team’s ability to play five-out, around possibly the greatest point guard to ever live and heat up with two of the best scorers in the league makes them the favorite to win it all.