The WNBA teams are ready for the sprint to the finish with a month left in the regular season.
With most teams having about a dozen games left and 11 of the 12 franchises in the playoff hunt it should be an exciting final five weeks.
Only three games separate the top five teams — Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, Connecticut and Washington. Unlike the previous five years where finishing first or second earned a bye to the semifinals of the playoffs, the WNBA changed its postseason format this season to a more traditional bracket.
Still, having a top four seed means hosting the first two games of the best-of-three opening round and potentially not having to play a road game to advance.
Chicago, which leads the AP WNBA power poll again this week, has been the hottest team in the league, winning eight of its last 10 games. That stretch helped the Sky secure homecourt in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game on July 26 against Las Vegas.
The Aces struggled heading into the All-Star break, dropping five of their last seven games. Las Vegas begins its stretch run with a three-game road trip starting in New York.
Seattle, Connecticut and Washington all loom on the heels of the top two teams.
This week’s WNBA poll:
1. Chicago (16-6): The Sky had a busy weekend hosting the All-Star Game with half of their players involved in the festivities. They play three games this week, including two on the road.
2. Las Vegas (15-7): The Aces tip off the stretch run with three road games this week without much of a break after four of Las Vegas’ starters played in the All-Star Game.
3. Seattle (15-8): The Storm host Dallas and Indiana this week and look to maintain the momentum they had before the All-Star break. Seattle has won seven of its last 10 games.
4(tie). Connecticut (14-8): Consistency is what the Sun are looking for as they have struggled to put together a winning streak since winning four straight to start June.
4(tie). Washington (14-10): The Mystics are 11-4 when Elena Delle Donne plays and 3-6 without her. Washington will play on both sides of the country this week with games in Los Angeles, Phoenix and then at home against Minnesota on Sunday.
6(tie). Los Angeles (10-12): The Sparks have been playing well lately behind the strong play of Nneka Ogwumike. For them to crack the upper half of the standings they’ll need their guards to get healthy as Brittney Sykes, Kristi Toliver and Jordin Canada have all missed time with injuries.
6(tie). Atlanta (10-12): The Dream have a big week ahead with games against Chicago, Connecticut and Phoenix as Atlanta can help solidify a playoff berth.
8. New York (9-13): The Liberty will face Las Vegas twice this week after last week’s offensive showcase that saw the teams combine for 223 points in a New York victory.
9. Minnesota (8-15): A strong finish before the All-Star break has gotten the Lynx back into playoff contention. Minnesota has been in the postseason ever year since missing the playoffs in 2010.
10. Phoenix (10-14): This wasn’t the season the Mercury envisioned at the start of the year. With Brittney Griner’s absence looming over the team and Tina Charles now in Seattle, its been a challenging season for Phoenix.
11. Dallas (10-12): The All-Star break allowed Satou Sabally a few more days to get back to full strength and she’ll be key for the Wings to make a playoff push. She was out most of June with a knee injury before returning in early July.
12. Indiana (5-19): Six consecutive losses have the Fever at the bottom of the standings, but the future is looking good with the strong play of rookies NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sabrina Ionescu of New York was voted the AP Player of the Week. She averaged 26.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists to help the Liberty split their games last week. Aerial Powers of Minnesota and Breanna Stewart of Seattle also received votes.
Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession charges at her trial last week. She will be back in court on Thursday. The WNBA acknowledged Griner at the All-Star weekend announcing her as an honorary starter while all the players wore jerseys with her name and number on the back of them for the second half of the game. Game MVP Kelsey Plum dedicated her award to the Mercury center.
GAME OF THE WEEK:
Las Vegas at Connecticut, Sunday. The Aces close out their three-game road trip against the Sun.
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports