The Liberty aren’t just hoping to steal a victory from Minnesota during this weekend’s home-and-home series with the Lynx. I think the best way to describe New York’s two games against the league’s best team and the final four games of the regular season simply as survival. With just three games separating three teams for the Eastern Conference’s last two playoff spots, there’s an outside chance that the Lady Liberty might get shut out of the WNBA’s second season (although that would require a total meltdown).
Let’s look at the possibilities. At 17-13 overall, New York controls its own destiny and can clinch a playoff spot with either one win in the final four games or a single Chicago loss. Is there a chance the Liberty finish the regular season with a four-game losing streak? You betcha. They have two games to play against the Lynx, followed by a home game against East-leading Indiana and the finale at Connecticut. Those three teams already clinched playoff berths. But can Chicago run the table? Keep reading.
Atlanta(16-13) sits in fourth place with five games remaining, three of them against the lowly Tulsa Shock and Washington Mystics. The Dream will conclude the season against the Sun and at Indiana. Just a half-game behind New York, it’s quite possible that Atlanta will leapfrog the Liberty and grab the No. 3 seed in the East.
Currently in fifth place, Chicago(14-16) is staring at final stretch that includes winnable contests against Los Angeles and Seattle, but the Sky will have to get through two games against the Fever and Lynx first. The playoff future is looking dark for the Sky.
So this is how I see the final two weeks shaping out: Indiana will hold on to win the Eastern Conference and claim the top seed. The fever will host our very own Liberty in the 1 vs. 4 series. I believe New York will win one of its final four games, but no more than that. Connecticut will playAtlanta in the 2 vs. 3 series. The Dream are surging at the right time – they have won eight of their last 10 games – and behind Angel McCoughtry, they can do some damage in the playoffs.
The Liberty have been inconsistent, at best, and they put themselves in the situation of fighting for their playoff lives. New York had everyone fooled, myself included, in the middle of the season when everything was gelling – the white-line defense, scoring support behind Cappie Pondexter, improved bench play. But the Liberty only went 7-5 in August, which included two embarrassing losses to Washington and a head-scratcher to Seattle.
As for the Western Conference, Minnesota has a stranglehold on the top seed and will play San Antonio in the first round. When the season began, the Lynx and Silver Stars appeared to be the class of the WNBA. But after starting the season 7-1, San Antonio now limps into the playoffs. A classic 2 vs. 3 match between Phoenix and Seattle will pit the top scoring team in the Mercury against the Storm’s top defensive team.
Once the playoff matchups are official, I’ll break down each series and give my predictions. Until then, let’s just let the ladies shape the final months of the season.