All of the 2020 WNBA playoff seeding possibilities, explained
My brain hurts, but now yours doesn't have to.
I have written and rewritten this post so many times since Thursday that I want to scream, because you know what -- playoff seedings are really difficult to calculate in a 22-game season. There are so many possibilities remaining EVEN WITH JUST TWO DAYS LEFT TO PLAY. But now I’ve got my facts straight after talking to a few people around the league.
I’ll cut the talk as much as possible, but first, here’s a reminder that Here’s Basketball is sponsored by Homefield Apparel, and by using this link and the promo code ELLENTUCK, you can get 20 percent off the softest most perfect college tees and hoodies in the business.
Ok, now let’s talk about how YOUR team can make the playoffs, and what seed they can finish as.
First, let’s talk about how the playoffs work, and why higher seeds are so important
Put simply, unlike the NBA playoffs, a WNBA playoff spot doesn’t guarantee you a playoff series. In fact, six of the eight teams that qualify for the postseason have to play at least one single elimination game to make a best-of-five semifinals series.
Here’s the breakdown:
The top two seeds receive a double-bye, meaning they never have to play a win-or-go-home game. The top seed will play a five-game series against the team with the lowest seed that survives the elimination games. The second seed will play against the team with the higher seed.
The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds have to play one win-or-go-home game. The No. 3 seed will play against the team that wins the first round with the lowest seeding, and the No. 4 seed will play against the team that wins the first round with the highest seeding.
The bottom four playoff seeds have to play two single-elimination games. First against each other, then against either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. In the opening round, No. 5 plays against No. 8, and No. 6 plays against No. 7.
Now, let’s talk about how tie-breakers work
In a 22-game season, there’s a really high likelihood that at least two teams will finish with the same record. So let’s start with The Rules on how tie-breakers are determined:
First, by head-to-head matchups. This is simple, because each team played each other twice this year. If one team swept the series, that team gets priority.
If teams tied, 1-1, in their series this year, the next step is to look at their records against teams that finished with a .500 record or better. Six teams finished with a record above .500 this year (Storm, Aces, Sparks, Lynx, Mercury and Sky.) So you’d count how many wins each team has against those teams. I made a handy little excel sheet to help with this.
Still tied? The third measure is to look at the point differential between the two teams in question. If one team won by 15 points and the other won by 10 points, the team who won by the larger margin gets priority.
STILL TIED?!? If this happens, we’d review both teams’ point differential for the entire season against every team. This year, it won’t come down to that.
What if two or more teams are tied?
This could happen for the No. 8 seed. In this scenario, we’d follow the same procedure as above, but stack every team involved against each other. For example, instead of looking at head-to-head matchups, we’d look at head-to-head-to-head matchups and calculate how many wins each team has against the other teams it’s tied with.
Got it? Yeah? Well lol, here we go.
Let’s start with the easy ones.
New York Liberty
Good night. You’re out.
Good night. You’re also out.
Ok here’s where we start to get more complicated.
As of September 12, before games started, the Dream are one of three teams competing for the final playoff spot. Currently the standings look like this:
Washington Mystics, 7-13
Atlanta Dream, 7-14
Dallas Wings, 7-14
For the Dream to get in, they’re going to need a bit of luck:
Atlanta needs the Liberty, the worst team in the league (2-18), to beat the Mystics on Saturday. If the Mystics win, the Dream are out.
But that’s not it.
If the Liberty beat the Mystics, the Dream also have to beat the Mystics in their game on Sunday to grab the No. 8 seed.
This is the only way Atlanta gets in, because the Mystics would win a tie-breaker against the Dream, and the Wings would win a three-way tie-breaker between all three teams.
The Mystics are the only team competing for the No. 8 seed with two games remaining, meaning they are in total control of their destiny right now.
If the Mystics win both of their final two games against the Liberty on Saturday and Dream on Sunday, they’ll get the No. 8 seed.
If the Mystics beat the Liberty, but then lose to the Dream, they can still win the No. 8 seed, but ONLY if the Wings lose to the Liberty on Sunday.
If the Mystics lose to the Liberty, but then beat the Dream, they can still win the No. 8 seed, but again, ONLY if the Wings lose to the Liberty on Sunday.
If the Mystics lose both games, they can’t make the playoffs.
Here’s how the Wings can get the No. 8 seed:
If the Wings beat the Liberty, they can make the playoffs IF the Mystics have lost EITHER their game against the Liberty OR their game against the Dream OR BOTH. This is because the Wings own the three-way tie-breaker against the Dream and the Mystics by way of having the most head-to-head-to-head wins against those teams.
If the Wings beat the Liberty, but the Mystics win their remaining two games, the Mystics will clinch the playoff spot.
If the Wings lose to the Liberty, they can’t make the playoffs.
Keep in mind, this team might not have both Satou Sabally (concussion protocol) and Allisha Gray (knee injury) in their final game against the Liberty. Neither played on Friday night in the loss to the Sky.
Let’s move on to easier scenarios, please.
They’re the No. 7 seed. It’s done.
They’re the No. 6 seed. It’s also done.
Because of their loss to the Storm on Friday night, they’re definitely the No. 5 seed. That’s done.
The final game of the season doesn’t matter for the Lynx. They’re the No. 4 seed. Done.
Los Angeles Sparks
Now we’re back to mayhem. The race to avoid playing in any single-elimination games is also on.
Right now, the top three teams look like this:
Seattle Storm, 18-3
Las Vegas Aces, 16-4
Los Angeles Sparks, 15-6
We know for sure:
The Storm are going to be a top-2 seed
The Sparks can not be the No. 1 seed
The Storm have one more game against the Aces (Sunday)
The Aces have two games left against the Sparks (Saturday) and Storm (Sunday)
The Sparks have one more game against the Aces (Saturday)
For the Sparks, things are pretty straightforward, but partially out of their hands:
For the Sparks to get the No. 2 seed, they have to beat the Aces. If they lose to the Aces, they’ll be the No. 3 seed.
But that’s not it.
In addition to the Sparks beating Vegas, the Aces also have to lose to the Storm. If L.A. beats Vegas, but the Aces beat the Storm in the regular season finale, the Aces would have a better record.
Las Vegas Aces
The Aces can finish in any of the top-3 spots, but they have a vicious end-of-year schedule against the Sparks and Storm.
Let’s start with No. 1 seed scenarios:
If the Aces win their last two games of the season, they’ll be the No. 1 seed, owning the tie-breaker over Seattle. This is the only way for them to be the top seed.
How about No. 2 seed scenarios:
If the Aces beat the Sparks, they can’t drop below the No. 2 seed. If they then beat the Storm, they’ll be the No. 1 seed. If they lose to the Storm, they’ll still be the No. 2 seed.
If the Aces lose to the Sparks, they can still be the No. 2 seed, but only IF they beat the Storm
How about No. 3 seed scenarios:
If the Aces lose out against the Sparks AND the Storm, they would drop to the No. 3 seed.
The one seed is in the Storm’s hands:
If they beat the Aces on Sunday, they’re the No. 1 seed
But their fate can also be decided sooner than that:
If the Aces lose to the Sparks on Saturday, the Storm are also the No. 1 seed.
The only way Seattle drops to the No. 2 seed is if:
The Aces beat the Sparks on Saturday AND the Aces beat the Storm on Sunday.
Ok enough of this.
Thanks for reading.
If this post helped, I hope you’ll share it with friends using this link:
Or subscribe to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox for free using this link:
Or pay $7 per month to receive access to additional WNBA fantasy sports newsletters, and support the work I do, by using this link:
I’m also still looking for work writing about the WNBA!
If you have any leads, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter: @mellentuck. I miss doing this as a full-time job. All of my previous work can be found at SB Nation, where I worked for the past four years before being laid off due to the pandemic. I uhh also wrote for the New York Times, which you can read here.