Mercury, Mystics fighting for last playoff spot in final week of regular season

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Monday, September 12, 2016

Cappie Pondexter has had to come up with huge scoring games plenty of times in her career, both with Phoenix and New York. With Chicago, though, that's been the case less often because 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne is such a scoring machine.

However, since Delle Donne has missed the past two games after a thumb injury suffered in a loss to Washington on Sept. 7, the Sky have needed Pondexter to lead the way offensively. She has done that, as Chicago secured a playoff berth with a 96-86 victory over Connecticut on Sunday in which Pondexter had a season-high 24 points.

"We knew coming into this season that our versatility and depth would allow us get to where we are right now," Pondexter said. "We worked really hard during the [Olympic] break to get better individually, skill-wise and conditioning-wise.

"Not having Elena is tough, but at the same time, we're a strong enough team to adjust to that."

Delle Donne is out indefinitely -- the team said she will undergo thumb surgery -- and will miss Tuesday's game between the Sky and the Lynx in Chicago (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). There are no playoff implications for the 26-5 Lynx, who already have clinched the top overall seed and will advance to the semifinals along with No. 2 seed Los Angeles.

But the Sky -- who are 16-15, along with Indiana and Atlanta -- are still trying to secure the No. 4 seed, which would give them a bye for the first round of single-elimination games. Tuesday's game is also another chance for rookie post player Imani Boyette to hone her skills against an elite veteran center: Sylvia Fowles, who played her first seven seasons for Chicago.

"You get to measure yourself against the best," said Boyette, who is averaging 7.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in her first season. "Playing against those big names, it's always fun to see what I need to work on."

Just because the Lynx technically have nothing to gain with a victory and nothing to lose with a loss, don't think they will sleepwalk through their final three regular-season games. They hope to finish sharp, and then keep their edge while they wait to see who advances to the semifinals.

That said, the Lynx will be smart about getting players rest as needed. Minnesota guard Lindsay Whalen was fatigued and battling a lot of physical pain during last postseason. She gutted it out through the WNBA Finals, but she wasn't near her best. Whalen didn't play overseas this past winter as she prepped for a summer that would include a Lynx title defense and the Olympics. That's paid off.

"I wanted to be as healthy as possible, feeling good and being able to contribute all year," Whalen said. "With the rest that we'll get, we'll use that time wisely. We'll still be practicing hard and continuing to build off that chemistry we've had all season."

On the chemistry front, there is one team, Seattle, that seems to have flourished in that regard, and another, Los Angeles, that is struggling just a bit. Admittedly, the Sparks really aren't playing for anything in the last week of the regular season, either, just like the Lynx. Los Angeles has the No. 2 seed wrapped up.

But having lost their last three games -- and five of eight since play resumed after the Olympic break -- the Sparks haven't looked like the same confident team they previously appeared to be. They are still 24-8, and they have a chance to regain some mojo with their last two regular-season games at home, versus Phoenix on Tuesday and San Antonio on Friday.

Seattle, however, has looked better and better since the Olympic break, going 6-2 in that stretch, with losses at Minnesota and Chicago. The Storm are led by the veteran poise of Sue Bird -- who's having an outstanding season -- and young stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart.

The Storm beat Los Angeles 78-60 on Sunday in Seattle, albeit with MVP candidate Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver resting for Los Angeles. The win put Seattle back in the postseason after missing out the past two years.

In the East, Indiana is in the playoffs for a record 12th consecutive season, and Atlanta returns after missing last year. New York, which is also battling injuries, has secured the third seed and hopes to get healthy for the postseason.

The one unclaimed playoff spot will go to Phoenix or Washington, with the Mercury in the driver's seat at 14-17 to the Mystics 12-19.

One team will advance to the postseason, while the other will join San Antonio, Dallas and Connecticut in the draft lottery.

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