New WNBA format sets up playoff chase after Olympic break
NEW YORK (AP) The new WNBA playoff format involving the top eight teams will set up an exciting last few weeks of the season when the league returns from the monthlong Olympic break.
Los Angeles and Minnesota have already clinched playoff spots and look to be near locks for the top two seeds. With that comes a bye to the semifinals. New York is almost assured of the three seed, barring a major collapse in September. Those three teams have pretty much led The Associated Press WNBA power poll all season.
The rest of the playoff picture is wide open with eight teams within 4.5 games of each other. Whoever finishes fourth will get a first-round bye along with New York, while the fifth through eighth teams will face off for one game in opening-round matches.
''It's definitely different and you want to at least get one of those first-round byes,'' Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings said. ''Those last few weeks when we come back should be exciting.''
The league decided before the season to change the playoff format, getting away from traditional conferences and choosing the top eight teams by record to make the postseason among the 12 WNBA teams.
POWER POLL: Los Angeles, Minnesota and New York still sit in top three spots in AP power poll. A look at this week's WNBA poll:
1. Los Angeles (21-3): The Sparks will be well rested when the Olympic break ends with none of their stars playing in Rio.
2. Minnesota (21-4): No rest for the Lynx, with four of their players in Rio along with coach Cheryl Reeve. The Lynx enter the break with six consecutive wins.
3. New York (18-8): The Liberty may be the deepest team in the league and will most likely get Epiphanny Prince, sidelined with a knee injury, back after the break.
4. Indiana (12-12): The Fever moved up to their highest ranking, winning five of their last six games, buoyed by the strong play of Lynetta Kizer.
5. Atlanta (13-12): Dream got some good news about Sancho Lyttle, who may return near the end of the season after breaking a bone in her right foot.
6. Chicago (11-13): Starting to get hot, winning four of its last six games.
7. Phoenix (10-14): Just as it looked like the Mercury turned the corner, they slumped by dropping four of last six.
8. Seattle (9-15): It's going to be a busy break for the Storm – five players are headed to Rio.
9. Connecticut (8-16): The Sun ended the break on the rise with consecutive victories.
10. Dallas (9-16): The Wings have dropped six consecutive games. They hope to regroup and make a playoff push.
11. Washington (9-15): The Mystics had a miserable West coast trip and it didn't get better at home, having lost seven straight games.
12. San Antonio (5-17): The Stars have a lot of work to do during the break.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chiney Ogwumike is rounding back into the form that helped her win 2014 rookie of the year. Connecticut's star forward averaged 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks to help the Sun win both their games last week. Others receiving votes included: Chicago's Elena Delle Donne, Minnesota's Sylvia Fowles, Indiana's Lynetta Kizer and Los Angeles' Nneka Ogwumike.
NO TIMEOUT: The WNBA and the players will use the Olympic break to keep up the dialogue on social activism. After originally fining three teams and their players for wearing black warm-up shirts, the league decided to rescind those fines over the weekend.