- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2018

Every WNBA team has just two regular season games remaining, and though the playoff picture has taken a clear shape, most teams still have something to fight for.

For the Washington Mystics, winners of seven straight games entering Friday night’s home finale against the Los Angeles Sparks, a crucial postseason double-bye is still in reach. But they’ll need some help in order to lock it up.

The Mystics (21-11) sit a game behind the Atlanta Dream for second place in the standings, and the No. 1 and 2 seeds are automatically entered into the league semifinals with byes for the first two rounds. Atlanta owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington, so the Mystics can only leapfrog to No. 2 if they win out and the Dream lose on the road to both Phoenix and Las Vegas this weekend.

But at worst, the Mystics will get a first-round bye with the No. 3 or 4 seed, which they guaranteed for themselves by beating the last-place Indiana Fever on the road Wednesday.

Since 2016, the WNBA postseason format has rewarded the two best teams. In the first round, seeds five through eight play a single knockout game, and the winners are re-seeded and advance to play the third and fourth seeds in another win-or-go-home scenario in round two.

Meanwhile, the top two teams can rest up for the best-of-five semifinal series, which decide who plays in the WNBA Finals. The Mystics are seeking their first Finals appearance in franchise history.

“It’s the coveted spot,” Mystics forward Monique Currie told media in Indiana. “That’s the goal right now. That’s all we’re focused on, trying to get that No. 2 spot.”

On Wednesday, Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 25 points, her ninth time scoring at least 20 in the last 11 games. After they scored just 10 points in the third quarter and let the Fever back into the game, they held Indiana to a mere two points in the fourth and pulled out the win, 76-62.

“We knew it was going to be tough coming here with a team that has nothing to lose, playing on the road,” Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said. “And given our circumstance of trying to clinch at least a third-place spot, there was a lot on the line for us. The third quarter was pretty terrible for us, but in the fourth quarter we really buckled down on the defensive end, got our stops, got rebounds and we were able to play our game.”

Elsewhere in the league, the Seattle Storm (24-8) need a win or an Atlanta loss to clinch the top overall seed and home court throughout the playoffs.

And the Dallas Wings and Las Vegas Aces are tied at 14-18 and vying for the No. 8 seed, the only berth still up for grabs. They face off Friday at Dallas for a pivotal game, but the Wings hold the head-to-head tiebreaker regardless of the outcome.

Both Dallas and Las Vegas have had rocky summers, and the Mystics coincidentally played a background role in both teams’ situations.

The Aces forfeited a game to the Mystics when they chose not to play due to poor rest. Multiple commercial flight cancellations and delays pushed back their arrival in Washington to just hours before tipoff. More recently, the Wings fired coach Fred Williams shortly after he got into an altercation with the team president and CEO outside the locker room in Washington.

Friday’s game against the Sparks likely will be the last time the Mystics play at Capital One Arena. They’ll host playoff games at the Charles E. Smith Center on George Washington University’s campus while Capital One undergoes more renovations, and next season, the team will move to the new arena on St. Elizabeths East campus in Ward 8.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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