The Aces clinched their playoff spot more than a month ago. However, they still have something to play for with one game remaining in the regular season.
Entering Sunday, the WNBA’s No. 1 seed for the 2023 playoffs remains unclaimed. But the Aces are in the driver’s seat.
“At the end of the day, we just want to take care of our business,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said Friday.
The Aces (33-6) return to Las Vegas for their final regular-season game at noon Sunday against the Phoenix Mercury (9-30) at T-Mobile Arena. It will be the second meeting between the two teams, who occupy opposite ends of the WNBA standings, in the past three days.
All the Aces have to do to secure the top seed is beat the Mercury, which will ensure Hammon’s team plays the Chicago Sky, the No. 8 seed, in the first round.
As Hammon has said repeatedly for the past couple of weeks, the Aces’ destiny is in their hands. They’ve beaten Phoenix in six consecutive regular-season games, and the streak expands to eight if the Aces’ first-round sweep against the Mercury during the playoffs last season is counted.
Hammon hasn’t lost to Phoenix in her coaching career.
If the Aces can’t beat the Mercury, a whole matrix of scenarios becomes possible. First, the New York Liberty — a game behind the Aces — have to beat the Washington Mystics on Sunday.
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and the Aces and the Liberty split their four regular-season meetings. (The Commissioner’s Cup, which New York won 82-63, doesn’t count in the regular-season standings.)
The second tiebreaker is the teams’ combined record against teams with a win percentage of .500 or better. Entering Sunday, only the Aces, Liberty, Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings have winning records. The Aces are 7-4 against those teams, while the Liberty are 8-3.
Two teams, however, can reach .500 with wins on the final day of the season. The Dream and the Minnesota Lynx are both 19-20 entering Sunday. Atlanta hosts Dallas, while Minnesota plays on the road against the Indiana Fever.
Atlanta making it to .500 doesn’t do much for the Aces. The Liberty were 3-1 against the Dream, while the Aces were 4-0, which would again level the teams in the tiebreaker.
The third tiebreaker is head-to-head point differential, which the Liberty own because of their 99-61 beatdown of the Aces Aug. 6 in New York.
Minnesota swings the tiebreakers in the Aces’ favor. The Lynx were swept by Hammon’s squad in four games, but stole an 88-83 win against the Liberty on July 28 to give New York a 2-1 record against Minnesota. If the Lynx reach .500 by beating the already-eliminated Fever on Sunday, the Aces get the edge in the tiebreaker, whether Atlanta reaches .500 or not.
The No. 1 seed is important because of the matchups. If the Aces fall to the No. 2 seed, they’ll get the No. 7-seeded Mystics.
The Aces dropped one game to the Mystics this season, a 78-62 loss Aug. 26 in Washington. The Mystics are only the No. 7 seed because of a litany of injuries to core players in two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne, center Shakira Austin and guard Ariel Atkins.
Only Austin (hip) remains out as Washington has gotten healthy near the end of the season. Additionally, the Mystics and their vaunted defense have been a tricky matchup for Hammon’s teams, who are 2-4 against Washington since 2022.
Of course, if the Aces win Sunday, none of this matters. They’ll have 40 minutes to ensure they aren’t counting on another team’s results.