RACE FOR THE PLAYOFFS: A WNBA Postseason Primer

The last time the Aces franchise made the WNBA playoffs was back in 2014 when the then San Antonio Stars lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Minnesota Lynx two-games-to-none.

As Las Vegas approaches what will hopefully be its first postseason appearance, we thought we would collect some information to assist you in figuring out how this whole postseason thing works, and what the Aces need to do to get there.

First up …

WNBA PLAYOFF FORMAT

The top eight teams, regardless of conference, make the postseason, leaving four teams on the outside looking in.

The top two seeds get byes into the Semifinals.

The third and fourth seeds get byes into the Second Round.

In the First Round, the fifth seed takes on the eighth seed, and the sixth seed takes on the seventh seed in a one-game playoff at the higher seeds arena.

In the Second Round, the teams are re-seeded so that the number three seed hosts the lowest remaining seed, and the four seed hosts the highest remaining seed. The Second Round is also a one-game playoff.

In the Semifinals, the teams are once again re-seeded so that the number one seed hosts the lowest remaining seed, and the two seed hosts the highest remaining seed. The Semifinals are a best-three-out-of-five format with the higher seed hosting the first, second and fifth games.

The winners of the Semifinals advance to a best-three-out-of-five Finals, with the higher seed hosting the first, second and fifth games.

HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN WE ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS?

As of August 15, the simplest answer to this question is, ‘if the Aces win one more game, they are in the playoffs.’

However they can also make the postseason without winning any more games (let’s hope that doesn’t happen). This is where the term “Magic Numbers” comes in. Some of you are probably familiar with the concept, but for those who aren’t, from wikipedia …

“a magic number is a number used to indicate how close a front-running team is to clinching a division title and/or a playoff spot. It represents the total of additional wins by the front-running team or additional losses (or any combination thereof) by the rival teams after which it is mathematically impossible for the rival teams to capture the title in the remaining number of games.”

The Aces have a Magic Number against all 11 teams in the league, and they need to reach those Magic Numbers against four teams in order to secure at least the eighth seed and make the playoffs. Working from the bottom of the standings up …

Atlanta is 5-20. The best they can finish is 14-20. The Aces have 17 wins, and have already clinched against the Dream.

Dallas is 8-17. The best they can finish is 17-17. The Aces have 17 wins, so the Wings could tie them, but Las Vegas owns the tiebreaker having swept Dallas this season, so the Aces have already clinched against the Wings.

New York is 8-16. The best they can finish is 18-16. The Aces haveĀ  17 wins, so the Liberty could still pass them. The Aces Magic Number to clinch against New York is 1 because if the Aces get to 18 wins, they would tie the Liberty, and Las Vegas owns the tiebreaker having beaten New York two our of three times this season.

Indiana is 9-16. The best they can finish is 18-16. The Aces have 17 wins, so the Fever could still pass them. The Aces Magic Number to clinch against Indiana is 2 because if the Aces get to 18 wins, they would tie the Fever. Las Vegas owns the head-to-head tiebreaker having beaten Indiana twice already this year. But there are multi-team tiebreaker scenarios that give the Fever the nod.

Looking at the upcoming schedules for the Aces, Liberty and Fever …

New York plays at Dallas on Friday, and if they lose to the Wings, the Aces clinch against the Liberty.

Indiana plays at Washington on Sunday, and if they lose to the Mystics, the Aces clinch against the Fever.

Las Vegas plays at Chicago on Sunday, and if they beat the Sky, the Aces clinch against both Indiana and New York.

If all that seems overly complicated, for the time being just remember ‘if we win, we are in.”

We will take a look at the rest of the standings and Magic Number possibilities next week.