Well, that didn’t resolve anything. Los Angeles, Minnesota and San Antonio came into last night tied for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference at 12-19. All three played close, but all lost, so they finished the night … all tied for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference at 12-20.
We know that there will be a little more clarity by Friday, because the Sparks and Lynx play each other in a crucial showdown at the Staples Center. Before then, though, I wanted to put some numbers to the various possibilities. There are 32 different scenarios remaining (since there are a total of five games left; 32 is two to the fifth power). I took a look at each one and used tie-breakers to help figure out where each team would finish (as you imagine, there’s a pretty good chance at least two teams end the season tied).
I then used the Hollinger Power Rankings and home-court advantage to estimate the chances of each outcome for the remaining games. For example, the numbers indicate that Los Angeles has a 59.5 percent chance to win Friday’s game, almost entirely due to home-court advantage. The last step was summing up all possibilities.
Now, before I show you the numbers, allow me to emphasize that these are just estimates. The power rankings cannot account for the fact that San Antonio is without Chamique Holdsclaw and Minnesota will not have Nicky Anosike the rest of the reason. The other big wild card is the motivation of teams already in the playoffs. Phoenix is locked into the No. 2 seed. Will the Mercury go all-out in Sunday’s season finale? Perhaps not. Indiana’s position may also be settled by the time the Fever hosts the Lynx on Sunday.
That caveat provided, here are the odds of each team finishing in each spot:
Team 3 4 5 Play ---------------------------------------- Los Angeles .312 .339 .350 .650 Minnesota .310 .272 .418 .582 San Antonio .379 .389 .232 .768
Even though San Antonio has two tough teams on the schedule (Indiana and Phoenix), the Silver Stars appear to be in the best position because both games are at home and because they have the tie-breaker against Los Angeles. Still, nearly a quarter of the time San Antonio is expected to miss the playoffs. Meanwhile, all three teams have better than 50-50 odds of reaching the postseason.
How crucial is Friday’s game? Minnesota is expected to miss the playoffs 38.4 percent of the time when losing that game, but just 3.4 percent with a win. Meanwhile, a win Friday would guarantee Los Angeles a playoff spot (the Sparks win any possible tie against the Lynx, who could do no better than tie with a loss on Friday), while L.A. misses the postseason 35.0 percent of the team when falling to Minnesota.
One more table – here are the likelihoods of each possible combination of teams:
Odds No. 3 seed No. 4 seed Out ------------------------------------------------ .335 San Antonio Los Angeles Minnesota .306 Minnesota San Antonio Los Angeles .228 Los Angeles Minnesota San Antonio .083 Los Angeles San Antonio Minnesota .044 San Antonio Minnesota Los Angeles .004 Minnesota Los Angeles San Antonio
Even though the most likely single scenario has San Antonio in third, because the Minnesota-L.A. scenario is so unlikely (it requires the Lynx to sweep the last two games, the Sparks to win in Seattle and San Antonio to lose out), the Silver Stars are the most likely No. 4 seed and the team the Storm is likeliest to see next week – strictly by the numbers.