Olympics done, WNBA ready for sprint to the finish

Published 8:11 am Thursday, August 25, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — With the Olympics behind it, the WNBA is ready to restart its season after a monthlong break.

There should be quite the sprint to the finish during the league’s final weeks, starting Friday through Sept. 18.

“Very excited to get the back end of the season going,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said. “You think about the format changes, top eight teams make the playoffs, doesn’t matter what your geography is, it matters what your record is.”

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Only 4 1-2 games separate fourth place and 11th after the league changed its playoff format this season to get rid of conferences. The top eight teams will make the playoffs.

“The league is very close right now and anybody can make it into the playoffs or get kicked out at this point,” Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne said. “Every game is do or die.”

Phoenix, which had nearly half its team go to Rio, has been the biggest disappointment this season. Picked in preseason by the league’s general managers to win the title, the Mercury sit at 10-14 in seventh place.

“The WNBA season is very tricky, especially with the Olympic break,” Diana Taurasi said. “If we can start building momentum and playing good basketball, we have championship-caliber talent. We just need to start playing like it.”

Los Angeles and Minnesota have already clinched playoff spots and likely will be the top two seeds, earning byes into the semifinals. The Sparks had plenty of time to rest during the last month as none of their players made the Olympic team.

Not the case for Minnesota, which had coach Cheryl Reeve and stars Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles all playing for the gold medal-winning team.

Reeve isn’t worried about the impact of the Olympics on her core four.

“They would have been playing anywhere whether it was here or there,” she said. “The domestic stuff was pretty challenging on their time and their bodies. Once we got to Rio and settled on the (cruise) ship and got a little more of a rhythm and downtime. … Geno’s done a great job managing their bodies. We’ll continue down that path.”