The Lynx enter Sunday's final regular-season game at Washington with a first-round playoff bye clinched and very little to lose. But the host Mystics will be playing for their season to continue.
Friday's victory in Indiana — the third in a row for the Lynx, all against the Fever — clinched a first-round bye for the Lynx (21-10), currently a half-game ahead of fourth-place Seattle.
The Lynx cannot move up. A loss to the Mystics would drop the Lynx to fourth — where they finished last season in the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Fla. — but would still ensure a first-round bye.
The Mystics? They are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot. But they need to win to stay there. A Mystics loss would mean either New York or Los Angeles — which ends its season Sunday against Dallas — would sneak into the playoffs instead.
And Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve is fine with facing an opponent so motivated.
"That's exactly what we want," Reeve said. "It's good for us. It's that time of the year. You come out flat, not executing, against a desperate team? You're not going to win. I like the challenge."
The difference between a third and fourth seed isn't significant, but it would affect who the Lynx would play in the second round of the playoffs.
The playoffs begin with two single-elimination playoff rounds. In the first round the fifth seed (Phoenix) will host the eighth seed (Washington/New York/Los Angeles) and the sixth seed (Chicago) will host seventh-seeded Dallas.
In the second round the third seed hosts the lowest remaining seed and the fourth seed hosts the other first-round winner. If the seeds held true, finishing third would mean the Lynx would play Chicago, while finishing fourth would likely set up a second-round matchup with Phoenix, one of the hotter teams down the stretch of the regular season.
Again, if the seeds held true, a third seed would allow the Lynx to avoid playing first-place Connecticut until the finals.
That means Reeve won't rest anyone, not with most of a week to prepare for the playoffs.
Last week the Lynx got two worthwhile practices in, time spent trying to tweak the offense to make Napheesa Collier — now firmly entrenched in the power forward spot with Damiris Dantas out for the season — more comfortable. The coaching staff tried to come up with actions and plays that would help Collier, particularly playing alongside center Sylvia Fowles.
The two were the Lynx's best players in Friday's victory, with Collier scoring 17 points and collecting seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals and Fowles getting 21 points and 10 rebounds. Neither played in the fourth quarter.
"I loved Syl and Phee,'' Reeve said. "That's how we spent our week. We were pretty focused on what we were trying to get done.''
Backup point guard Crystal Dangerfield — starting in place of the injured Layshia Clarendon for the seventh straight game, scored 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Her role changed, especially when Clarendon arrived after an 0-4 start to the season, Dangerfield struggled at times this season. But her recent play, and apparent confidence, should serve the Lynx well in the playoffs.
The Lynx still hope to get Clarendon — who has been battling a right fibula stress reaction — some minutes in Sunday's game. That was the plan Friday before Reeve decided to sit Clarendon for another game. Clarendon is again listed as questionable on the team's injury report for Sunday.