ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- The Lynx had to feel good about the way the final weekend of the WNBA regular season played out: They claimed the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with two dominant victories at home to finish 27-7. For the fifth time in the past seven years, Minnesota had the best record in the league.
It is no coincidence that Maya Moore, the No. 1 draft pick in 2011, has been with the Lynx for the entirety of that run. Her 26-point performance Sunday in an 86-72 victory over the Mystics was vintage Maya. But she'd be the first to say that this amazing stretch -- three titles and two runner-up finishes in the past six seasons -- is the product of a franchise-wide pursuit of excellence under coach Cheryl Reeve.
"We take a lot of pride in this," Moore said. "Who you really are comes out in the regular season. Once you get to the playoffs, there's really not a lot of surprises: You are who you are. And this weekend, we played more like ourselves than we have in a while."
The Lynx aren't the only team going into the playoffs with a full head of steam. So is defending champion Los Angeles, which is the No. 2 seed and, like Minnesota, has a double-bye into the best-of-five semifinals, which start Sept. 12. The Sparks (26-8) beat Connecticut 81-70 on Sunday for their seventh consecutive victory.
New York, the No. 3 seed at 22-12, is even hotter, having won 10 straight games. The Liberty will get a first-round bye along with Connecticut (21-13).
The Liberty and the Sun will host second-round, single-elimination playoff games on Sept. 10. New York and Connecticut have knocked on the door of a WNBA championship a few times in their histories, though neither franchise has won a title. They both need one victory to have a chance to face the top two teams this year.
Meanwhile, the playoffs open Wednesday with the single-elimination first round, as No. 5 seed Phoenix (18-16) hosts No. 8 Seattle (14-19, late vs. Chicago) and No. 6 Washington (18-16) hosts No. 7 Dallas (16-8).
The seeds weren't determined until Sunday, the final day of the regular season. Mystics coach Mike Thibault wasn't surprised.
"There are a lot of teams that have had to kind of figure themselves out," Thibault said of those squads that had to change their lineups mostly due to injuries. "They've gone through different stretches where they've struggled, and I think that's why they've been bunched up, too. We're in that, too, obviously. But the teams that have been able to play together longer have had success.
"L.A. and Minnesota have separated themselves because of their experience and elite talent. But I think there's enough other teams that say, 'OK, we can compete. Let us get into a semifinal series against one of them, and let's see what happens.'"
The Lynx and the Sparks have dealt with some injuries, too, most significantly to point guard Lindsay Whalen and forward Rebekkah Brunson for the Lynx and Essence Carson for the Sparks. Brunson and Carson were back for the closing part of the regular season. After Sunday's game, Reeve said she expects Whalen to return to practice Wednesday.
The Lynx will play all of their postseason home games at the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena after making the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul their regular-season home. The primary tenants, the NHL's Wild, are soon to move back into Xcel, and the Lynx's usual home, Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, has been undergoing renovations all summer in order to be ready for the NBA season. (The Lynx will be back at Target Center next season and will host the 2018 All-Star Game there.)
Williams Arena was Whalen's home court when the Minnesota native starred collegiately for the Gophers from 2000-2004. In an odd coincidence, Whalen missed the last part of the regular season and the Big Ten tournament her senior year with a hand injury, too, before returning for the 2004 NCAA tournament first-round game against UCLA. She had 31 points and nine assists in beating the Bruins and helped lead the Gophers all the way to the Final Four.
"It's pretty crazy -- this many years later to have the postseason back at Williams and a similar situation with the fractured hand," Whalen said. "I'm just fortunate to be on my way to getting back and be part of a team like this.
"I'm still making progress. It's just going to be how things go this week. It's about listening to my body and understanding what I need to be ready to play. Hopefully, I will be."
While both the Lynx and the Sparks will spend the next week-plus watching the action, getting some rest and preparing for the semis, four other teams will try to stay alive on Wednesday.
The Mystics are one of those teams. They lost guard Tayler Hill (knee) for the season in July, and forward/guard Elena Delle Donne (ankle, thumb) has been out for two stretches. Currently, guard Natasha Cloud (hip) is still out, though there's some chance she could play Wednesday, according to Thibault.
Delle Donne helped Chicago make an unexpected run to the 2014 WNBA Finals, so she knows there is a clean slate for the Mystics to try to make the most of now.
"Getting through adversity is huge, and we've been able to do that," Delle Donne said. "Playoffs are filled with adversity, and we're prepared, so that's a positive. Obviously, we wish we had everyone for the entire season, but it didn't happen that way this year. We've got to fight through."
The lowest surviving seed from the first round will play at New York in the second round, with the other winner at Connecticut. Then the lowest seed between the second-round winners will face Minnesota in the semifinals, with the other team taking on Los Angeles.
The Lynx know there is still a long way to go, but on Sunday, they took some time to be happy about leading the way once again through the WNBA's regular season. Lynx center Sylvia Fowles seems very likely to win the season MVP award, and the team as a whole looked sharp in victories over Chicago on Friday and Washington on Sunday.
"It's all about confidence once you're in the postseason," Moore said. "I like being in the position we are because when we've got a lot of prep time, we're generally really good."