WNBA rundown: League's top teams are rising to the top

COLLEGE PARK, GA  JUNE 23:  New York guard Sabrina Ionescu (20), forward Leonie Fiebich (13), and forward Breanna Stewart (30) are lined up during the WNBA game between the New York Liberty and the Atlanta Dream on June 23rd, 2024 at the Gateway Arena in College Park, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After six weeks of play, the top of the league is starting to separate, with the Liberty, Sun and Lynx looking like legit contenders. But there are plenty of important storylines from top to bottom, including a budding rivalry, devastating injuries, the return of a former Finals MVP and more.

The New York Liberty, who play in the Commissioner's Cup title game Tuesday night, have won 11 of their last 12 games to secure the top spot in the standings with a 15-3 record. The Sun and the Lynx are both 13-3 to round out the top three, separating themselves as the best squads in the league, followed by the Storm (10-6) and Aces (8-6). No other team is above .500.

The split between the top and the bottom of the league makes for an interesting playoff picture. When it comes to favorites to win the WNBA title, no one outside the top five seems to have much of a chance. But in terms of making the playoffs, things are wide open. Because the remaining teams are .500 or below, even the 4-13 Mystics and 3-13 Wings could make a playoff push.

Just when concerns about the Aces were starting to rise, Chelsea Gray returned from injury and immediately gave her team a lift. The point guard, who was named 2022 Finals MVP, has been out with a left foot injury since Game 4 of last season’s WNBA Finals. The Aces started the season as the favorites to win another title after taking back-to-back championships, but after starting the year 8-6, their expectations became muddled.

Gray seems to have her team back on track. The Aces have won their last two games against the Storm and the Sun, coinciding with Gray’s return. Against Seattle she finished with seven assists and four rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. It will take time for Gray to get back to full strength, but the Aces clearly respond to her leadership and feel more comfortable with her on the floor. If Gray gets back to last season’s form when she averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 assists per game, the Aces may become the favorites once again.

Both Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark have downplayed the rivalry between their respective teams, but the excitement surrounding the matchup says otherwise. The third game between Indiana and Chicago was a sellout that attracted celebrities like Jason Sudeikis, Chance the Rapper, Jalen Brunson and WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes. It also delivered on the hype, as Chicago avenged two previous losses with an 88-87 victory Sunday, snapping a four-game Fever winning streak. Reese was the star with 25 points and 16 rebounds for her eighth consecutive double-double. Clark finished with 17 points and a franchise-record 13 assists in the loss.

The Dallas Wings are currently the worst team in the WNBA at 3-13, and things don’t appear to be getting any better. Arike Ogunbowale is doing her best to keep the team afloat, averaging 23.9 points and 4.8 assists per game, but injuries have devastated her squad. Satou Sabally hasn’t played all season after injuring her shoulder competing for Germany in an Olympic qualifying tournament in February. Last season she averaged 15.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.

Sabally’s absence has been difficult to overcome, but the injury woes don’t stop there. Maddy Siegrist, who is having a breakout season with 14.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, is expected to be out eight weeks after breaking her index finger.

Cameron Brink, Rhyne Howard, Hailey Van Lith and Cierra Burdick were set to compete for the United States women’s 3x3 team in the Paris Olympics, but injuries have impacted the roster. Brink, who was enjoying a successful rookie campaign, tore her ACL last week. She will miss the remainder of the season and the Olympics. Los Angeles Sparks teammate Dearica Hamby was tabbed to replace her.

Howard also suffered an injury, hurting her left ankle Wednesday against the Lynx. Howard is out indefinitely and was seen using a scooter Friday, but her status for the Olympics is unknown.