This entire WNBA season has been jam-packed with on-court drama. But recently, the off-court kind has been bubbling up as well. Two big issues -- one about a team's travel woes, and the other about a team's lengthy losing streak -- came to a head in Washington D.C., although neither were about the Mystics.
And now in this final week of the WNBA's regular season, the two teams at the heart of that drama -- Las Vegas and Dallas -- will battle to try to secure the final playoff spot. The Wings, whose coach, Fred Williams, was fired Sunday, have a one-game lead over the Aces, but haven't won since July 19.
So it all could come down to who wins that game. If the teams finish with the same record, Dallas has the tiebreaker, having won their first two meetings this season.
Seven other teams -- Seattle, Atlanta, Washington, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Minnesota -- already have made the playoffs, although their exact order has yet to be determined. Seattle (24-8) needs just one win or a loss from Atlanta (22-10) to secure the No. 1 overall seed.
As for who gets the No. 8 seed, it will be either the team that has to adjust to a new head coach, or the team that forfeited a game in order to take a stand on travel fatigue.
On Aug. 3, the Aces decided their two-day, crossing-three-time-zones travel ordeal from Las Vegas to the nation's capital presented too much of an injury risk for them to play. They opted not to, knowing it could cost them in the playoff hunt. A few days later, the WNBA ruled it a forfeit.
Then Sunday in D.C., Dallas lost 93-80 to the Mystics, the Wings' eighth consecutive defeat. Williams and the team's president and CEO, Greg Bibb, had an altercation after the game. The Wings later announced they were firing Williams, ending his five-year tenure with the organization. Assistant Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who won two WNBA titles as a player, was promoted to interim head coach.
Williams, who began coaching in the WNBA in 1998 after more than a decade in the college game, took over the Tulsa Shock in 2014, then stayed in that role as the franchise moved to Dallas for 2016. Williams told espnW on Sunday that he did not want to leave the Wings, and was disappointed to not finish the season with them. He did not comment regarding what the altercation was about.
As for pin-pointing what went wrong during the losing streak, Williams said, "I just think it was putting down some shots; we've had some really clutch shots that we couldn't put down in certain situations down the stretch. The team played hard, but we just didn't finish some games at the end very well."
The losing skid had some really rough moments for the Wings, such as back-to-back losses to teams who won't make the playoffs: Chicago (by one point, in Dallas) and Indiana. That was followed by a 76-74 crusher at home against Washington.
Injuries also played a factor, as point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith missed two games (versus Indiana on Aug. 2 and Washington on Aug. 5) with a facial injury, and center Liz Cambage missed this past weekend's two games (against Atlanta and Washington) after suffering a head injury in Wednesday's loss to Connecticut.
It has been an abrupt and precipitous downhill slide for the Wings, who at one point were one of the hottest teams in the league. From July 3-19, Dallas won five in a row and seven of eight. That included Cambage's WNBA-record 53 points in a victory over New York on July 17.
Then Dallas gave up 114 points in a loss at Chicago on July 20. That game was the second of a back-to-back, following a July 19 win at home over Washington. But what at first might have been seen as a loss attributed largely to fatigue instead turned into the start of the Wings' descent. They haven't won since.
Meanwhile, the Aces -- led by rookie of the year favorite A'ja Wilson -- have the chance to take advantage of the Wings' misfortunes and make the playoffs for the first year in their new city. In the franchise's last three seasons in San Antonio as the Stars, they had the WNBA's worst record and missed the postseason.
The Aces won't have a winning record this year; the best they can finish is 16-18. But that still might be good enough for the playoffs.
Las Vegas lost five in a row (including the forfeit) after the All-Star break, but beat Indiana on Saturday as the past two No. 1 picks, Wilson and Kelsey Plum, combined for 39 points. That victory gives Las Vegas some momentum.
Will it be enough to help propel the Aces to the playoffs? Or will the Wings rally behind McWilliams-Franklin and put themselves into the postseason for the second year in a row? The teams might be near the bottom of the standings, but they'll still be one of the top things to watch this final week of the regular season.