WNBA playoff format can't take joy out of winning conference

NEW YORK (AP) The WNBA is in its second year of a new playoff format in which the top eight teams regardless of conference qualifies for the postseason, diminishing the value of the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Coaches, however, are still motivated to win their respective conferences.

''Sure it means something still,'' Washington coach Mike Thibault said. ''We all play a balanced schedule and especially for teams that may not have much of a history with success, coming in first in your conference is a huge confidence builder.''

The Mystics lost a ''showdown'' with Connecticut for first in the east on Saturday, blowing a 22-point lead in the third quarter. Connecticut, which has won 10 of its past 13 games, moved into first in the east and third in The Associated Press WNBA power poll.

''I think we took pleasure last year in not being sixth'' in the east, Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. ''We took pleasure in being able to finish ahead of Washington last year. We would be just as proud if we competed for an eastern championship even if it doesn't, in the grand scheme of things, mean anything playoff wise.

''All of us are going to still celebrate it, but it lost a little of its luster with the new playoff format.''

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POWER POLL: Minnesota followed up a big win over Los Angeles with a disappointing loss to Chicago. Here's a look at this week's WNBA poll.

1. Minnesota (13-2): The Lynx have played like they are indeed the top team in the league. Loss to Sky was just a blip on the radar.

2. Los Angeles (12-5): The Sparks had a tough week on the road losing at Minnesota and Seattle. They will look to regroup against surging Connecticut at home.

3. Connecticut (10-7): The Sun continue to rise with historic comeback against Washington getting team fourth straight win.

4. Phoenix (10-6): Brittney Griner has raised her game over the last week and led the Mercury to three wins.

5. Washington (10-8): The Mystics failed to close out games against Los Angeles and Connecticut, blowing huge leads. They finally return home after long road trip.

6. New York (8-8): The Liberty are back in New York after disappointing road trip during which they lost three of four.

7. Seattle (8-9): The Storm finally got on track with a much-needed win over Los Angeles. Now they need to string together a few more on this homestand.

8. Dallas (9-10): Split a home-and-home with Atlanta. Good news is that Courtney Paris is back ahead of schedule after knee issue.

9. Atlanta (8-8): Layshia Clarendon has helped the Dream to consecutive wins.

10. Indiana (7-9): The Fever struggle to find consistency as they need to start getting wins to keep their playoff streak alive.

11. Chicago (4-12): Ended a three-game skid with an impressive win over Minnesota. Courtney Vandersloot had her best game of the season.

12. San Antonio (1-16): Not only did the Stars lose again, they saw guard Moriah Jefferson go down with a concussion.

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GAME OF THE WEEK: Lynx at Mercury, Friday. These two teams will play a home and home on Friday and Sunday. In the first matchup, foul trouble to both Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner curtailed either of them being too much of a factor.

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A PENNY SAVED: The Phoenix Mercury retired Penny Taylor's No. 13 on Sunday after the team beat the New York Liberty. Taylor, who retired last season, spent the final 10 years of her career with the Mercury. She was a three-time WNBA champion.

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Brittney Griner, Mercury. She averaged 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.7 blocks to help the team win its three games this week. The league's leading scorer was dominant on both ends of the floor.

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To find the poll online: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/ap-wnba-power-poll-week-9

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Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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