How will the second part of the WNBA season play out?

With 10 regular-season games remaining, can Breanna Stewart help 9-15 Seattle make a playoff push? Reuters

You wonder if the WNBA participants in the Summer Olympics feel like they've just starred in a multi-episode run of the old "Super Friends" cartoon -- especially the romp-to-the-gold U.S. team members -- and now are headed to an episodic run of "Survivor."

The Americans kept the drama low and the quality of basketball high as they won their sixth consecutive Olympic tournament. But kudos also to Spain (silver) and Serbia (bronze) as they medaled in the Summer Games for the first time in women's hoops.

Condolences to Australia, which is in transition mode as Penny Taylor will be joining Lauren Jackson in retirement. The Opals weren't expecting their time in Rio de Janeiro to end in the quarterfinals, but it was another example of how competitive the Olympic tournament was -- aside from the U.S. dominance, that is.

Now it's back to the WNBA, which resumes play Friday. Los Angeles (21-3) and Minnesota (21-4) already have clinched playoff berths. They'll focus on securing the top two spots, which come with a bye into the best-of-five semifinals in the WNBA's new playoff format.

New York (18-8) is the only other team with a realistic shot of grabbing one of those two spots. Tina Charles leads the league in scoring and rebounding, and the Liberty are getting back guard Epiphanny Prince, who has been out all season with a knee injury. But unless the Sparks or Lynx have really lost their steam, it's a long shot for the Liberty, who don't have any games left against L.A. or Minnesota.

After those three teams, it's a pretty big drop record-wise to what will be a free-for-all for the final five playoff berths. Other than 5-18 San Antonio, which is probably left to the role of spoiler, every team is still in the postseason hunt. Atlanta has the best record of that remaining group at 13-12.

So as we enter the final three weeks of the regular season -- and close in on the career finishes of great players and fan favorites Taylor, Tamika Catchings and Swin Cash -- here are five questions to ponder.

1. Will the Olympics help turn around the Mercury?

Before the Rio Games, we examined the disappointing season Phoenix has had. But the struggles of May, June and July won't matter much if the 10-14 Mercury can play up to their potential the rest of the way. (Admittedly, "if" has been a tormenting word for the Merc this summer.)

Four players bring Olympic medals back to Phoenix, with Diana Taurasi's and Brittney Griner's golds, a silver for Spain's Marta Xargay and a bronze for Serbia's Sonja Petrovic.

Taurasi had an outstanding Olympics, leading the U.S. team in scoring (15.6 points per game) and minutes played (24.3 per game). She was deadly from behind the arc (33 of 57, 57.9 percent) and played with trademark Taurasi zest and leadership.

The latter part might be what most excites Mercury fans. Taurasi's WNBA stats this season have been very good (18.9 PPG, 4.3 APG), but she hasn't always seemed ... well, Taurasi-like on court.

As for Griner, she tied with Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles to lead the Americans in rebounding (5.6 RPG) and was the top shot-blocker with 11. Griner averaged 9.8 points per game, third best on the team.

In WNBA play this season, Griner is averaging 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, numbers down a bit from her previous two years. She needed the energy jolt the Olympic seemed to give her.

Competitive consistency has been a thorny issue with Phoenix this season, but the potential is still there for a big finish. Let's put it this way: If the Mercury close out the regular season strong, they could be very scary in a one-game elimination format, which is now in place for the early rounds.

2. Can Seattle's young guns get the Storm back in the playoffs?

Breanna Stewart turns 22 on Saturday. Jewell Loyd doesn't turn 23 until October and tweeted Monday with mock irritation that she'd been asked twice that day if she was older than 15. The Storm's two "super babies" still look like kids, but they don't play that way.

Gold medalist Stewart averaged a very efficient 8.1 points while playing 10.9 minutes per game for the United States in Rio. She is averaging 19.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for Seattle and has the 2016 WNBA rookie of the year award already locked up.

Loyd won that honor last season and now is second on the Storm in scoring at 16.5 points per game, while also getting 3.0 assists per game.

Seattle is tied with Washington at 9-15 for the eighth-best record in the league. For the Storm to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence, they'll need a strong closing surge from Stewart and Loyd.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that Sue Bird's knee injury at the Olympics wasn't serious enough to keep her out of the gold-medal game. She's having a very good WNBA season, too, leading the league with 6.0 assists per game. The Storm point guard has done so much to help Seattle's two rising stars mature, and she'll continue to push them and her team to try to get back where Bird is used to being: the postseason.

3. Can the Mystics salvage their season?

No team needed the Olympic break more than the Mystics, who went into a tailspin and lost all seven of their games in July. Yet they are 9-15 and still battling to make the playoffs.

Emma Meesseman (15.7 PPG) and Tayler Hill (14.7 PPG) are scoring well; it's a breakthrough for Hill in her third full season in the league and fourth overall.

But overall, this isn't a strong offensive team -- only San Antonio's 72.2 points-per-game average is lower than Washington's 79.6 -- so it's hard to see the Mystics getting to the postseason if they can't clamp down more defensively in their remaining 10 games. Washington is allowing its foes 83.3 points per game. It should help the Mystics to get back veteran forward LaToya Sanders, who missed the first part of the season while with the Turkish national team.

4. Who has more on her shoulders: Elena or Angel?

They both have plenty. But Chicago's Elena Delle Donne might have a heavier load to carry to get her team to the postseason because Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry -- who has done a ton of heavy lifting in her WNBA career -- seems to have a little more help this year.

Both players came off the bench during the Olympics and did their jobs well, providing energy for the U.S. team. Now, they go back to being their WNBA teams' respective superstars.

Delle Donne is the reigning WNBA MVP and is averaging 21.2 points per game for the Sky, who are 11-13. Cappie Pondexter and Allie Quigley are the other Chicago players who are scoring in double figures. Those two, Courtney Vandersloot and Jamierra Faulkner provide a solid perimeter core, but the Sky's ability to score consistently inside other than with Delle Donne remains a concern.

McCoughtry is averaging 18.2 points per game for the 13-12 Dream, who have three other players scoring in double figures: Tiffany Hayes, Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon. The Dream initially thought in July they might have lost veteran post player Sancho Lyttle for the season to a foot injury, but she is expected back. Her 8.5 rebounds per game are especially very valuable to the Dream.

5. Who will be the No. 1 seed?

The Sparks and the Lynx have split their two meetings thus far, with each winning on the other's home court. They have one matchup left: Sept. 6 at Los Angeles.

The Sparks haven't played at Staples Center since July 10. They ended the first part of the season with five straight road games and open the second part with four more on the road. When they finally return to Staples Sept. 4, nearly two months will have passed between home games -- which is ridiculous.

However, that means the Sparks will play five of their last six at home, so that might help down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Lynx have nine games left, and only one of their final five is at home.

The teams were total contrasts in terms of the Olympics. Los Angeles had just one player competing: reserve guard Ana Dabovic for Serbia. Meanwhile, it seemed like everyone with the Lynx except mascot Prowl was in Brazil.

OK, slight exaggeration. But with four starters -- Moore, Fowles, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus -- on the U.S. team along with coach Cheryl Reeve as one of Geno Auriemma's assistants, there was a lot of Lynx green and blue amid the American red, white and blue.

All the Lynx players performed well in the Olympics, but Moore deserves a special shout-out. She was spectacular, which is not new. But watching her work so hard setting up others and defending -- she led the Americans with 34 assists and 16 steals -- while still being the second-leading scorer (12.0 PPG) and tying for the lead in rebounding (5.6 RPG) epitomizes why U.S. women's basketball has been unbeatable: truly great players happily putting the team first.

Will the effort expended for the Olympics end up costing the Lynx a little in fatigue? Will the Sparks be extra motivated for a title because they don't have any 2016 gold medals among them?

The Lynx are three-time champions trying to win back-to-back titles, which no WNBA team has done since the Sparks in 2001-02. How can you pick against Minnesota? But ... this is a different Sparks team than we've seen in a long, long time. They don't just have talent, they have resolve and chemistry and willpower.

It's going to be quite a finish.