BY BRANDON TERRELL
At the start of the season, the Las Vegas Aces were heavy one of the heavy favorites to contend for the 2019 WNBA Championship. Fast-forward a few months, and the team compiled a 21-13 record and finished the season ranked 4th overall – but not without its fair share of injuries, absences, and a coupole losing streaks. They’ve earned themselves a first-round bye and now face a hot and dangerous Chicago Sky team.
Armed with possibly the best post duo in the league in A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage, the Aces look to get back to basketball that many feel they’re capable of. They ended the season with a 6-4 record over their last 10 games. While still a winning output, several of those losses were winnable. Were there chemistry issues late in the season or were players just not mentally “in the game” for extended periods? Coach Bill Laimbeer would tweak his starting lineup in favor of the defensive-veteran, Tamera Young, while having Kelsey Plum come off the bench.
In the upcoming matchup versus Chicago, Las Vegas has the size. The scoring options are there across all positions – including a recently acquired Epiphany Prince.
The Aces won the season series 2-1. Only one game of the three, Aces won 100-85, was decided by double digits. That game is notable for being quite an aggressive matchup along with the accusations of bullying. Will the Sky look to seek revenge and settle the score?
Wilson and Plum need to have big games
A’ja Wilson MUST be A’ja Wilson. To many, she’s the leader of this team and the focal point of their offense. While her production has dipped from her Rookie of the Year campaign, that’s partially due to sharing the load w/ All-Star center, Liz Cambage. Wilson leads the team in points and can score in a number of ways. If the shots aren’t falling, she understands how to get to the line and convert the freebies. She’s the best shot-blocker, so it’s an added bonus when containing the guards on their drives in the paint.
Can Kelsey Plum continue her hot shooting? Plum averaged over 13.5ppg across the final four games of the season. Her best performance came on August 31st against the LA Sparks. She came up huge with 20points as the Aces fought from a 12pt deficit late in the game. Look for her to have a rechanneled focus, and provide the extra offensive punch.
The players on the Aces’ roster with the most playoff experience: Tamera Young and Epiphany Prince. Both were starters on the 2014 Sky roster that advanced to WNBA Finals before falling to the Phoenix Mercury. Could they provide the veteran punch to advance to the semifinals? Will they be able to lead a young Aces team and build off of their previous experiences?
Defense and home court advantage should help Aces
Defense will be huge for the Aces. Containing Diamond DeShields is one piece. However, there’s still Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. The Sky has a trio of post players that are capable in knocking down the long ball. At times, the guard play of the Aces has come into question while on the topic of defense. Understanding and buying into the defensive matchups will be imperative in order to defeat an athletic Sky team.
Coach Laimbeer penned a heart-felt letter to the Las Vegas fans to come out and support their team. The Aces have had one of the best atmospheres all season, but this game won’t be played at their home arena Mandalay Bay Events Center due to a scheduling conflict. Instead they’ll play at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. Hopefully homecourt advantage is still a rowdy one.
This won’t be a runaway game. I’m expecting hard and physical play – maybe even a few controversial calls. However, the Aces will move on to the next round.