Playoff Previews 2023: Round One — Las Vegas Aces vs. Chicago Sky

The No.1 Las Vegas Aces swept the season series over the No.8 Chicago Sky, 3-0. Las Vegas beat Chicago 93-80 on June 11; 107-95 on July 25; and 94-87 on August 24.

Series Schedule:

Game One: T-Mobile Arena – 10:00 p.m. ET on September 13 (ESPN)

Game Two: T-Mobile Arena – 3:00 p.m. ET on September 17 (ABC)

Game Three (if necessary): Wintrust Arena – TBD on September 20 (ESPN)


Matchups We Can’t Wait To Watch

OWEN: Anyone who knows me understands that I must begin with Kahleah Copper and Jackie Young, two of my favorite basketball players in the world. Copper and Young are different in so many ways, but one similarity they share is the completeness of their games. It’s why the two often end up guarding one another—they both tend to defend the opponent’s greatest perimeter threat. 

With Vegas, that’s a little more complicated. Young has been the most efficient scorer in the WNBA this season and is surely on her way to an All-WNBA selection. However, Chelsea Gray will also be a contender for All-WNBA second team and is the reigning Finals MVP (an award Copper is familiar with herself). Then there’s Kelsey Plum, one of the most dynamic scorers in the W. Copper will likely see time on a number of players. I’m intrigued to see whether Dana Evans’ minutes are extended, as she could help Copper handle the defensive workload by spending some time guarding Gray.

It’s less complicated on the other side of the ball. Courtney Williams has had arguably her best WNBA season. Marina Mabrey is a bucket. Still, Copper is Chicago’s best player and the one with a Finals MVP award to her name. Young will likely draw that assignment, which is the one I’m most excited to track.


BLAKE: Looking to the Sky, I’m looking forward to seeing head coach Emre Vatansever’s plan to try and control A’ja Wilson. Does Elizabeth Williams  get the full-time assignment? And does Wilson get immediately doubled upon receiving the ball? What kind of combinations does Vatansever throw at Wilson to try and slow her down? Likely, this will be some combination of Elizabeth Williams, Alanna Smith, and/or Kahleah Copper. But Vatansever will have to game plan for Wilson while also dealing with every other star on the Aces, which will be a big challenge. 

Then in the backcourt, I can’t wait to watch Courtney Williams and Chelsea Gray go at it. Both players are in the top four in assists per game (APG) this season. Courtney Williams will look to make things happen for the Sky, and Gray will do the same for the Aces. As defenders, both will try to make the other’s life more difficult, which will be a battle throughout the series.


X Factors

OWEN: If Candace Parker remains out for the playoffs, Alysha Clark will be Las Vegas’ X factor. Clark is the Aces’ fifth-best active player behind A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray, and Kelsey Plum. With Parker healthy, Becky Hammon has the luxury of bringing Clark off the bench. But given the current injury report, Clark is an essential part of the Aces’ best lineup. 

Hammon will likely start Kiah Stokes alongside Wilson in the frontcourt, but I’m curious to see how quickly Vegas switches to small-ball if Chicago remains competitive. Playing Clark at the four could leave the Aces exposed on the glass, as the Sky have a crew of ferocious rebounders at almost every position. Still, that risk may be one worth taking given what occurs on the other side of the ball. By playing Clark alongside Vegas’ Big Four, Chicago would have to account for lethal shooting and scoring threats from all five Aces on the court. Stokes has been great for Vegas this season, eating up frontcourt minutes while playing above-average defense, but teams will ignore her on offense. 

Expect to see the Gray/Plum/Young/Clark/Wilson lineup in the fourth quarter if Chicago is able to hang in for the first three. 


See Also

BLAKE: Copper isn’t just Chicago’s leading scorer; she’s also the heart and soul of the Sky. Fresh off signing a two-year extension to stay in Chicago, she will be tasked to try and take down the defending champs. Quite the tall order, but she has an all-league type of season under her belt, averaging 18.7 points per game (PPG) and shooting over 40.0 percent from the three-point line.

Aside from Copper, hello, Courtney Williams! She recorded a 23-point, 16-rebound, 13-assist triple-double in the regular season finale Sunday in a win over the Connecticut Sun, her second triple-double this season. Chicago’s do-it-all lead guard is one of the toughest defenders in the W, which her team will need to put a scare into the Aces.

Marina Mabrey is a career 41.2 percent three-point shooter during the playoffs, allowing her to space the floor and provide some much needed buckets as the Sky work to compete with the Aces’ high-powered offense.

Elizabeth Williams was Chicago’s defensive anchor throughout the regular season as one of the best shot-blockers in the league. She’ll have the task of dealing with A’ja Wilson, which is a difficult ask for anyone. But E-Will has proved herself to be one of the top defenders in the W this season and shown that she’s up for any challenge.


Bold Prediction

OWEN: Chelsea Gray will record back-to-back double-doubles and will either post a triple-double or come close to notching one as the Aces sweep the Sky.

BLAKE: In Game One, the first game Kah will play in after signing the extension with the Sky, she will score 30 or more points for only the second time this season.

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