The Las Vegas Aces defeated the Chicago Sky 100-85 on Sunday night to clinch a spot in the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2014, when the franchise was still in San Antonio.
The Aces were led by second-year star A’ja Wilson, who came back from an ankle injury after missing nine games.
Wilson Shines in Return from Injury
Wilson, who was last year’s WNBA Rookie of the Year, scored 25 points while grabbing eight boards and blocking four shots in the victory. She put up those numbers despite coming in off the bench and playing just 26 minutes, the first time in her WNBA career that she has played in a game without being a starter.
“I just wanted to go out and try to be the best teammate I can, especially off of injury,” Wilson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the win. “I know it’s kind of different to come in off the bench and re-create the chemistry with the team after missing time, but I just wanted to fit in and get things going for myself as well as my teammates.”
All-Star center Liz Cambage added 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Aces. Cambage joined the team in May, when Las Vegas acquired her in a trade with the Dallas Wings.
“It’s very exciting, and I’m glad I can be a part of it,” Cambage told the Review-Journal. “I’m happy to be headed back to the playoffs, and to be with this team as well.”
Aces High in Las Vegas
The playoff berth marks the latest chapter in a stunning turnaround for the franchise. After the 2014 season, which saw the then-San Antonio Stars finish 16-18 and get swept in the first round of the playoffs, Becky Hammon – who would become an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs – retired. The team never recovered, posting the league’s worst record for each of the next three seasons.
The franchise then moved to Las Vegas for 2018, where they did slightly better, finishing 14-20 to just miss the playoffs as the ninth-ranked team in the league. But between the emergence of Wilson and the trade for Cambage, the Aces came into the season as one of the favorites to win the WNBA championship in 2019.
At 18-9, Las Vegas currently has the third-best record in the league, behind the Washington Mystics (20-7) and the Connecticut Sun (19-8), both of whom have also clinched a playoff berth. The Aces will want to try to catch at least one of those teams before the end of the regular season, as the top two seeds receive a bye to the semifinals. The other six playoff teams must survive two rounds of single-elimination play to get to that stage, though the third and fourth seeds do at least get a bye to the second round.
“We know we’re going to be in the playoffs, but now it’s about seeding,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer told the Review-Journal. “We’re focused on the next game.”
FanDuel Sportsbook currently lists the Aces as the third choice to win the WNBA championship at +390 odds. That trails behind the Mystics (+150) and the Sun (+300), with the Los Angeles Sparks (+500) also being seen as a serious contender heading into the final weeks of the 34-game regular season.