The Las Vegas Aces are climbing up the betting board in their hopes to win the WNBA Championship in their first year. The first-year team to the city has seen its odds go from a league last 100/1 to 15/1.
So a team in its inaugural year in Las Vegas defies skeptics, and plays much better than expected. Sound familiar?
The Aces are experiencing nothing near the magical run that the Golden Knights had in their inaugural NHL season, but they are starting to get a little more respect in the league, and have made some bettors extremely happy in the process.
The team is currently 12-13 — last in the Western Conference, but only three games out of second place. With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Aces are only two games back from the eighth and final playoff spot.
Against the spread, the Aces are an impressive 14-9-1, thanks to marquee victories on the road against Seattle, who is the 7/2 favorite to win the title, and second-place Minnesota.
Team on the Rebound
The Aces relocated to Las Vegas from San Antonio, where as the Stars last year they had the worst record in the WNBA at 8-26. It was the third consecutive year they had the least amount of wins.
The poor showing gave the Aces the first pick in the 2018 WNBA draft, and team president and head couch Bill Laimbeer didn’t waste it when he chose University of South Carolina standout A’ja Wilson.
“You name it, she can do it,” Laimbeer said. “This is a franchise player. She’s going to make everybody else around her better.”
And sure enough, in June, Wilson was the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month.
But the 21-year-old had a bit of a learning curve, receiving criticism from Laimbeer after a game against the LA Sparks in which he thought his superstar wasn’t playing to her potential.
“After the game I made it very clear to (Wilson) and the team that she can’t put her head down like that,” Laimbeer said. “It was clear to everybody on our team, everybody in the gym that she missed a couple shots, she disengaged from the game, dragged the rest of us down and for our undisputed leader of our ball club, that cannot happen.”
Wilson took responsibility for the loss. “I was not engaged the way that I needed to be engaged and it showed,” she said. “I can’t afford to do that. Down the stretch it was all about mental toughness and I take all the blame for it because I was not there.”
She responded well and in mid-July was named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week.
Vegas as a Sports Town
While the latest addition to Las Vegas’s emerging sports landscape finds their way on the court, off of it they seem to be paving the way for a possible NBA team in Sin city.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says he is open to the idea, and has said the success of the Aces and the NBA Summer League show an NBA team could succeed in a town previously avoided by major sports leagues.
In the meantime, the Aces are trying to building their own fan base. The MGM put an Aces jersey on the Statue of Liberty outside of the New York, New York, and spent $10 million on upgrading the Mandalay Bay Events Center into a suitable place for the team to host games.
“We’re going to do it right. With a WNBA team, it’s not about core economics for us, it’s about visitation,” President of MGM Resorts International Bill Hornbuckle told Associated Press. “It’s about getting the community behind us and showing once again that Las Vegas will support sports teams.”