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Aces All-Star out for extended period as playoffs approach

The Aces will enter Thursday’s showdown with the No. 1 seed Chicago Sky and probably the first round of the playoffs shorthanded.

All-Star forward Dearica Hamby suffered a right knee bone contusion during Tuesday’s 97-90 win against the Atlanta Dream, according to people close to the team.

The two-time sixth player of the year landed awkwardly early in the second quarter while attempting a layup. She was helped the locker room by training staff and did not return. Hamby is expected to miss two to four weeks, making her availability for at least the first round of the playoffs unlikely.

The Aces host the Sky at 7 p.m. Thursday at Michelob Ultra Arena. It’s a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds — separated by just one game in the standings — with tiebreaker implications, and potentially a Finals preview.

“This is the exciting part of the season coming up, for sure,” coach Becky Hammon said.

The Aces (24-10) enter Thursday’s game with a lot on the line. They played one of their best games of the season against the Seattle Storm Sunday, then outlasted a shorthanded Atlanta Dream team fighting for its playoff life Tuesday. The Sky lost to the Storm 111-100 Tuesday.

Hammon’s squad still has a chance to snatch the No. 1 seed as the season draws to a close. So far, the Aces and Sky (25-9) have split the season series.

On May 28, the Aces beat the Sky in Chicago in the first matchup between the teams as All-Star forward A’ja Wilson scored 22 points and had 16 rebounds. Hamby also contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds in the win.

Though she was struggling offensively before she was injured, Hamby was still considered a crucial part of the rotation because of her energy and defense. She was averaging 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.

The Sky returned the favor June 21 at Michelob Ultra Arena with the largest comeback win in WNBA history. Chicago overturned a 28-point deficit to win 104-95 after the Aces set a league record by scoring 41 points in the first quarter.

While the teams met again in the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup Final — a 93-83 Aces win — the result doesn’t count toward either team’s official league record.

An Aces win Thursday clinches the tiebreaker for them, giving the Aces the No. 1 seed if they finish with the same record as the Sky Sunday, the last day of the season. A Chicago win mathematically guarantees the No. 1 seed to the reigning champions.

Despite the playoff position implications, Hammon said the expectations for her team haven’t changed.

“Defense, play with each other and be locked in for 40 minutes,” she said. “We either will or we won’t.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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