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Aces back on the road looking for first test of 2023 season

Updated June 1, 2023 - 4:21 pm

Kelsey Plum is looking for a test. She’s expecting to get one during the next few games.

The Aces begin a four-game road trip this week. Being away from home for long stretches is already difficult, and it’s complicated by the lack of charter flights in the WNBA.

Despite the challenges, Plum said she enjoys road trips. The first-team All-WNBA guard said the Aces’ upcoming journey will be a good reminder that they have to stay engaged, no matter how successful the team has been to open the season.

“Going on the road, playing every other day pretty much against really good teams, we know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” Plum said.

The Aces’ trip starts at 5 p.m. Friday when they play the Atlanta Dream at Gateway Center Arena at College Park in Atlanta. It’s the first of a difficult stretch of four games in seven days. The Aces play six of their first eight games on the road to begin the season.

For context, the Aces (4-0) didn’t play their sixth road game of the 2022 campaign until June 15 — the team’s 14th game.

The Aces face the Dream (2-2) still searching for their first major challenge this season. The reigning WNBA champions have scored at least 93 points in each matchup and are winning games by an average margin of 24.75 points.

However, they haven’t faced a title contender. The Seattle Storm — whom the Aces beat by 41 in their season opener — are winless through three games, still adjusting to the retirement of Sue Bird and the departure of former MVP Breanna Stewart in free agency.

Similarly, the Minnesota Lynx failed to win any of their first five games, including a 21-point loss to the Aces on Sunday. The Lynx were also missing former Aces guard and three-time All-Star Kayla McBride when the teams met.

The Los Angeles Sparks provided the biggest test, leading at halftime during the second game of the season. They collapsed after the break in a 94-85 loss, but were notably missing former MVP Nneka Ogwumike due to non-COVID illness and offseason acquisitions Azura Stevens (back) and Jasmine Thomas (ACL recovery).

Ogwumike was available for the second game between the Sparks and Aces, but her sister Chiney Ogwumike and guards Layshia Clarendon and Jordin Canada all missed the game due to non-COVID illness.

The Sparks were so shorthanded they would have forfeited if they hadn’t signed Las Vegas native Rae Burrell to a hardship contract less than four hours before the game. After the 93-65 win, Aces coach Becky Hammon said all her team was able to do was beat the opponent in front of them, but acknowledged the Sparks had been decimated before taking the court.

Young and Plum know this trip will hold some bigger challenges. After facing Atlanta, the Aces play the Indiana Fever and 2023 No. 1 overall pick Aliyah Boston, then have consecutive games against a resurgent Connecticut Sun team that’s picked up right where it left off despite losing former MVP Jonquel Jones and coach Curt Miller during the offseason.

The Aces beat the Sun 3-1 last season in the WNBA Finals.

“This league is so tough,” Plum said. “You can’t take nights off. But we have competitors out there, so I know everyone will be ready.”

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

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