The WNBA regular season is over, and so too is the swoon that nearly rattled the Aces.
The playoffs begin Sept. 11. But they don’t begin for Las Vegas until Sept. 15.
The Aces on Sunday clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs with a 98-89 road victory over the Phoenix Mercury in the final game of the regular season. They are the No. 4 seed and will host a second-round game at Thomas & Mack Center on Sept. 15 against either the No. 5 Chicago Sky (20-14), No. 6 Seattle Storm (18-16) or No. 7 Minnesota Lynx (18-16).
The Aces had lost four of five previous games, but their tailspin is over. The franchise’s first playoff run since 2014 can finally start.
“I think we are just where we need to be, but we still have a lot more growth to get together,” Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson said. “Every single night you never know what is going on, so you have to be on your ‘A’ game.’ I think we’re kind of getting there. Kind of at our peak, but just not yet. That is good heading into the playoffs.”
The Aces opened the season as the betting favorites to capture the title after acquiring All-Star Liz Cambage from the Dallas Wings in May. They spent the summer enduring the trials and tribulations that accompany such expectations while establishing themselves as a contender.
They won 12 of 15 during June and July to claim the best record in the WNBA. Then they lost four of five in the last two weeks, fumbling away a chance at a top-two seed and nearly squandering their bye altogether amid a late surge from the Sky.
But with Wilson and Cambage on the interior, All-Star guard Kayla McBride on the perimeter and forward Dearica Hamby as a top reserve, Las Vegas has the requisite firepower to advance in the postseason.And possibly accomplish even more.
“It has been a bit inconsistent, but if we can keep this energy and consistency heading into playoffs, I think we can go really far,” Cambage said. “Got our eyes on the prize but just have to take it each game as they come.”
Cambage had 21 points and nine rebounds against the Mercury, and Wilson scored 20. McBride made the go-ahead 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter. Hamby came off the bench to supply 12 points and eight rebounds.
Brittney Griner had a game-high 24 points for Phoenix (15-19), but the Mercury did not score in the final 3:19 against the Aces’ top-ranked defense.
“The season kind of went how I expected it to,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said. “A lot of ups and downs, trying to understand each other and learn how to win. We had our moments where we looked very good, and moments where we looked really bad. All in all, to take the fourth seed and have a bye in the first round and a home game, we will take it.”