Aces guard Riquna Williams said it best Friday.
“That double bye is simply all the motivation we need,” she said. “You don’t want to have such a great season and get caught in a win-or-go-home (game). … If we can definitely lock in that first or second seed, you can relax a little.”
Las Vegas can definitely relax after clinching the WNBA’s No. 2 playoff seed with a 103-70 victory over the Chicago Sky at Wintrust Arena. Williams led the way with 22 points, and Kelsey Plum continued her Sixth Woman of the Year campaign by scoring 16 of her 20 points in the second quarter.
The Aces conclude the regular season Sunday at the Phoenix Mercury, knowing they have the double bye and an automatic berth into the semifinals. The Connecticut Sun (25-6) are the No. 1 seed.
“I told the players … we haven’t done anything yet,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said. “All we did is what we were expected to do at the start of the year. We were expected to get a double bye, and we did. Give them credit for that.”
The semifinals don’t begin until Sept. 28, giving the Aces ample time to reintegrate All-Star center Liz Cambage, who has missed the past five games because of COVID-19 but is set to return Sunday. Las Vegas (23-8) found a groove without her by relying on a more perimeter-oriented style of play.
The same style that overwhelmed the Sky (15-16).
The perimeter trio of Williams, Plum and Jackie Young combined to score 58 points on 24-of-35 shooting. Stops on one end turned into scores on the other, and the Aces unleashed their potent transition offense.
A’ja Wilson finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, her seventh game with at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Frontcourt mate Kiah Stokes added 13 rebounds and seven assists to help the Aces log a season-high 32 assists.
Laimbeer was pleased with the ball movement, and Plum suggested that Las Vegas is hitting its stride at the right time. Cambage probably will play in three-minute spurts Sunday, and Laimbeer said it’s unlikely anyone will play more than 20 minutes.
Then it’s on to the postseason.
“Our chemistry is going to be the reason we finish differently than we did last year,” Plum said. “You want to play your best basketball at the end of the season. In big games, we have a lot of players that want the ball.
“Riquna said in the locker room that we have a lot of alphas on the team. That’s a very good thing. We’re at the point where we’re figuring out who needs the ball when.”