The Aces return from the Olympic break on Sunday with the best offensive rating in the WNBA. The best defensive rating in the WNBA. The second best record in the WNBA.
And four new Olympic gold medalists.
“We enjoyed the experience and did it together,” said Aces point guard Chelsea Gray.
“Like Chelsea said, it’s honestly a blessing,” said teammate A’ja Wilson.
The Olympics are history now, and the Aces will try and parlay the afterglow into a strong finish over the final 11 games of the WNBA season. They begin the final third of the season at Michelob Ultra Arena against the Washington Mystics, whom they’ll play again Tuesday.
Then, a three-game road trip to play Eastern Conference competition.
“We got through the first half of the season with a lot of players sacrificing their minutes and points (from) what they’re used to,” said Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer. “They all got rewarded for it. We had multiple Olympians. We had an All-Star, Dearica (Hamby), for her first time. Everybody got rewarded for their sacrifices.”
The Aces reconvened as a team for practice last week, though players who didn’t play in the Olympics were in the market earlier and began working out at the beginning of the month. Three-on-three gold medalists Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young were among the first Olympians to return, with their event concluding late last month.
Wilson and Gray arrived at the beginning of last week with newfound perspective after winning their first gold with the five-on-five national team.
“For me, I was just taking it all in,” Wilson said, “because you’re around different players. Yeah, I love my team. But when you go and you’re in a setting with USA Basketball, there’s so much knowledge that you can just take in.”
Added Gray: “(We had) so much fun repping USA. We had so much fun with the men’s team, just us being together. It was actually good with the time difference. It allowed us to be a little bit more present sometimes.”
That said, they’ve had a few days to readjust to playing with their Aces teammates and understand the implications of the rest of WNBA season.
“You’re never comfortable with where you’re at because you can always get better and spend more time in the gym,” Laimbeer said after Saturday’s practice. “I was a little pessimistic three or four days ago, but I’m more optimistic today. We had three really good practices down the stretch here. I think we’re ready to play. Let’s go throw the ball up and see what happens.”
Who: Aces vs. Washington Mystics
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Michelob Ultra Arena
About the Aces (15-6): They lead the league in offensive rating (108.9), defensive rating (97.1) and net rating (plus-11.8). Wilson is in the midst of another MVP caliber season, averaging 19.4 points and 9.0 rebounds, while frontcourt mate Liz Cambage is good for 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Four other players are scoring in double figures, including Plum and Young who are averaging career highs of 13.5 points and 12.6 points, respectively.
About the Mystics (8-10): Fellow Olympians Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins are in the midst of tremendous seasons and have helped keep Washington afloat without Elena Delle Donne, who has not yet played this season. Charles is averaging 26.3 points, which would set a new WNBA single-season record. Atkins is averaging 16.8 points and shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point range. Myisha Hines-Allen also adds 14 points per game.