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‘Chomping at the bit’: Aces star likely to make season debut Wednesday

Updated June 18, 2024 - 7:29 pm

Aces point guard Chelsea Gray will likely make her season debut against the Seattle Storm on Wednesday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

“I intend on playing her a little bit tomorrow at different spots in the game,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said Tuesday.

Gray was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice and has been ramping up her warmup routine in the hours leading up to games. The 31-year-old won’t necessarily be on a minutes restriction. Instead, the team plans to “evaluate on the fly” with input from Gray and the athletic training staff, Hammon said.

The three-time WNBA champion and five-time All-Star has yet to play this season because of a lower left leg injury suffered during Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals against the New York Liberty. She missed the subsequent title-clincher.

When asked about her return, Gray said it was “a long time coming,” recalling the exact date of the last time she played.

“October 15th I think was the last time,” Gray said. “So I’m excited to actually get on the court and be ready to play.”

The Aces (6-6) have lost four of their past five games, and Gray noted that she’s struggled to watch her team go through hardship without her on the floor.

“The competitor in me is like chomping at the bit, honestly,” she said.

Gray was first upgraded from “out” to “questionable” on the Aces’ injury report ahead of their 103-99 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday. Now, she isn’t on the injury report at all.

Kierstan Bell is the lone injured Ace. She has been out since the team’s season opener with a lower right leg injury, and Hammon said Tuesday that the forward is at least a good “week to two weeks” from a return.

‘The bad guy’

In the lead-up to Gray’s status change, Hammon said she’d been trying to hold the 2022 WNBA Finals MVP back as much as she could in the interest of being careful.

The Hall of Fame coach had a similar struggle with Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, who have been dealing with illnesses during the team’s recent rough stretch.

Young started feeling under the weather before a win over the Dallas Wings on June 5. As Young attempted to keep playing through it, Hammon had to force her to stay in Las Vegas when the team headed on the road for a loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on June 9.

Plum was feeling sick during the Aces’ loss to the Liberty on Saturday.

“Sometimes me as the coach, (I’ve) got to be the bad guy and protect them from themselves at times, because they’ll go until exhaustion,” Hammon said of Plum and Young. “They were at points I feel like physically they could have fainted. They were just exerting themselves so much.

“They’re both on the up and up now though, and we’re looking forward to getting Chelsea back on the ground running for a little bit for us.”

Hammon noted that although she doesn’t want to put Gray in a position to where she “can’t be effective and efficient” due to fatigue or discomfort, she doesn’t imagine that will be a major issue.

“Chelsea always beats you with her mind, not her physical tools. So even if she’s gassed a little bit, she can still dissect you with her passing and her brain,” Hammon said.

No easy fix

That said, “The Point Gawd” doesn’t believe she’ll be the be-all and end-all for the Aces’ adversity.

“There’s things that we’ve had to figure out with Jackie and KP being at the one (point guard) a little bit more than usual,” Gray said. “I’m not gonna come in and just be the person that’s gonna fix everything. But, you know, we’re working together as a group and getting better each time.”

Plum and Young rank in the top 10 in WNBA in scoring at 18.8 and 17.8 points per game, respectively. They’ve been playing out of position in Gray’s absence, but Hammon said the team’s largest issue is their inconsistent “try-hard” factor.

This deficit shows most on the defensive end, as the Aces have the third-worst defensive efficiency rating in the WNBA.

Wednesday’s game offers the team an opportunity to turn everything around, as their run of four losses in five games began against the Storm on June 7.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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