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Las Vegas Aces eye strong finish on final trip of regular season

Updated September 4, 2019 - 11:02 pm

The Aces have adopted a new motto as they prepare for the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2014.

“Practice hard, play hard,” coach Bill Laimbeer said. “For the rest of the time we have.”

Simple enough.

The Aces conclude their second regular season in Las Vegas with one more trip and two more games — against the Atlanta Dream on Thursday and the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.

At 20-12, they’re the No. 4 seed and in line to clinch a bye into the second round with their next win, or the Chicago Sky’s next loss. And they can still overtake the Los Angeles Sparks (20-12) for the No. 3 seed, though the Sparks hold the tiebreaker if they finish with identical records.

But players know that seeding is out of their hands. They are choosing instead to focus on what they can control.

“I just want us to always go out there with a sense of urgency,” said guard Epiphanny Prince, who has played in a team-high 19 playoff games. “Play like there’s no tomorrow. … We shouldn’t be told that we need to work hard, and then just have our level of focus go up another notch.”

The Aces played with that sense of urgency for most of the season during their emergence as one of the better teams in the WNBA. They held the league’s best record on multiple occasions and won 12 of 15 during June and July to surge toward the top of the league’s standings.

But they lacked urgency in the last month, trailing by double figures in the first quarter of their last six losses. They squandered an opportunity to score a top-two seed by losing three straight before beating the Sparks on Saturday.

Laimbeer said the team’s victory over Los Angeles in its final regular-season home game on Saturday was crucial for the team’s psyche ahead of the postseason. He is hopeful the momentum can carry over to the trip. Guard Kayla McBride called the season “a roller coaster.” She said she is ready for the playoffs to begin.

“We came in with a lot of pressure and a lot expectations. I think we answered them,” McBride said. “We had our moments where we felt like we were a top team in this league, and there are also moments where you get down on yourself. Ours came a little later in the season, but I’ve think we’ve really banded together.”

The Aces will have a week between games if they can secure a first-round bye. The first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs are single elimination. The semifinals and finals are best-of-five series.

“We’re trying to continuously build and build that trust and that connection,” McBride said. “It might not happen this year, and we know that. But we’re trying to control everything that we can to give ourselves the best chance possible.”

More Aces: Follow at reviewjournal.com/aces and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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