Aces coach Bill Laimbeer was demoralized Thursday after a pathetic effort and 78-74 loss against the last-place Atlanta Dream.
“I don’t see any way we’re going to win the next game,” he said of the regular-season finale.
Yet, the Aces will clinch a first-round bye in the WNBA playoffs if they do, despite the swoon that’s threatening to derail their postseason positioning.
The Aces (20-13) are 7-7 since the All-Star break and have lost four of their last five, including road losses to the Dream and Indiana Fever, who also will miss the playoffs. The Chicago Sky (20-13) were 6-7 at the beginning of July, but have won 14 of their last 20 games and beat the Connecticut Sun on Friday to pull even with Las Vegas.
The Aces hold the tiebreaker and will clinch the No. 4 seed if they win Sunday against the Phoenix Mercury, who are locked into the No. 8 seed. The Sky play the Washington Mystics, who clinched the No. 1 seed Friday.
Here are three things to monitor on the final day of the regular season, with plenty on the line for Las Vegas and Chicago.
Rest vs. rust
The Aces played most of the second half Thursday without center Liz Cambage, who had ice taped to her left ankle in the fourth quarter. Laimbeer didn’t update her status after the game, and it’s feasible she rests Sunday.
Guard Kayla McBride sat the final five minutes Thursday and the second half against the Fever on Aug. 27. Laimbeer said she has been battling fatigue, and he also might limit her minutes Sunday.
The Mercury also might rest starters, as could the Mystics against the Sky.
Cambage scored 15 points before leaving the game Thursday, and forward A’ja Wilson had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. But the perimeter quartet of McBride, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Tamera Young combined for only 30 points on 13-of-35 shooting.
Those four also combined to shoot 8 of 27 against the Fever, 11 of 32 in a recent loss to the Minnesota Lynx and 12 of 33 in a recent loss to the Sun.
At one point this season, the Aces’ defense was posting historic efficiency numbers, allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions. It’s still the best in the league at 94.7 points per 100 possessions, about one point better than the Lynx (95.6). But it’s not the same cohesive unit that smothered opponents the first two months of the season.
Guards have struggled to pressure on the perimeter, and bigs and wings are a step or two slow in help.
A full Mercury team features center Brittney Griner, forward DeWanna Bonner and guard Diana Taurasi, three of the league’s most gifted offensive players.
Contact reporter Sam Gordon at email@example.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.
Who: Aces at Phoenix Mercury
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix
TV: ESPN3; WNBA League Pass
About the Aces (20-13): A’ja Wilson averages 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, and Liz Cambage scores 15.8 per game.
About the Mercury (15-18): Brittney Griner averages a WNBA-best 20.6 points on 56 percent shooting, with 7.3 rebounds per game.