The tailspin intensified Thursday night.
With a loss to the WNBA’s worst team.
The Aces failed to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs after suffering a 78-74 loss to the last-place Atlanta Dream at State Farm Arena. Las Vegas (20-13) at one point had the league’s best record and was vying for a top-two seed and double bye into the semifinals.
But that was before losing four of its last five games — and an egregious effort against the lowly Dream (8-25).
“We lost the game from start to finish,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “I don’t think we showed up to play a basketball game to win. We showed up just to play. We thought it was going to be easy. It’s not.”
The Aces still can clinch the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye with a victory Sunday at the Phoenix Mercury in the regular-season finale, or one loss by the Chicago Sky (19-13).
But Laimbeer isn’t counting on it.
“I don’t see any way we’re going to win the next game,” he said. “I hope somebody else helps us out.”
The Aces played most of the second half without All-Star center Liz Cambage, who sustained a lower leg injury and had ice taped to her left ankle while her teammates were staggering through the fourth quarter. She scored 15 points in 13 minutes.
Laimbeer did not update her status after the game.
“(We missed) her presence. Her presence and dominance inside the paint is something no one else can guard,” said Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson, who had a team-high 19 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. “It’s kind of tough when she’s out, but that shouldn’t make us fall back or get down.”
Cambage’s presence in the paint indeed was a problem for the Dream. She overpowered defenders for prime low-post position and scored 13 points in the first half to propel the Aces to a 42-37 halftime lead.
Cambage started the second half on the bench, checked in and made a layup, then left the game for good three minutes into the third quarter.
Las Vegas wilted without her, shooting 1 of 15 from 3-point range. Guards Kayla McBride, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum combined for 24 points on 10-of-29 shooting.
Atlanta hit 9 of 22 3-pointers, including two in the final four minutes. Las Vegas shot 4 of 16 in the fourth quarter en route to its most dispiriting loss of the season.