Aces coach Bill Laimbeer was complimentary of the atmosphere at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Tuesday night, noting its playoff feel. With the regular season winding down, “all teams right now are playing playoff games,” he said.
Including Las Vegas.
The Aces clinched a playoff berth Sunday with a win at the Chicago Sky, but still have plenty to play for before the postseason begins Sept. 11. They’re third in the WNBA standings with a 19-9 record, a half-game behind the Connecticut Sun (19-8), whom they play at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
If they beat the Sun, the Aces will win the season series 2-1 and control their fate as they compete for a top-two seed. Lose, and they’ll fall 1½ games behind the Sun with four of their final five on the road — and three against teams currently in the eight-team playoff field.
Let’s take a look at the implications for the rest of the regular season and how they will affect the playoffs.
A berth in the semifinals
The playoff format was enacted in 2016 and includes double byes for the first- and second-place teams through the first two rounds into the semifinals. Five of the six WNBA finalists under this format were top-two seeds and received double byes. The Washington Mystics were the exception, finishing as the No. 3 seed last season and beating the No. 2 seed Atlanta Dream in a best-of-five series to earn their berth in the finals.
The Mystics (20-7) have the league’s best record this season.
Semifinal play begins Sept. 17
A No. 3 or No. 4 seed and the quarterfinals
The third and fourth seeds are rewarded with a bye through the first round and into the quarterfinals for a single elimination home playoff game against a round-one winner, which still bodes well for Las Vegas. The Aces are 12-4 at Mandalay Bay Events Center and have lost once to a lower-seeded team — Aug. 9 to the No. 5 Sky.
Their home arena, though, is booked with concerts from Sept. 13 through Sept. 15, meaning the Aces will play at the Thomas & Mack Center if they host a quarterfinal matchup Sept. 15. They lead the No. 4 Los Angeles Sparks by two games and the Sky by 2½ games and are likely to receive at least a No. 3 or No. 4 seed if they don’t implode down the stretch.
Seeds 5-8 and the first round
The fifth and sixth seeds open the postseason Sept. 11 by hosting lower-seeded teams in a single elimination game. The Aces are 5½ games ahead of the No. 7 Phoenix Mercury and will clinch a top-six record and home playoff game with any combination of two Las Vegas wins and Phoenix losses.
Who: Aces at Connecticut Sun
When: 4:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut
TV: NBA TV
About the Aces (19-9): Liz Cambage is averaging 21.8 points and 11.6 rebounds in the five games since her brief hiatus and 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds this season. The Aces have won four straight but are 1-1 against the Sun.
About the Sun (19-8): They have the WNBA’s best home record at 13-1. Jonquel Jones averages a team-high 14.8 points to go with 10.3 rebounds per game.