The WNBA playoffs are still a month away, but every game is crucial for the Aces — who at 16-9 are still contending for a top-two seed and its corresponding double bye into the semifinals.
They conclude a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Atlanta Dream, the worst team in the WNBA whom they beat in June. Then the Aces hit the road for four of their next five games before concluding their home schedule Aug. 31.
Here are three things to monitor for the Aces against the Dream.
1. Jackie Young
The 6-foot lead guard has endured some trials and tribulations during her rookie season, averaging 6.2 points on 32.5 percent shooting — including 31.3 percent from 3-point range. But she’s been much better in her last two outings and has scored in double figures in three of her last four games, thanks in part to an aggressive approach she’s lacked at times during the season.
Young on Sunday recorded double-digit shot attempts (11) for the third time this year and provided 13 points and six assists in a key win over the Connecticut Sun. She’s much more willing to step into the pull-up jumpers she’s passed up for most of the year, and is getting to the rim and foul line too — totaling 18 free-throw attempts in her last three full games.
2. Liz Cambage
Cambage is coming off back-to-back 20-point games and has emerged as the focal point offensively as she continues to combat some of the mental health issues that have troubled her throughout the season. She attempted a season-high 22 shots Friday against the Chicago Sky en route to a season-high 28 points, and scored 21 on Sunday against the Connecticut Sun.
The 6-foot-8-inch center is back to bullying opponents in the low block and isn’t settling for longer jumpers the way she did earlier this year. Four of her last shot 35 attempts have been from beyond 10 feet, boding well for Cambage — and the Aces as they wait for star forward A’ja Wilson to return from a sprained ankle.
3. Team Defense
The Aces for most of the season have led the league in defensive rating, and lean on their team defense when their offense sputters. They allow a league-low 91.9 points per 100 possessions and are securing a league-high 72.5 percent of defensive rebound opportunities.
Opponents are also shooting 38.8 percent against the Aces, worst in the league. Their centers protect their rim, their wings can defend multiple positions and their guards pressure ball handlers while helping and recovering.