After two months of more ups than downs, more wins than losses and more successes than failures, Aces coach Bill Laimbeer finally smiled and relaxed — if only briefly.
“I can’t be unhappy,” he conceded Tuesday night after a resounding 79-62 win over the rival Seattle Storm at Mandalay Bay Events Center. “We have a lot of room for improvement.”
No doubt. And they also have a lot to be proud of.
The Aces concluded the first portion of their schedule by dismantling the Storm, and will shift their attention to the All-Star break and the All-Star Game on Saturday at their home arena — coupling an impressive rise atop the standings with an emergence into the national spotlight.
They lead the WNBA with a 13-6 record and have won 11 of their last 14 games after opening the season as the betting championship favorites.
No, it wasn’t always pretty.
But it’s safe to say they’re here to stay — with or without injured star A’ja Wilson.
“Going into All-Star break is always a scary time … but winning a game like that against the defending champions, it’s hard not to be happy,” guard Kayla McBride said. “Obviously, we’ve had our ups and downs, especially against the better teams in this league. … But (tonight) was a good momentum game for us.”
The Aces opened training camp with playoff aspirations — and the season with championship aspirations after trading for All-Star center Liz Cambage in May. They spent the first half of the season incorporating her into their offense alongside their established core of Wilson, McBride and Kelsey Plum, and battled lethargy, stagnation and turnovers as they worked to maximize their prodigious potential.
But they’ve won, anyway, with the league’s best defense and are in position after the break to make a run toward a championship.
Las Vegas, without Wilson again on Tuesday, played through Cambage and McBride, but relied on a balanced effort as all five starters scored in double figures.
Dearica Hamby started again in place of Wilson and provided 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds. Cambage added 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and rookie guard Jackie Young supplied 13 points and five assists in one of her better outings of the season.
The Aces led 36-35 at the break, but opened a 19-point lead over Seattle (12-9) in the fourth quarter and left the court to joyous applause from the 5,193 in attendance.
Time now to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
All-Star weekend is finally here.
“There’s still a lot of things we need to work on,” said Hamby, who plans on supporting her teammates throughout the weekend. “But it’s nice to string a few wins on and get some momentum going into the second half of the season.”