The Las Vegas Aces can nail down a bye to the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs and maintain their chances for the No. 1 seed if they defeat the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday.
Las Vegas (16-4) has the inside track to the No. 2 spot, leading third-place Los Angeles (15-6) by 1 ½ games heading into a high-profile showdown pair of games on back-to-back days. The Aces close the season against league-leading Seattle on Sunday, and a win over the Sparks would put the top spot up for grabs since Las Vegas won its previous matchup with Seattle.
Bill Laimbeer’s team took care of business by not looking ahead to this point, winning its previous four games after defeating the Minnesota Lynx 104-89 on Thursday night. Angel McCoughtry – a near-lock to be WNBA Comeback Player of the Year – had 22 points in just 17 minutes as she and Kayla McBride combined to go 8 for 11 from 3-point range.
McBride had 21 points and MVP candidate A’ja Wilson 20 for Las Vegas, which celebrated McCoughtry’s 34th birthday in winning style.
“I knew they were going to pack the paint, so I just had to set the tone and let them know we could hit jump shots,” McCoughtry told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after also totaling eight rebounds and six assists. “Kayla shot lights out, (Danielle did, too), and we let them know we can shoot jump shots. We don’t shoot a lot of 3s, but we can make them if we have to.”
While the offense clicked, Wilson anchored a solid defensive performance in the third quarter when Las Vegas took control and held Minnesota to 15 points. Wilson, who had four blocked shots, took over the league lead in that category with 2.0 per game. She is also second in scoring and sixth in rebounding.
The Sparks need to win this game and have the Aces lose to the Storm to have any chance of claiming the No. 2 seed. They are looking to regroup after an 80-72 defeat to defending champion Washington on Thursday night.
Chelsea Gray scored 21 points while Candace Parker had nine points, a season-high 17 rebounds, and six assists, but Los Angeles faded late as the Mystics – playing for their postseason lives – closed the game on a 12-4 burst over the final 2:53.
“Hopefully [this game] serves as a strong reminder that we can’t ever allow any opponent to outwork us, and still expect us to win,” coach Derek Fisher told the Sparks official website.
Parker continues to have a solid case to win MVP for the third time, with the 36-year-old averaging 14.5 points, a league-best 9.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while shooting 50.9 percent overall and 42.2 percent from 3-point range.
McCoughtry and Wilson combined for 50 points in the first meeting, with Wilson scoring eight of her 26 in a crucial fourth-quarter run as Las Vegas rallied for an 86-82 win Aug. 7.