The Las Vegas Aces were without prized offseason acquisition Elizabeth Cambage (reported by the Review Journal’s Sam Gordon as having an injured foot) for their 2019 opener, but still were able to beat the Los Angeles Sparks in convincing fashion, 83-70.
The Aces led the WNBA in pace last year, so it was no surprise to see them play a fast game to begin 2019. The number of possessions favored Las Vegas and its young, athletic roster: A’ja Wilson bullied her way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Kelsey Plum looked comfortable running the show for the Aces, racking up 6 assists as their starting point guard.
The story of the game, though, just might have been Aces forward Dearica Hamby. Without Cambage in the lineup, Hamby flourished, recording a monster line of 12 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocked shots. Her box plus/minus was a game-high +20.
On the other side, first-year head coach Derek Fisher made the call to start Maria Vadeeva in place of the injured Candace Parker, and Vadeeva responded with a career night. The 20-year-old Russian was arguably the Sparks’ most effective player, scoring 24 points and blocking 3 shots in 24 minutes. Nneka Ogwumike chipped in with a solid line of her own: 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Other than that, though, the Sparks struggled to find consistent offense. Chiney Ogwumike shot just 1-of-10 in her debut for Los Angeles, Chelsea Gray went 3-of-9 and the team posted a paltry 81.4 offensive rating, per WNBA.com.
Though the Sparks feature a large frontcourt with the Ogwumike sisters, Vadeeva and first-round draft pick Kalani Brown, their inability to score easy baskets cost them. According to WNBA.com statistics, the Sparks shot just 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) on painted, non-restricted area shots — uncharacteristic of a team that figures to have an advantage in the post on most nights.
The Sparks will get an opportunity to redeem themselves when they host the Connecticut Sun on Friday, May 31. The Aces, meanwhile, will be visiting the Phoenix Mercury on that same date, a game you’ll be able to catch on ESPN2.