While they are not the league’s two best teams, they are the league’s two most talented teams. On Saturday night, the star-studded Las Vegas Aces and Los Angeles Sparks face off.
Due to the combination of top talents and close proximity, Aces-Sparks appears poised to become one of the league’s most intriguing rivalries, although absences and injuries have prevented this season’s previous matchups from living up to this promise. On the season’s opening weekend, the squads squared off in Sin City, when the Aces, even without the services of the newly-acquired Liz Cambage, romped, dominating a Sparks team missing Candace Parker. A hot shooting performance from Kayla McBride and a double-double from A’ja Wilson paced Vegas to victory.
Approximately one month later, the Sparks exacted revenge. Captained by Candace Parker, who recently had returned from her early-season ankle injury, LA scored with ease against one of the league’s best defenses. The combination of foul trouble for Cambage and 19 turnovers by the Aces certainly aided the Sparks’ cause, who did not miss the contributions of the load-managed Nneka Ogwumike. Nonetheless, the game was not without a bit of spiciness, as Camabge and rookie Kalani Brown became entangled in the low-post, and on Twitter afterwards.
At the beginning of August, when the Aces were without A’ja Wilson and the Sparks were missing Chiney Ogwumike, Riquna Williams and Alana Beard, LA again bested Vegas, powered by their big three of Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray. Vegas shot poorly, while foul trouble against beset Cambage.
Saturday night, for the first time this season, each team will enter the contest with all their stars in tow. Seeing as both teams are seeking to secure the third spot in the standings (or possibly higher), both squads should be playing with fire and focus. Following an obliteration at the hands of the Washington Mystics on Tuesday night, the Sparks rebounded for a comeback win in Indiana on Thursday. A second-straight win would keep them in striking distance of the second-place Connecticut Sun and — more importantly — a double bye in the playoffs. After looking like the league’s scariest team in early August, the Aces have faltered of late, losing three games in a row. With a fourth straight loss, Las Vegas risks relinquishing the fourth seed and a first-round bye.
Before this tussle between these two wannabe titans, the league’s true titan — the Mystics — travel to Dallas to take on the Wings. As rookie Arike Ogwunbowale continually has raised her game, Dallas has become an increasingly tough out, refusing to roll over regardless of their record or the score. If Washington does not come ready to play, Dallas will make things difficult. However, as they repeatedly have demonstrated throughout the season, the Mystics can run their opponent off their floor.
Dallas Wings (10-20) vs. Washington Mystics (22-8)
When: Saturday, August 31, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: College Park Center, Arlington, TX
How to watch: Monumental, NBA TV, NBA TV Canada
Keys to the game: Do we have an Aerial Powers revenge game coming? Acquired by Washington from Dallas last season, Powers has been unabashed about her satisfaction in DC. In the June 9 game between these two teams, Powers put in 18 points, shooting 6-of-10 from deep. Since then, she has improved her play, especially during Kristi Toliver’s extended absence. In addition to maintaining solid shooting percentages, Powers has rounded out her offensive game, getting to the free throw line more frequently and increasing her assists per game. Continued dynamic play from Powers can trouble the Wings and position the Mystics to triumph.
Las Vegas Aces (19-12) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (19-11)
When: Saturday, August 31, at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, NV
How to watch: MYLVTV, NBA TV, NBA TV Canada
Keys to the game: After two straight losses, head coach Bill Laimbeer inserted veteran Tamera Young into the starting lineup on Tuesday evening, with Kelsey Plum serving as the sixth woman. While Plum played well, the Aces still lost, suggesting that Laimbeer may again shake things up. Yet, entering this game with an unsettled guard rotation disadvantages the Aces. If the foursome of All-Star bigs — Wilson and Cambage for the Aces and Parker and Nneka Ogwumike for the Sparks — neutralize each other, the ability to control the game from the guard positions will be crucial. The duo of Chelsea Gray, the Point Gawd herself, and Riquna Williams, who can ignite and score from any spot on the floor, give LA the edge, especially if rookie Jackie Young is not sure with whom she will be sharing the floor.