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Preview: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces get another shot at Seattle Storm on ESPN2

The Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm highlight a three-game WNBA Tuesday, with the Aces seeking revenge after falling to the Storm in their first game of the season.

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm Photo by Stephen Brashear/NBAE via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm will meet once again on Tuesday, May 18, just days after their initial bout to start the 2021 WNBA season. Meanwhile, the New York Liberty return to Barclays Center to take on the Minnesota Lynx, while the Phoenix Mercury travel to Washington, D.C. to take on the Mystics.

Seattle’s 97-83 thumping of Las Vegas last Saturday was a statement game of sorts for the defending champs. While the two teams seemed headed in opposite directions this past offseason — Seattle losing Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb and Las Vegas signing Chelsea Gray — the Storm were the ones who came out hot in their opener, drilling 12 threes and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. Breanna Stewart led the way with 28 points and 13 rebounds, while Jewell Loyd chipped in 22 points and six assists.

The Aces, meanwhile, struggled to keep up with Seattle’s crisp ball movement, and after a quick start, got away from what made them so successful last season: controlling the paint and the foul game. The lenient officiating favored the Storm, and without a free throw advantage, Las Vegas’ halfcourt offense could not consistently manufacture good looks. A’ja Wilson led the team with 24 points and Liz Cambage added 16, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with Seattle.

Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm
Breanna Stewart scored 28 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the Storm’s previous victory over the Aces.
Photo by Stephen Brashear/NBAE via Getty Images

In their rematch — which, interestingly, is being played in Seattle, just like the first game — the Aces will seek to reestablish the advantages that made them so successful in 2020. Las Vegas led the WNBA in both free throw rate (0.340) and opponents’ free throw rate (.201) while also securing defensive rebounds at a better rate than any other team. More playing time for Cambage will help; the big center played just 19 minutes in the Aces’ first game.

Elsewhere, the Liberty are riding a 2-0 start to the season, already matching their win total from a disastrous 2020. Making this even more impressive: New York’s biggest free agency acquisition, Natasha Howard, has yet to join the team as she follows WNBA health and safety protocol after returning from playing in Italy.

The Liberty’s other major addition, Betnijah Laney, has more than picked up the slack. Laney averaged 25 points per game in New York’s two victories, relishing the challenge of being a go-to scoring option just as she did last season for the Atlanta Dream. That 2020 season — one in which Laney was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player — is looking less and less like a flash in the pan for her, and she’s already established clear offensive chemistry with franchise pillar Sabrina Ionescu.

New York Liberty v Indiana Fever
Betnijah Laney continues the offensive renaissance that earned her 2020 Most Improved Player honors.
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

What will the Lynx have in store defensively for Laney? The new-look Minnesota roster had a tough opening game, falling to Diana Taurasi and the Mercury (and, depending on one’s perspective, the shot clock) at home. The good news for the Lynx is that free agency additions Aerial Powers and Kayla McBride both played well, and head coach Cheryl Reeve has had adequate time to prepare her team against the upstart Liberty.

Finally, the Mercury will look to take advantage of a shorthanded Mystics team that shot just 4-of-30 on 3-pointers in an opening-day loss. Washington is currently without Elena Delle Donne and Myisha Hines-Allen, while Emma Meesseman’s status for 2021 is still in question. Taurasi is shooting just 30.8 percent from the floor thus far, so this is an opportunity for her to truly get going.

Game information

Minnesota Lynx (0-1) vs. New York Liberty (2-0)

When: Tuesday, May 18 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

How to watch: ESPN3, YES, WNBA League Pass

Lynx injury report: Napheesa Collier (contract suspended; partial season), Rennia Davis (out; foot), Natalie Achonwa (questionable; knee)

Liberty injury report: Natasha Howard (contract suspended; partial season), Leaonna Odom (doubtful; Achilles), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)

Keys to the matchup: The Liberty played much stronger down low in their second game against Teaira McCowan and the Indiana Fever, tightening up their rebounding and even frustrating McCowan into a pair of technical fouls. New York’s lack of size will once again be tested, this time by Sylvia Fowles. Minnesota is still without Collier, who is in health and safety protocols after returning from playing in France, so the team will need to trust someone else to defend Betnijah Laney.

Phoenix Mercury (1-1) vs. Washington Mystics (0-1)

When: Tuesday, May 18 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington, D.C.

How to watch: ESPN2

Mercury injury report: Kia Vaughn (contract suspended; partial season), Bria Hartley (out; ACL rehab)

Mystics injury report: Myisha Hines-Allen (contract suspended; partial season), Elena Delle Donne (out; back), Alysha Clark (out for season; foot)

Keys to the matchup: Phoenix isn’t a particularly deep team, but this is a game in which that may not matter. The Mystics are missing a significant amount of their usual scoring punch with Delle Donne on the shelf and Hines-Allen still not cleared to play after returning from overseas commitments, and while it’s reasonable to think they won’t shoot as poorly as they did in their opener against Chicago, they’re still entering this game outgunned. Tina Charles must win her individual matchup against Brittney Griner, while Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins need to play their usual strong defense against the explosive backcourt of Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Las Vegas Aces (0-1) vs. Seattle Storm (1-0)

When: Tuesday, May 18 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Angel of the Winds Arena, Everett, WA

How to watch: ESPN2

Aces injury report: Angel McCoughtry (out for season; knee)

Storm injury report: Mercedes Russell (contract suspended; partial season), Epiphanny Prince (contract suspended; partial season)

Keys to the matchup: It’s rare to see the Aces lose both the free throw and rebounding battles, but that’s exactly what happened in their first game against Seattle. The Storm are going to have a significant advantage from 3-point range, so Las Vegas must play to its strengths by controlling the paint on both ends of the floor. A stronger effort from Chelsea Gray, who scored just seven points in her Aces debut, will also be required. For Seattle, Ezi Magbegor will likely be called upon to bring the energy against the Aces’ big frontcourt; the second-year center recorded a game-high box plus/minus of +24 in just 14 minutes of play in the season opener.