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2021 WNBA Playoff Preview: No. 2 Las Vegas Aces host No. 5 Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of semifinals

Two teams with plenty of high-end talent and household names, the Las Vegas Aces and Phoenix Mercury played three competitive games during the 2021 WNBA regular season. They’ll meet again in the postseason’s semifinals.

Las Vegas Aces v Phoenix Mercury
The frontcourt battle between 2020 WNBA Most Valuable Player A’ja Wilson (with ball) and 2021 All-Defense nominee Brianna Turner will be just one of many individual matchups to watch when the Las Vegas Aces play the Phoenix Mercury.
Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Aces will begin their 2021 postseason journey when they host the Phoenix Mercury in the first game of a WNBA semifinal series on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET, with the game being broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

Las Vegas finished the 2021 regular season at 24-8, earning the No. 2 overall playoff seed and a double-bye, so it’s the first time we’ll get to see the strongly-hyped Aces in action in quite some time. That isn’t necessarily bad news for Las Vegas, as star center Liz Cambage is still getting her conditioning back after contracting COVID-19; the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sam Gordon reports that Cambage is on track to play “in spurts” in the semifinal opener.

The Aces will need Cambage’s size against Brittney Griner, who dominated the Mercury’s second-round matchup against the Seattle Storm. Griner, who recorded 23 points, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots in Phoenix’s 85-80 overtime victory, was recently named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive Second Team. Joining Griner on the league’s All-Defensive list was Mercury forward Brianna Turner, who was named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive First Team.

Highlights: Brittney Griner Dominates To Lead Mercury To Semifinals

The Aces, of course, have 2020 WNBA Most Valuable Player A’ja Wilson, who wrapped up another tremendous regular season averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. She’s as difficult of an individual matchup as there is for any of the league’s forwards, so Turner will have her hands full, even when Cambage is forced to sit.

Factor in players like Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi for the Mercury and Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum for the Aces and you’ve got a recipe for an exciting playoff series featuring some of the WNBA’s biggest stars. During the regular season, the Aces and Mercury played three close games, with the Aces winning on May 26 and Sept. 19 and the Mercury winning on July 7. Cumulatively, the season series between the two teams favored the Mercury by just 1.7 points per 100 possessions.

Don’t be surprised if the semifinals are just as close.

Game information

No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury vs. No. 2 seed Las Vegas Aces

When: Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Michelob ULTRA Arena, Las Vegas, NV

How to watch: ESPN2

Mercury injury report: Diana Taurasi (questionable; left ankle)

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

Keys to the matchup: One thing that makes this series so intriguing is how both teams have star players on both the perimeter and in the frontcourt. While it’s hard to imagine a Mercury victory in which Griner doesn’t have a big scoring effort or an Aces win that doesn’t heavily feature Wilson or Cambage, Diggins-Smith and Gray have been two of the best guards in the WNBA this season, while Plum is a favorite to win Sixth Woman of the Year. Beyond the individual matchups, keep an eye on which team is better able to control the pace of the game: Las Vegas led the WNBA in possessions per 40 minutes (82.49) during the regular season, while the Mercury ranked 11th (77.97).