When the Chicago Sky hosted the Las Vegas Aces for the first time this season, head coach James Wade had a memorable takeaway about the Aces.
“The best team. They are the best team in the league, I ain’t gonna forget it,” he said.
Oh, how things have changed in two months.
No longer is Las Vegas universally regarded as the best team in the league — the Aces ceded that title sometime around the third quarter of a home game against the Sky when they surrendered a 28-point lead, the largest blown lead in WNBA history. Now, Chicago has the top record in the league and, consequently, earned the right to host the Commissioner’s Cup final.
When: Tuesday, July 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
How to watch/listen: Amazon Prime Video
DraftKings Odds: Chicago -3
Las Vegas isn’t too far behind, though, mostly continuing its winning ways even as the team has experienced some defensive struggles. This is the top offense in the WNBA, and the gap between first and second is bigger than the gap between the second- and fifth-best offensive ratings. The Aces play at the fastest pace in the league and have the lowest turnover percentage, and it can be dizzying watching them build big leads in transition.
A’ja Wilson, a four-time western conference player of the week in 2022, is the only player in the top five of at least three major statistical categories (points, rebounds, blocks, assists, and steals) and leads all players with 14 double-doubles. Kelsey Plum is second in the league in scoring, one of three players in the W to average at least 20 points per game. She tops the league in 3-pointers per game.
Las Vegas can score with anyone. Defensively is where Becky Hammon and Co. are hoping to make more progress. The Aces are excellent at denying points in the paint, their switchable starting five able to keep opponents in front of them. They rank third in the league in opponent points in the paint (31.8 per game) and have only improved as the season has gone on. The problem is that they sacrifice the perimeter for the paint, surrendering the most 3-point attempts, and most makes, of any team in the WNBA.
That means that no lead is safe for Las Vegas, but also that the Aces need to be weary of falling in love with their jump shots. Six of their eight losses have come when they have hit at least 10 threes because that means Las Vegas has gone away from what it does best, and the Sky have enough long-range shooting to keep pace with the Aces if the game turns that way.
Where Las Vegas really hopes to match up with Chicago is championship mettle. The Aces have had a better regular-season record than the Sky each of the last three seasons, but they haven’t translated that into postseason success. Chicago is the gold standard in clutch rating this season — this is the team that out-executed every other group en route to a title a year ago.
This is the first chance for Las Vegas to add to its team trophy case, even if it isn’t a WNBA title. For all the individual accolades the group has collected in recent years since the move to Nevada — an MVP, two Sixth Women of the Year, multiple All-Stars, two Executive of the Years — the collective success has yet to come. The Aces relish this opportunity to match up against a team that has won at the highest level.
“I mean, it means extra money,” Dearica Hamby said about the importance of the Cup final. “But I think more importantly for us and probably the coaching staff, they’re gonna look at — it’s a great opportunity for us to play the Sky again. It’s the defending champs, it’s a good test for us to see where we are. And I mean, it’s a team we can match up with in the Finals or in the playoffs, so it’s probably beneficial to get an extra game against a team like that, that doesn’t really count.”
And who knows? If Las Vegas can capture this crown, that would set the Aces up nicely for the stretch run as they look for the franchise’s first WNBA championship. Even if they don’t. they’ve learned that momentum can change in this league in a hurry. They’re well-equipped for a long postseason run regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s game.
“I mean the road for the title, really the championship is a long road, but we have everything that it takes to go on that path and win the championship, so I think we’re all really aware of that,” Iliana Rupert said. “‘reBut we also aware that it won’t be easy. We have to work for it. That’s what we do every single day. We had a moment where it was not really easy on the court, but that’s just part of the process.”