WNBA Power Rankings: Las Vegas Aces Stay Hot Heading Into Big Week

Jackie PowellMay 31, 2022

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 08: Head coach Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces talks with Jackie Young #0 during their game against the Seattle Storm at Michelob ULTRA Arena on May 08, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Aces defeated the Storm 85-74. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A difficult week in this country was felt just as much in the W. Following the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, multiple WNBA teams had media blackouts during postgame where players and coaches discussed the issue of gun violence in America. Mercury forward and Texas native Brianna Turner noted that shootings have been normalized and urged people not to become numb to them. About to cry, she called on Congress: "We have a serious issue, and we need help."

The Mystics' and Connecticut Sun's social accounts decided to participate in the blackout, only posting content that raised awareness and educated people on gun violence. After the Mystics lost to the Sun 79-71 on Saturday night, the team engaged in another media blackout to remind people that it's been 100 days since WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was detained in Russia. The Mystics were one of many teams, players and coaches to mark 100 days and call for Griner's release.

And finally, on Saturday night, the Daily Telegraph reported that Liz Cambage directed a racist slur toward Nigerian national team players in an altercation during a scrimmage last July, weeks before the Tokyo Olympics. The next day, Cambage played to a chorus of boos at the Target Center, home of the Minnesota Lynx. Following her team's win over the Lynx, she denied the allegation in a post on Instagram.

Amid the heaviness of the week, teams still had games to play. Find out below which ones achieved success and which ones did not.

12.  New York Liberty (1-7) (No Change)

The Liberty's injuries continue to pile up. The team played three road games this week without DiDi Richards (hamstring), Jocelyn Willoughby (knee), 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney and 2022 second-round pick Lorela Cubaj. Laney has been dealing with a nagging right knee injury that has plagued her since the beginning of the season, and Cubaj spent the road trip in concussion protocols after she appeared to get knocked in the face by Joyner Holmes at home against Connecticut.

The Liberty were competitive in two of their three games with only nine available players, but their defense struggled to keep their opponents off the foul line in those two games, allowing the Lynx to take 33 attempts and the Storm to take 27.

In New York's third game of the week and the second against the Storm, it couldn't fight through the fatigue that came with a limited bench and fell 92-61, pushing its losing streak to seven games.

The one bright spot for the Liberty has been second-year player Han Xu, who is finding her footing as a 6'10" stretch post with a nice shooting touch. In three games, she averaged 12 points, 7.7 boards and a block each game.

11. Phoenix Mercury (2-6) (↓ 3 Spots)

COLLEGE PARK, GA - MAY 29: Karlie Samuelson #44 of the Phoenix Mercury high fives her teammates before the game against the Atlanta Dream on May 29, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Mercury have the worst defense in the league, which isn't all that surprising. I noted that this might become a problem a couple of weeks ago, and Phoenix has since moved to the bottom of the league with a 108.4 defensive rating.

Had the Mercury played against an offensive powerhouse like the Aces or the Sun, it might not be as concerning, but they absolutely gave up on playing defense against the second-worst offensive team in the league in the Atlanta Dream.

They also got absolutely creamed on the boards, getting outrebounded 47-29. While the Mercury were competitive against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 25, they still gave up 99 points.

It's worth noting that Shey Peddy and Sophie Cunningham have been out, with Peddy dealing with a back injury and Cunningham in health and safety protocols. In any case, the Mercury still need more of a willingness to play defense, and if they are to snap their five-game losing streak, it can't just be Brianna Turner keeping them afloat on the defensive end.

10. Minnesota Lynx (2-7) (↑ 1 Spot)

The progress is noticeable in Minnesota, but the Lynx aren't completely there yet. This past week, they played against two teams in the Liberty and the Sparks that are still struggling to figure out their chemistry and are missing multiple players.

Minnesota honored Lynx legend and current Sparks assistant head coach Seimone Augustus on Sunday against L.A. by retiring her jersey. The pleasantries were over after tip-off, though, as both teams played physically. The Lynx and Sparks combined for 70 free throws as Minnesota came up short in the two-point loss.

While the Lynx battled back from a 17-point deficit in the second quarter, head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve wasn't pleased postgame and reflected on the poor start. Not enough attention to detail was paid, and the Lynx veterans weren't in the right spots coming out of a timeout.

Something curious about the Lynx right now is the status of Aerial Powers. While she continues to post poor shooting percentages, she has impacted the game at the charity stripe, going 21-for-24 this past week. Also, why did Reeve have her come off the bench against the Sparks?

9. Los Angeles Sparks  (4-6) (No change)

The Sparks made an adjustment to their starting lineup, and so far, it's worked in their favor. Starting Katie Lou Samuelson this week in place of Brittney Sykes did absolute wonders for their spacing. Samuelson got her legs underneath her after hopping over back to the States following her overseas season in Spain. In three games this week, she's shot 55.2 percent from the field, including hitting 10-of-15 threes.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 25: Los Angeles Sparks huddles during the game against the Phoenix Mercury on May 25, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

But amid Samuelson's success and the Sparks getting some key wins over struggling teams in the Lynx and the Mercury, the Sparks still have a lot of work to do before they can consider themselves in the running for the postseason. Like Phoenix, their struggles on defense have continued.

When they compete against teams with more athletic posts like the Indiana Fever, a team centered around Cambage is going to struggle. Offensively, she played over 24 minutes and shot 2-11 from the field. She had a plus-minus of minus–12 against a team that got interim head coach Carlos Knox his first win in his first game at the helm.

8. Indiana Fever (3-7) (↑ 2 Spots)

The Fever jump two spots because of how challenging of a week they had. After the Fever went toe-to-toe with the defending champion Chicago Sky on Tuesday, falling only 95-90, the team announced the next day that head coach Marianne Stanley had been relieved of her duties.

Defensive and more player-development-focused assistant Carlos Knox was promoted on an interim basis to lead the Fever for the remainder of the 2022 season. It remains unclear as to why Stanley was given the boot in the middle of the season. What the Fever need more than anything right now is stability.

But days after Stanley was let go, the Fever came out with grit and a sense of pride at home in their 101-96 win over the Sparks. Kelsey Mitchell put up an efficient 22 points on 50-percent shooting, accompanied by 17 each from 2022 No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith and Victoria Vivians, which gave Knox his first win as a WNBA head coach.

7. Atlanta Dream  (5-3) (No Change)

To answer my own question from last week, Rhyne Howard couldn't avenge the wrath of Natasha Cloud and Alysha Clark. And she couldn't find a way to get around Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen either, who collectively managed to hold Howard to zero points in Washington's 70-50 win over Atlanta. The Dream struggled as a team, shooting just 35.7 percent from the field and turning the ball over 23 times in the loss.

Atlanta had another 23 turnovers against the Mercury, though it managed to overcome its sloppy play in an 81-54 blowout victory. While Howard rebounded from the first goose egg of her very young WNBA career with 12 points and six assists, Australian rookie and 2018 second-round pick Kristy Wallace led the Dream in scoring with 17 points on 7-15 shooting.

Against the lackadaisical Mercury, Wallace, Howard, Cheyenne Parker, Erica Wheeler and Aari McDonald all hit double-figures.

6. Seattle Storm (5-3) (No change)

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 20: Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm smiles during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 20, 2022 at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

The Storm continue to be incredibly unlucky in the health department. After a week off from games and travel, Steph Talbot, Sue Bird and Ezi Magbegor were placed into health and safety protocols before Seattle's two-game set against the Liberty.

While Storm struggled from the field (34.7 percent) in the first game, Breanna Stewart still led Seattle to a 79-71 overtime victory with 31 points, nine rebounds and 15-made free throws. A couple of days later, the Storm shot much better (49.3 percent) and clobbered the also shorthanded Liberty 92-61.

While Bird's absence isn't optimal, Briann January played extended minutes, allowing her to adjust more to how Seattle plays in real-time. The 35-year-old reminded people that she's one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and her efforts helped limit Sabrina Ionescu to just 14 points across both games.

5. Dallas Wings (5-3) (No Change)

While Dallas split their series with the Sun, they will remain above the Storm because of the strength of their schedule. In their 85-77 win against Connecticut on May 24, the Wings only turned the ball over nine times to the Sun's 10, scored 15-second chance points to the Sun's eight, and outrebounded the top rebounding team in the league 37-33.

Wings head coach Vickie Johnson believed that her team was more poised than they were a lot of last season. "We have the patience to run our sets, to get good looks, we are not one pass, shot, like before," Johnson said after the victory. "We have the patience to move the basketball and give up a good shot for a better shot."

The Wings got smoked by the Sun a few days later 99-68, though, by doing the absolute opposite. Dallas turned it over 19 times, lost the second-chance-points battle 22-7 and were outrebounded 42-28. It also resorted to old habits: trying to create in isolation without any sort of ball movement.

4. Washington Mystics (6-3) (↓ 2 Spots)

The Mystics fall two spots after falling to the Sun in a game they could have won. They allowed the Sun to shoot 49.1 percent from the field, over 13 percentage points more than they gave up to the Atlanta Dream four days earlier.

The main culprit of the discrepancy: The Mystics were without defensive stopper Alysha Clark, who entered health and safety protocols and Elena Delle Donne, who didn't travel due to scheduled rest. But going forward, Washington's transition defense must improve. Connecticut looked more and more comfortable getting out and running on each Mystic live-ball turnover.

3. Chicago Sky (4-3) (No Change)

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 24: Candace Parker #3 of the Chicago Sky walks off the court for a time out during the game against the Indiana Fever on May 24, 2022 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sky stay put this week because of their five-point victory over the Fever and their 83-76 loss to the Aces.

Against the Fever, 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper looked as if she was still trying to adjust since returning to the U.S. from her overseas season. She struggled in her 35 minutes of play, shooting just 3-of-11 from the field en route to 12 points in the Sky's 95-90 win over Indiana.

Against Vegas at home, the Sky shot 31 threes and made only five of them. It also didn't help that Allie Quigley and Candace Parker went a combined 5-of-25 from the field. The Aces took advantage of this and wore out the Sky's transition defense. Both teams were evenly matched on the boards, second-chance points and points in the paint, but the Aces shot the ball a bit better while Chicago's was unable to hit open looks.

2. Connecticut Sun (6-2) (↑ 2 Spot)

The Sun hop up two spots this week because of their ability to battle adversity. They lost their starting point guard Jasmine Thomas to an ACL tear, while forward Joyner Holmes, head coach Curt Miller and top assistant Brandi Poole entered health and safety protocols.

However, new starting point guard Natisha Hiedeman averaged 12 points in three games, and DeWanna Bonner also reminded us why she's a four-time WNBA All-Star. She led the Sun in scoring in both of their wins this week, putting up 18 points in the second game against the Wings on Thursday and recording 14 against the Mystics.

The Sun looked much more comfortable playing in and out of transition than they were to start the season, and with Alyssa Thomas and Courtney Williams functioning more as the primary distributors, expect Connecticut to fly across the court even more.

1. Las Vegas Aces  (8-1) (No Change)

The Aces only played once this week: a nationally televised game on Saturday afternoon on ABC against the defending champion Chicago Sky. While both teams weren't as sharp shooting the ball from deep, the Aces had some clutch offensive possessions from Chelsea Gray, A'ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum, including when Plum almost broke Rebekah Gardner's ankles in the process.

While there is a focus on the Aces historic offense, this season has provided a spotlight on Wilson's ability as a defender, affirming that the 2020 MVP is a two-way player.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 23: A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces high fives a teammate during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on May 23, 2022 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

After the win on Saturday, Gray explained what stands out about how Wilson is playing defensively this season. "I think it's her activity," Gray said. "She's not waiting for the moment when the person catches the ball to play defense. She's active, and some of those things don't show up on the stat sheet where they're not able to make the entry, so now their offense is stagnant."

Coming up this week, will a new No. 1 be crowned? The Aces and the Sun will face off in a two-game set in Las Vegas. How will the Aces' high-powered offense do against the most intense defense in the league?