WNBA Power Rankings: Las Vegas Aces on the Rise Again

Jacqueline PowellJuly 19, 2022

WNBA Power Rankings: Las Vegas Aces on the Rise Again

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    Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images.

    There are four weeks remaining in the 2022 WNBA regular season. And in the final month of the season, all teams but one appear to be making playoff pushes. While the top five teams look set, half of the league is jockeying for the three final playoff spots.

    While the New York Liberty are one game out of the playoff picture, they appear to be getting healthier. The Los Angeles Sparks are moving in reverse, dropping three spots from our last rankings before the All-Star break. Also, the Phoenix Mercury had a mercurial week. The drama-ridden squad earned an impressive and gritty win in contrast to its two losses, but it's difficult to know which version of Phoenix is going to show up on a given night.

    The Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream have the same record, but the team with the better end to the week got the advantage in this week's rankings. In the top five, the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics were difficult to place. The Mystics lost to a team with much less talent in the Mercury, and the Sun continued to deal with issues that they haven't been able to fix all season.

    Here is a look at our most recent power rankings.

12. Indiana Fever (5-22) (No Change)

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    Kelsey Mitchell #0 of the Indiana Fever looks on during the game against the Minnesota Lynx on July 15, 2022 at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Pepper Robinson/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Fever have lost nine in a row with their last win coming a month ago against the Chicago Sky. This week, Indiana fell to top-five teams in the Sun and Seattle Storm and the vulnerable Minnesota Lynx, who had played the Wings the night before.

    Indiana is the lone team in the league that is not competing for a playoff spot, so interim general manager Lin Dunn made a move to gather more information as to what the next steps of this rebuild will look like. The team waived guard Bria Hartley and then signed 2021 No. 9 pick Rennia Davis.

    The Fever have seven rookies including Davis, who was sidelined last year with a stress fracture in her left foot.

11. Los Angeles Sparks (10-14) (↓3 Spots)

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    Nneka Ogwumike #30 of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball while Emma Meesseman #33 of the Sky guards her on July 14, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Sparks faced two top-five teams in the Sky and Mystics at home and fell to both by double digits. L.A. appeared to be on the road to turning the corner before the All-Star break, but it sank back into old habits this week. The Sparks were out-rebounded by a combined 72-53 and had the second-worst defensive rating of the week (108.1).

    So what gives? First, L.A. has been short-handed in the front and backcourt. Chennedy Carter, who hasn't played since July 1, has a knee injury. Kristi Toliver is out with a calf injury. Leading scorer Nneka Ogwumike was out with a non-COVID-19 illness against the Mystics. Two days later, upon Ogwumike's return, center Liz Cambage entered the health and safety protocols.

    Also, Ogwumike said in the postgame news conference following the loss to Chicago on Thursday that when shots aren't falling, her team could be more aggressive in pursuing second-chance opportunities.

10. New York Liberty (9-15) (↓1 Spot)

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    Natasha Howard #6 of the New York Liberty dribbles the ball against Jackie Young #0 and Kiah Stokes #41 of the Las Vegas Aces at Barclays Center on July 12, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images.

    The Liberty also had a rough week at home, losing twice to the Las Vegas Aces. Why do I have them a spot above the Sparks? They were competitive in one of the two matchups, nearly coming back in the second half Tuesday by scoring 73 points, the most in a half since 2007.

    In the rubber matchup of the season series, New York played Las Vegas in its first of three morning games in a row and was trounced 108-74. Shots didn't fall early, and the team's frustration bled over to the defensive end. The Liberty failed to execute their principles of help defense, and their defensive rating dropped to 104.5, ninth in the league.

    While Jocelyn Willoughby is set to return this week, for the Liberty to get on track and have a shot at the postseason, they have to pick up the pieces on the defensive end.

9. Minnesota Lynx (10-17) (↓2 Spots)

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    Kayla McBride #21 of the Minnesota Lynx drives to the basket during the game against the LA Clippers on July 15, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Lynx played four games this week, the most in the league. It began when they defeated the Mercury in a double overtime thriller. Guard Rachel Banham scored 22 of her 25 points in the second half and overtime periods.

    But then Minnesota lost to the Wings two days later in a game in which Moriah Jefferson, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers made a combined six shots. The Lynx have to get consistent production out of their backcourt.

    Then Minnesota had to hit the road for a back-to-back against the Fever.

    Natalie Achonwa @NatAchon

    y’all about to charter the plane for us? because that 6A flight won’t cut it for our 3P game tomorrow 🙃 <a href="https://t.co/bwhDWupQRD">https://t.co/bwhDWupQRD</a>

    Following a comeback win against the Fever, the Lynx's flight to Washington, D.C., got canceled. After another delay, Minnesota finally arrived at the hotel at 1 a.m. Against the Mystics, the Lynx shot 33.3 percent in a 70-57 loss.

8. Phoenix Mercury (11-16) (↑3 Spots)

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    Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury hugs Alysha Clark #22 of the Washington Mystics after the game on July 14, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

    I'm a broken record when I write about Phoenix, but the Mercury continue to be mercurial. It's difficult to know how good they can be when they fall to the Lynx in double overtime, defeat the deeper and more talented Mystics two days later and then lose to the much younger and inexperienced Dream three days later.

    Phoenix has leaned in to playing smaller since the departure of Tina Charles and takes 27.2 threes per game, second-most in the league. Since she left the team, that number is 29.4.

    Jackie Powell (she/her) @ClassicJpow

    What's on my mind is I hope that officials moving forward hold players accountable when they do things that harm the welfare and safety of their peers.

    But I would be remiss if I didn't discuss how Diana Taurasi kicked Sylvia Fowles and then knocked Ariel Atkins to the ground. Taurasi's intentional aggression created a chippiness between Phoenix and Washington, which ended up fueling the Mercury. While the Mystics players didn't acknowledge that got in their heads, Washington head coach Mike Thibault thought the extra stuff played a role in his team's loss.

7. Dallas Wings (11-14) (↑3 Spots)

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    Arike Ogunbowale #24 of the Dallas Wings lunges with the ball while Rebekah Gardner #35 of the Chicago Sky guards her on July 16, 2022 at the College Park Center in Arlington, TexasCooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Wings moved up because they played with a sense of urgency against the Lynx in a game on the road that could help decide their playoff fate. Each win that Dallas can get against teams below it in the standings besides the Fever is vital and ensures the playoffs are within reach for the second season in a row.

    In the lone win this week, volume scorer Arike Ogunbowale put up 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting, including 4-of-9 from deep.

    Dallas' road loss to Seattle at the beginning of the week and then its home loss to Chicago at the end of the week were defined by its opponents' overpowering depth. Even in a game in which the Wings faced the Courtney Vandersloot-less Sky, they couldn't take advantage, allowing Chicago to score 30 points in the final frame.

6. Atlanta Dream (11-14) (No Change)

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    Naz Hillmon #00 of the Atlanta Dream drives to the basket during the game against Joyner Holmes #8 of Connecticut Sun on July 15, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Dream had an inconsistent week. They competed against the Sky for three quarters but gave up 30 points in the final frame. They didn't play with enough urgency and defensive intensity to remain competitive against the Sun, falling 93-68. Following the loss, head coach Tanisha Wright took responsibility and noted that she could have prepared her team better.

    But following the Chicago game, Atlanta played two games without No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard, who was sidelined with a right shoulder injury. Also, Monique Billings injured her ankle following five minutes of play against the Sun on Friday. Rookie Naz Hillmon stepped up in both the blowout loss and then a gutsy win against Phoenix.

    The Dream put a full four quarters together Sunday, out-rebounding the Mercury 43-28 and exposing the most apparent mismatch, which allowed center Cheyenne Parker to play her most efficient game of the season.

5. Washington Mystics (16-11) (↓2 Spots)

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    Elena Delle Donne #11 of the Washington Mystics high fives Natasha Cloud #9 and Alysha Clark #22 on July 17, 2022 at Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, DC. Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images.

    In the Mystics' three games, Elena Delle Donne led the team in scoring. But also, Delle Donne has played in four straight, including the last contest before the All-Star break, three of which were on the road. Washington is ramping her up for the final stretch of the season, which has been the plan all along.

    Jenn Hatfield (she/her) @jennhatfield1

    More info on Elena Delle Donne from Mike Thibault: Medical staff recommended she rest today after playing last 3 games; now, with All-Star coming up, she'll play just 1 game in 2 weeks &amp; be "in a better position" for the last part of the season. (Q: <a href="https://twitter.com/kareemcopeland?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@kareemcopeland</a>) <a href="https://twitter.com/TheNextHoops?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheNextHoops</a>

    As a result, the Mystics have looked more cohesive offensively. Delle Donne picked up the Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, and the team continued to play through its defense, which is second-best in the league.

    Washington's only loss came against Phoenix on the road, and physicality and chippiness decided the game. But in addition to the emotion and aggressive play by the Mercury, the Mystics had so much difficulty scoring on Phoenix's zone defense. I moved Washington down amid Delle Donne's classic performances because of this game against the Mercury, a team that hasn't played competent defense all season.

4. Connecticut Sun (16-9) (No Change)

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    Alyssa Thomas #25 of the Connecticut Sun dribbles the ball during the game against Kiah Stokes #41 of the Las Vegas Aces on July 17, 2022 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Sun began the week by defeating two lesser teams in the Fever and Dream. But then Sunday, without reigning MVP Jonquel Jones, who was in the health and safety protocols, Connecticut fell 91-83 to Las Vegas at home.

    The loss revealed two of the Sun's main weaknesses that will keep them from making a championship run: They lack enough experienced three-point shooters and don't have enough guards who can handle the ball.

    While the the Sun have less defensive potency without Jasmine Thomas, Thomas also provided floor spacing and could knock down key shots, something that has also been missed.

    On Monday, Winsidr's Rachel Galligan reported that the Sun signed Bria Hartley, who could fill some shortcomings of the roster.

3. Seattle Storm (17-8) (↓1 Spot)

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    Tina Charles #31 and Ezi Magbegor #13 of the Seattle Storm high five during the game against the Dallas Wings on July 12, 2022 at the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images.

    During their four-game winning streak, the Storm have averaged the second-most bench points in the league (31.5), which is a vast improvement from how the team performed in June (13.4).

    In that span, Tina Charles has posted 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game with 58.5 percent shooting. Following Seattle's 81-65 home win over Indiana, Breanna Stewart discussed how Charles has impacted the group. "The thing she's brought has been confidence. ... I could see the rest of the team gaining confidence and thriving off what she brings," Stewart said.

    A concern with Charles' addition was how well she could play Seattle's brand of defense. Head coach Noelle Quinn spoke about Charles Sunday and her effort to learn the schemes: "Kudos for her for wanting to learn; it's why she's great," she said.

    Even with Charles still learning, the Storm have the league's top defense.

2. Las Vegas Aces (18-7) (↑3 Spots)

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    Chelsea Gray #12 of the Las Vegas Aces dribbles the ball during the game against the New York Liberty on July 14, 2022 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images.

    The Aces came back from the All-Star break ready to play and won all three of their games on the road. While their defensive woes haunted them in the second half Tuesday against the Liberty, Las Vegas put on a show Thursday, whipping New York 108-74. The Aces were challenged a bit more against the Sun but outscored Connecticut 29-21 in the third in a 91-83 victory Sunday.

    What was most impressive was their ability to adjust to the Sun's aggressive trapping. It helped that Las Vegas could rely upon Chelsea Gray and her on-court awareness.

    Before that game, Just Womens Sports' Rachel Galligan reported that the Aces had signed guard Kelsey Plum to a two-year contract extension. So, Vegas has locked up its starting five for the long term.

    Justin Carter @juscarts

    If Vegas has the whole core healthy for the entire playoffs over the next three years, this team can win three titles.<br><br>But as the team is currently constructed, I’m worried about 2023 &amp; 2024. Whether it’s hitting on a draft pick or getting a good pickup for the minimum…

    I also question this method. Sure, the Aces' starters are invested in each other, but what about the bench, which has continued to be a point of concern and criticism and could continue to be in years to come?

1. Chicago Sky (19-6) (No Change)

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    Chicago Sky bench including Ruthy Hebard, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Kahleah Copper, Candace Parker and Li Yueru react during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 14, 2022 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images.

    When the Sky continue winning, it's difficult to move them from the top spot. Chicago won not only all three of its games, but it also won twice on the road.

    In the first game, the defending champions trailed the Dream 65-60 heading into the fourth quarter. But Kahleah Copper didn't miss a shot in the final frame, scoring 11, and the defense turned up the heat, holding Atlanta to 10 points on 21.4 percent shooting.

    On the road in Los Angeles and Dallas, it was the bench's opportunity to shine. Rookie Rebekah Gardner registered an 18-and-10 double-double on 8-of-11 shooting with four assists off the bench against the Sparks, and Azura Stevens scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-2 from three.

    Against Dallas, point guard Julie Allemand replaced the concussed Courtney Vandersloot in the starting five, and the second-year player registered eight assists and zero turnovers in 29 minutes. Without Vandersloot, the Sky racked up more assists (25) than they did in their two games with Vandersloot (24 and 22).

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