Reigning champion Aces look to maintain unprecedented pace in 2nd half of WNBA season | CBC Sports

The Las Vegas Aces are on a historic pace heading into the second half of the season and have shown no signs of letting up.

With 19 wins in their first 21 games, the Aces sit atop the WNBA standings and have the top offence and defence in the league.

“Just staying focused on what we’ve been doing up to this point,” point guard Chelsea Gray said. “Trust in each other, playing for each other and with each other and just having fun doing it. We never take anybody for granted.”

Gray, one of four Las Vegas players in the all-star game over the weekend, said despite the Aces’ record, the WNBA is a lot more competitive then it’s been in recent years.

“This league is so good and there’s a lot of parity between the teams,” she said. “There’s not a bunch that’s just up top. So you got to come with your best game every night.”

Las Vegas is seeking to become the first repeat champion since Los Angeles in 2001 and ’02. Before the playoffs, the Aces can make a run at the best record in league history — the 29-5 mark posted by Phoenix in 2014.

“We are all so competitive that we just challenge each other every day,” Aces guard Kelsey Plum said. “There’s no letup on this team.”

New York and Connecticut sit second and third, respectively, in the standings. The Liberty are still trying to put together a full 40-minute effort with a revamped roster that includes off-season additions Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot.

The Liberty have looked great at times and not so good at others. New York blew a 20-point lead at Indiana before the All-Star break but pulled it out in overtime.

Guard Sabrina Ionescu, who won the 3-point contest during all-star weekend with a record-breaking performance, said the Liberty are still learning how to “keep a lead.”

“We’re just continuing to learn how to play well with one another,” she said. “It’s a big factor into why some of our games end up the way they do. But we understand it’s happened one too many times, and we have to look inward and continue to build that chemistry. I think we will.”

Connecticut has tried to find ways to replace centre Brionna Jones, who ruptured her right Achilles tendon last month and is out for the season. The Sun, who lost to the Aces in last year’s WNBA Finals, have relied on stars Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner even more.

“We’re still trying to figure it out. We lost a huge piece in the middle. We’re just figuring it out day by day, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Bonner said. “We just got to lean on each other a little bit more. Everybody’s got to pick up the slack.”

Here are some other things to look for in the second half of the season:

Canadians in the W

Three Canadians have stepped foot on the WNBA floor this season, all with varying impacts.

In her first season back after an ACL injury cost her the 2022 campaign, Kia Nurse of Hamilton, Ont., has started all 20 games with her new club, the Seattle Storm. But the 27-year-old is averaging a career-low 6.7 points per game, thanks in part to shooting just 30.6 per cent from inside the arc.

Bridget Carleton, the 26-year-old from Chatham, Ont., is enjoying another solid season in a bench role for the struggling Minnesota Lynx, averaging 4.6 points in 16 minutes per game. Carleton is hoisting more three-pointers than ever and making at a decent clip, but her efficiency has lacked from two-point range.

Carleton’s Lynx teammate, Natalie Achonwa, has not returned after giving birth to son Maverick in April.

Rookie Laeticia Amihere, the South Carolina product from Mississauga, Ont., enjoyed her most productive stretch of the season between late June and early July, scoring 21 points across three games.

Amihere’s Atlanta Dream took a six-game winning streak into the all-star break. The Dream are on track to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018, led by all-stars Rhyne Howard, Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker.

Long way to the top

The Phoenix Mercury had high aspirations coming into the season as they welcomed back Brittney Griner, who was detained in Russia in 2022 and freed in a high-stakes prisoner swap.

Griner has put up career numbers, but the Mercury have the second-worst record in the league at 4-15.

The all-star centre had a simple prescription for Phoenix in the second half of the season: “Get more dubs!”

Getting healthy

The all-star break couldn’t have come at a better time for Los Angeles and Washington, both of which were decimated by injuries in the first half.

The Sparks, who have lost six straight games, only had two players appear in every game in the first part of the year and hope to have everyone healthy soon.

Washington went through its own injury issues with Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins all missing time.


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