We will get a good look this week at what might be the WNBA Finals matchup later this season as Connecticut plays twice in Las Vegas. The Aces and the Sun currently are 1-2 in the league standings and in ESPN's WNBA Power Rankings.
The WNBA has gone to a schedule that has more back-to-back games against the same opponent in the same place. It cuts down on travel, and Connecticut coach Curt Miller said it also gives a simulation of what a playoff series is like. This season, the league is going back to having best-of-three opening-round series, rather than early-round single-elimination games, as has been the case the last six years.
"I think it's a real positive," Miller said of facing the same opponent in consecutive regular-season games. "This give us, and all teams, an opportunity to look at what the playoffs are like: quick turnarounds, talking about adjustments, how did they try to attack us."
That was the case this past week as Connecticut hosted Dallas twice, with a day in between. Tuesday, the Sun confirmed the unfortunate news that veteran guard Jasmine Thomas was out for the season with a knee injury. That night, they fell 85-77 to the Wings. But two days later, Connecticut beat Dallas 99-68 in a complete turnaround.
Part of that might have been how upset the team was without Thomas -- a longtime Sun player and popular leader on the team -- in the first game and then adjusting better. But it also had to do with specific things Miller and the Sun saw they could improve on, and then implemented.
This Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Sun face an Aces team that has just one loss thus far -- May 10 at Washington -- and has won six games in a row. The second Aces-Sun game is Thursday (10 p.m. ET, Facebook). Along with being a team showcase, these games also will feature the last two WNBA MVPs with the Aces' A'ja Wilson (16.4 PPG, 10.0 RPG) and the Sun's Jonquel Jones (13.8, 8.0).
The Sun appear to have a bit of an edge in the post with Jones, Alyssa Thomas (16.3 PPG), DeWanna Bonner (14.0) and Brionna Jones (13.1) -- even though the Aces lead the league in rebounding at 37.4 per game. Las Vegas has the backcourt edge, especially with Jasmine Thomas out, as Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum are both averaging 18.2 PPG. Those two and Chelsea Gray combine to average 15.5 assists per game.
Chelsea Gray makes a sweet move for the and-1
Chelsea Gray makes a sweet move for the and-1
1. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 1
The Aces didn't like the way they struggled in closing out their 83-76 win at Chicago on Saturday. But when that was the only so-called negative for Las Vegas -- critiquing a road victory over the defending champion -- you know things are going well. The Aces started the week beating Los Angeles 104-76, with Sparks center Liz Cambage making her return after playing two seasons in Vegas and being held to 10 points. It was the third game this season in which the Aces have scored at least 100 points. Wilson and Dearica Hamby (13.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG) are averaging double-doubles.
This week: vs. Connecticut (Tuesday), vs. Connecticut (Thursday), vs. Dallas (Sunday)
2. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 2
Despite the terrible break for Thomas, who was injured May 22, the Sun remain resilient. After splitting with the Wings, they beat visiting Washington 79-71, with Bonner, Thomas and Courtney Williams all scoring 14 points each. Jones has come off the bench in five of eight games so far this season after starting every game in 2020 and 2021, and she remains very effective. It has also been a benefit to have Yvonne Anderson off the bench; the 32-year-old guard is one of two WNBA rookies this season over the age of 30 (Chicago guard Rebekah Gardner, who turns 32 in July, is the other). This will be a taxing week for the Sun with four games, all on the road in the Pacific time zone.
This week: at Las Vegas (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Thursday), at Phoenix (Friday), at Seattle (Sunday)
3. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 4
The Mystics really shut down Atlanta last Tuesday (70-50) in a game in which Washington finally had all 11 players on its roster see action. In a subsequent 79-71 loss at Connecticut, Elena Delle Donne (rest) and Alysha Clark (COVID-19 health and safety protocols) were out, and that made a difference. The Mystics know it is likely going to be this way, though -- at least for Delle Donne -- for most of the season, and they seem prepared to ride out the expected ups and downs.
This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), vs. New York (Friday), at Chicago (Sunday)
Breanna Stewart comes up with a big rejection for the Storm
Seattle's Breanna Stewart sends this shot back with authority vs. New York.
4. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 5
The bad news for the Storm was that Sue Bird, Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot were out after positive COVID-19 tests. The good news is that the Storm had back-to-back home games against the currently woeful Liberty. It took overtime and a combined 52 points from Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd to win the first of those games 79-71. In the follow-up, the Storm steam-rolled New York 92-61, with veteran Jantel Lavender getting her first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
This week: vs. Dallas (Friday), vs. Connecticut (Sunday)
5. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 3
This past week, the Sky held off Indiana and then fell short in a rally against Las Vegas. On Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), the Sky get a visit from Phoenix, the first time the Mercury have been at Wintrust Arena since damaging a door there on the way out following their Game 4 WNBA Finals loss last season. Chicago is still trying to find its offense, as its 5-of-31 struggle from behind the arc against the Aces showed.
This week: vs. Phoenix (Tuesday), at Atlanta (Friday), vs. Washington (Sunday)
6. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 6
The Wings split on the road this past week at Connecticut, so that's not a bad result. In the win, Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray combined for 53 points, and that trio is going to be responsible for a lot of Dallas' success this season. Not much went right in the subsequent loss against a Sun team that played much better defensively. However, Satou Sabally -- in her third Wings game after returning late from overseas play -- had a season-best 18 points.
It's also notable that the Wings have the most victories on the road so far this season -- four -- of any WNBA team. That's a positive going into this week, as they will play three Pacific time zone games.
This week: at Los Angeles (Tuesday), at Seattle (Friday), at Las Vegas
Kristy Wallace's nice pas sets up Erica Wheeler's 3
Kristy Wallace gives a nice pass to Erica Wheeler for a 3-pointer.
7. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 7
The Dream had one of their worst games thus far last Tuesday in a 70-50 loss at Washington, which was Atlanta's season low in points. However, the Dream bounced back well to clobber Phoenix 81-54 on Sunday, the start of a four-game homestand. Admittedly, Phoenix really seems lost right now, but credit the Dream defense holding the Mercury to 26.5% shooting.
Veteran guard Tiffany Hayes is back from overseas play, but still dealing with a knee issue. The Dream are playing pretty well without her, but it will be a boost when she returns to action.
This week: vs. Minnesota (Wednesday), vs. Chicago (Friday), vs. Indiana (Sunday)
Nneka Ogwumike drops 30 in Sparks' loss to Fever
Nneka Ogwumike drops 30 in Sparks' loss to Fever
8. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 8
It was a challenging week for the Sparks with four games, three of them on the road. They got a split, with losses to the Aces and Fever, and wins over the Mercury and the Lynx. This isn't the start Los Angeles wanted, but considering its schedule issues -- eight of 10 games thus far have been on the road -- things could be worse. With Jordin Canada dealing with a hamstring issue, Chennedy Carter played her most minutes of the season (28) and led the Sparks in points (20), rebounds (six) and assists (four).
Meanwhile, the July 2021 altercation between Liz Cambage and the Nigerian national team, and her subsequent departure from the Australian national team, continues to linger as it is still making news in Australia. Cambage was with Las Vegas, not Los Angeles, last season. The Sparks said Sunday they have talked over the situation as a team and don't consider it an issue.
This week: vs. Dallas (Tuesday), at Phoenix (Sunday)
9. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 11
It was a newsy week for the Fever as Marianne Stanley was let go after the team's fifth loss in a row -- to defending champion Chicago -- and replaced by assistant Carlos Knox as interim head coach. With rookie forward NaLyssa Smith back following an ankle injury, Indiana beat Los Angeles on Friday to get Knox a victory in his first game in charge. Sunday, Indiana announced that Gary Kloppenburg, who has been a successful coach and assistant for many years in the WNBA, will return to the Fever as Knox's assistant. He was previously with the Fever as an assistant for two stints, 2008-2011 and 2015-2016.
Will these coaching moves matter long-term this season for a franchise that has missed the playoffs the last five years? Knox has a track record in player development, and we know the Fever are building on rookies. They also have fifth-year pro Kelsey Mitchell, at age 26 and in her prime, averaging a career-best 19.0 PPG. Whether the coaching changes help the Fever return to the postseason we will wait to see, but the organization needed to do something.
This week: vs. Washington (Tuesday), at New York (Wednesday), at Atlanta (Sunday)
10. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 10
The Lynx stay status quo, which isn't good. They did get a victory over the Liberty this past week, but then fell short 85-83 after a comeback against the Sparks. The Lynx (79.2 PPG) are one of four WNBA teams whose scoring average is in the 70s. While Washington (79.2) and Atlanta (75.8) are also in the group, they still have winning records. Minnesota and New York (70.4), on the other hand, are a combined 3-14.
This week: at Atlanta (Wednesday), at New York (Sunday)
11. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 9
Things are really not going well for the Mercury, who have lost five games in a row and looked pretty lifeless in Sunday's 81-54 defeat at Atlanta. In that game, stars Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Tina Charles combined for 15 points on 5-of-28 shooting from the field. Diamond DeShields, with 23 points, was the only Phoenix player to score in double figures. The Mercury are without Sophie Cunningham (health and safety protocols) and Shey Peddy (back), while Kia Nurse has yet to play as she is coming back from a knee injury last year. And, of course, Brittney Griner is being detained in Russia. In all, this has been a difficult situation for new coach Vanessa Nygaard to walk into.
This week: at Chicago (Tuesday), vs. Connecticut (Friday), vs. Los Angeles (Sunday)
12. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 12
Forcing Seattle to overtime on Friday was a good sign for New York, but the Liberty had no gas in the tank in Sunday's 31-point loss to the Storm. With Betnijah Laney, DiDi Richards, Lorela Cubaj and Jocelyn Willoughby all out with injuries, the Liberty are just plain struggling. The biggest bright spot for New York is center Han Xu of China, who previously played 18 games in the 2019 season for the Liberty. In five games so far this season, she is averaging 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds.
This week: vs. Indiana (Wednesday), at Washington (Friday), vs. Minnesota (Sunday)