It didn’t take long for Aces coach Bill Laimbeer to address the importance of Wednesday night’s game against the Minnesota Lynx at Michelob Ultra Arena.
“The game of the year is Wednesday. We know that,” he said Sunday, moments after a 92-84 loss to the Chicago Sky. “We just put ourselves in a position with no margin for error.”
Las Vegas has worked all year to earn favorable seeding in the WNBA playoffs. Favorable meaning the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, which carries an automatic double bye into the WNBA semifinals and an inside track to the WNBA Finals.
But with four games to play to play, the Aces are in danger of squandering their positioning. That is, if they lose to Minnesota.
The Aces are the No. 2 seed, nursing a 1.5-game lead over the Lynx, whom they’ve lost to twice. If they lose again on Wednesday, Minnesota would control its destiny and could secure the No. 2 seed by winning the remainder of its games via the head-to-head tiebreaker it’s already cliched.
A victory, though, would give Las Vegas a 2.5-game edge, though the Seattle Storm also lurk as a contender for the No. 2 seed.
“We’re going to have to match their physicality,” Laimbeer said Tuesday regarding the key to victory. “They’re a very physical basketball team. They play hard-nosed defense and overplay a lot of stuff. … They don’t beat themselves. They go out there, they just do their thing over and over and over again.”
The Aces first fell 90-89 to the Lynx on June 25 before losing 77-67 on July 9 in their penultimate game before the Olympic break. They were at full strength the first time around, though All-Star center Liz Cambage didn’t play in the rematch.
Cambage won’t play Wednesday, as she works her way through the league’s health and safety protocols after a positive COVID-19 test.
With or without Cambage, Minnesota is one of the few teams with the personnel to compete in the lane with the Aces. At 6 feet, 6 inches, center Sylvia Fowles anchors the paint on both ends and remains one of the WNBA’s best players. All-Star forward Napheesa Collier plays inside out.
Former Aces guard Kayla McBride is enjoying a strong season in her first year with the Lynx.
Two-time reigning Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby may be back from her ankle injury, per Laimbeer. She missed the last two games and is questionable Wednesday.
Either way, “we’re going to have to be really physical with what we have and hopefully avoid foul trouble and play our game,” Laimbeer said. “We like to move and cut and run. Against Minnesota the first two times, we haven’t done that. We played halfcourt, knockout basketball. That’s not our game.”
Who: Aces vs. Minnesota Lynx
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Michelob Ultra Arena
Radio: KWWN (1100 AM, 100.7 FM)
Tickets: Starting at $18 on axs.com
About the Aces (20-8): A’ja Wilson leads six double-figure scorers, averaging 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds. Kelsey Plum has eclipsed the 20-point mark in each of her last two games and averages a career-high 13.6 points per game. Las Vegas remains the best offensive team (107.9 points per 100 possessions) in the WNBA and second-best defensive team (98.1). Its net rating of plus-9.8 is second to the Connecticut Sun.
About the Lynx (18-9): They’ve won five straight and bring the league’s third-best defense (98.1) to Las Vegas. Sylvia Fowles anchors that defense, averaging 10.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks to go with a team-high 16.4 points. Napheesa Collier is stout on both ends, accounting for 16.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks. Kayla McBride scores 14.2 per game and converts 39.3 percent of her 3-point attempts.