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Aces’ Liz Cambage clears COVID protocols, close to returning

Aces All-Star center Liz Cambage won’t play Friday against the Chicago Sky. But she will most likely play Sunday against the Phoenix Mercury, giving Las Vegas a game to reintroduce her to the lineup before the playoffs begin.

Cambage has cleared the WNBA’s health and safety protocols after contracting COVID-19 and will join the team Saturday in Phoenix ahead of the regular-season finale, according to Aces coach Bill Laimbeer. The 30-year-old hasn’t played since Aug. 28, missing the last four games while recovering.

Laimbeer said she’s been submitting negative COVID-19 tests and passing the mandatory heart exams that pave the way for her return. Her conditioning is a question mark, though, given the inactivity.

“Working her back into the system is going to be a bumpy ride,” Laimbeer said. “It’s going to an interesting managerial experience for me, but that’s what I’m used to. That’s what everybody’s expecting me to figure out.”

Cambage was in the midst of another sensational season for the Aces, anchoring their No. 2-rated defense with her length and rim protection. She’s the Aces’ second leader scorer, too, averaging 14.7 points to go with 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor.

She remains one of the league’s most dominant low-post players.

Without Cambage, the Aces have utilized a more uptempo style, relying on their guards to create offense while still feeding reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson in the post.

Laimbeer doesn’t expect Cambage to play more than three or four minutes at a time come Sunday. She began working out with her personal trainer earlier this week, he said.

“It’s just going to be a time thing,” Laimbeer said. “Obviously, I don’t expect her to be in game shape when we play next. … (It’s) just going to have to be managed.”

The Aces will have plenty of time to reintegrate Cambage after the regular season concludes. They’ve already secured the No. 3 seed, meaning they won’t begin the playoffs until Sept. 26 at the earliest.

But they can clinch the No. 2 seed with one more win or one more loss by the Minnesota Lynx, giving them plenty of practice time with Cambage until they take the postseason floor.

“In practice, we’ll get a better handle on it,” Laimbeer said. “How do you integrate Liz back into the lineup without disrupting the others who are finding a different niche for themselves?

“At the same time, Liz is a very powerful force. We’re going to figure this out. I’ve got to put my thinking cap on and work around how to do this.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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