Aces Need to Avoid Complacency to Get 2nd Ring


“ABC. Anybody but Copper.”

That was head coach Becky Hammon’s message to her team Tuesday night against the Chicago Sky. Kahleah Copper had been scorching Las Vegas all night, totaling 37 points.

Even though Kelsey Plum had scored 27 points. Even though Chelsea Gray had 22 points and nine assists. Even though A’ja Wilson had 24 points. Even though Kiah Stokes had 17 rebounds. Even though the Aces scored 107 points — there was still game pressure.

It all boiled down to not getting stops. 

“Like it can’t happen,” Hammon said during a timeout Tuesday night. “Of all the people in this whole arena, she should not be shooting open threes.”

Don’t get it twisted, the Aces won the game, as they so often do. But for much of the night, Copper was getting to her spots. Her performance helped expose one of the only weaknesses the largely dominant Aces have had this season: consistency on defense.

Las Vegas has the offensive firepower. They have the stars and the passing. They even have the tools to be a fantastic defensive unit — and, honestly, they are.

The Aces are neck-and-neck with the Connecticut Sun for the best scoring defense in the WNBA, each allowing under 80 points per game. When you compare that to Las Vegas’ league-best 94.5 points per game, it paints the picture of dominance that the 23-2 Aces have demonstrated all season long. 

It’s difficult to talk about any weakness for a team that is as solid on paper and in practice as the Aces. But ultimately, they sometimes lack sustainable defense for 40 minutes. Although it does not seem to be a prevailing issue, it is still something worth looking at because of its potential ramifications come playoff time.

Problem in past matchups

On June 26, in a matchup with the Indiana Fever, Las Vegas struggled to defend, allowing 49 first-half points to an offense that scores just 81.4 points per game. The second half was a different battle, though. Las Vegas held Indiana to just 31 second-half points and claimed an eight-point victory.

Similarly, a July 5 battle against the Dallas Wings exposed the Aces’ first half defensive woes. Las Vegas trailed 51-42 at the half. Again, after Hammon’s team came back from the locker room, things changed. Las Vegas won the game, 89-82, limiting Dallas to just 31 points in the second half.

On their current seven-game winning streak, defensive consistency has not been much of an issue (if it has been an issue at all). The Aces have not trailed at the half since the July 5 game against Dallas. 

Can’t have weaknesses in the postseason

However, it’s still important to look at this trend because the entire league is looking for some weakness, some gap in the Aces’ armor they can attack. Las Vegas has been a team of few flaws, but come playoff time, teams are motivated by a heightened sense of urgency.

If Las Vegas reverts to its early-season tendency to let teams get hot in the first half, it could spell trouble against the other powers of the league like New York or Connecticut.

The Aces have to remain consistently dominant, because letting up is not an option in the postseason, especially when you have a target on your back like Las Vegas does.

“We’re getting everybody’s best game, every single night,” Wilson said in an interview with SLAM. “We’re built for this moment and we’re going to show up.”

So far, Wilson’s assertion has been true — the Aces have shown up.

But, outside of staying healthy — which they haven’t been entirely successful with given Candace Parker’s potential season-ending surgery — one of the biggest challenge for the Aces’ title defending efforts will be defensive consistency.

Because the next time an opposing player gets hot, the Aces will need to make sure that out of all the people in the arena, that player isn’t the one getting looks. Consistent and unnervingly suffocating defense will be the key to ensuring a second ring.

The Aces are in great position for ring two, they just have to make sure they never let the foot off the gas.

Chelsea Gray Championship Bobblehead!

Chelsea Gray Las Vegas Aces

WNBA champ and WNBA Finals MVP? Now THAT’S something worth celebrating. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with this Chelsea Gray Las Vegas Aces 2022 WNBA Champions Bobblehead.

About Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick is a sports writer from North Carolina. He has run independent blogs and begun writing for The Lead in 2023. He writes for The Daily Tar Heel as well, where he has worked since September of 2022.

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