HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — The Las Vegas Aces will be playing for more than a WNBA championship.
History also is on the line for the Aces, who put together one of the top regular seasons in the league’s 27-year history with the chance to become the first team to repeat in more than two decades.
If Las Vegas, which hosts Game 1 on Sunday in the best-of-five series, beats the New York Liberty for the title, the Aces will be in the conversation for one of the greatest teams in league history. The first two games as well as a potential Game 5 are sold out.
“Someone’s making history,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “It’s either we get the back to back or New York gets their first one. As far as dynasty and all that, we’re (working) on No. 2. Before you get to three or four, you’ve got to get to two. We’re just worried and really getting ready for the task at hand and not worried about years down the road.”
Only two teams have won consecutive titles — the Houston Comets from 1997-2000 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02.
Las Vegas won a league-record 34 games during the regular season, though the Aces benefited from an expanded 40-game schedule. Their .850 winning percentage was fifth best, behind the Comets going 27-3 (.900) in 1998, the Sparks going 28-4 (.875) each in 2000 and 2001 and the Phoenix Mercury finishing 29-5 (.853) in 2014.
Breaking it down even further, the Aces this season set the league record for best offensive rating at 113 points per 100 possessions. Their 97.7 defensive rating wasn’t among the best ever, but was tops this season.
The Aces don’t boast much depth, but their starting five is among the most talented ever. Among the starters are three No. 1 overall draft picks — Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young. Wilson is a two-time league MVP, and Plum and Young have each appeared in two All-Star Games. Point guard Chelsea Gray was last season’s WNBA Finals MVP.
Las Vegas’ starting lineup would be even stronger if Candace Parker hadn’t missed nearly the entire season with a broken foot. She also was a No. 1 overall pick and is a two-time MVP.
If Parker hadn’t gotten injured, the Aces might have been close to unbeatable. Las Vegas went 16-2 with her in the lineup to open the season, though still an impressive 18-6 afterward.
The Aces could use Parker against the Liberty, who would have the unquestioned best lineup this season if not for Las Vegas. The Liberty finished just two games behind with a roster that includes multiple MVPs and All-Stars.
Facing an opponent that is also loaded is why the Aces are careful to put aside talk about possibly making history.
“We’ll wait to talk about that in a couple of weeks,” Gray said.
There are three teams that serve as the standard the Aces are trying to reach.
Houston won the league’s first four championships with the trio of Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson — all Hall of Famers. Those teams posted a combined regular-season winning percentage of .803 and went 16-2 in the playoffs.
Los Angeles followed up with titles the next two seasons with Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie anchoring a team that also included Mwadi Mabika and Delisa Milton-Jones, players who received multiple All-Star selections.
The Detroit Shock, under Bill Laimbeer who later would become Las Vegas’ first coach, won three titles in six years in the early 2000s. Hall-of-Famer Swin Cash starred on those teams that also included Cheryl Ford and Deanna Nolan, who each made four All-Star teams.
Maybe the Aces will join those historical teams. If they beat New York, let the conversation begin.
“I’m not going to say we’re at the tip top because we haven’t won enough,” Wilson said. “We’re somewhere in the middle of that class.”
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