|Aces continue playoff surge versus Liberty|
The playoffs have arrived, so to speak, for the Las Vegas Aces.
The schedule might say three games remain in the regular season, but with almost zero margin for error, the Aces probably must win out to have a chance to make the postseason in their first year in Las Vegas.
"I think we're in a good spot," Aces coach Bill Laimbeer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "As a team, we could be a worse record, we could be a better record, and we're probably in the neck of the woods of where we should be. ... Right now it's beyond our control what Dallas does."
At 13-18, Las Vegas doesn't control its own fate. They can move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot with a win against New York on Wednesday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The Liberty (7-24) were on the road Tuesday night and lost to the Los Angeles Sparks 74-66 for their 10th straight loss. While any hint of the postseason vanished in mid-June for the Liberty, the Aces have a golden opportunity.
After Wednesday's game, Las Vegas travels to Dallas on Friday for a game that will go a long way in deciding the final playoff spot.
And then it's back home on Sunday against Atlanta.
While the Wings (14-18) stand in the Aces' path heading into Wednesday, Dallas is sinking fast. The Wings are one-half game ahead of the Aces and have dropped nine straight after Tuesday's 96-76 loss to Connecticut.
And it doesn't get any easier for Dallas. After hosting the Aces, the Wings have one game left, on the road against the league's best team, the Seattle Storm, on Sunday.
The Aces haven't been playing that well of late, either, losing five straight before beating Indiana on Saturday. But Las Vegas is a young team that sounds like everyone is on the same page, ready to take a huge leap forward.
"That expectation of holding ourselves to a pretty high standard and looking toward making the playoffs, whereas I don't know if many people in general were expecting that from us," veteran Carolyn Swords said of her maturing teammates. "It's been a tough season. That's kind of the grind of the WNBA. It's pushing through any fatigue, trying to be mentally locked in no matter how your body is feeling."
Las Vegas has won both matchups this season against the Liberty, who have endured a horrible season in their first year since Laimbeer left for Las Vegas.
In what might have been one of the Aces' best games defensively -- they held the Liberty to 63 points, a season low for Las Vegas -- Dearica Hamby led four Aces in double figures with 17 points in a 78-63 victory on June 13.
Kayla McBride poured in 27 points in an 88-78 victory June 22. A'ja Wilson recorded 20 points and 14 rebounds.
But make no mistake, the Liberty won't roll over for the Aces. Pride won't let Tina Charles, who scored 21 points Tuesday, end the season without effort.
"It's embarrassing," Charles told Newsday after losing to Atlanta in the Liberty's home finale. "It's a disappointment. I don't think there are any other words that describe this season. This organization, New York Liberty, what it stands for in the WNBA.
"The fact that we still have (original star Teresa Weatherspoon) around (as director of player development), it really breaks my heart just what's going on and what our record is. I put a lot on myself."
The learning curve for first-year coach Katie Smith might have been a little steeper than many expected. Yet, the Liberty have been playing better -- even if it doesn't show in the win column.
"We had very high expectations coming into the season," Bria Hartley said. "We just hope we can learn from it and get better for next season."