Led by WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson, the Las Vegas Aces roll into the playoffs as the hottest team in the league.
After winning their final six regular-season games to claim the No. 1 seed, Wilson and Aces begin their playoff trek against the confident No. 7 seed Connecticut Sun on Sunday in this semifinal opener at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Even without star Liz Cambage (medical exemption) and guard Kelsey Plum (Achilles injury) this season, Las Vegas was not prevented from overcoming a 1-2 start to finish 18-4 and earn that coveted top seed for the postseason. It also helped that the Aces beat Seattle twice to earn the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed.
Of course, Las Vegas happens to roster the best player in the league at the moment, as well. Wilson, the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2018, averaged 20.5 points and 8.5 rebounds during her MVP campaign of 2020. She also blossomed as a team leader, on and off the court, during this uncertain and unprecedented season.
"She knows who she is, she knows where she's going," Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. "She knows that she's in charge, and she's responsible for our team. She has taken this upon her shoulders."
Wilson has averaged 21.5 points during Las Vegas' current winning streak, which started with a 93-78 win over Connecticut on Sept. 3. Wilson had 24 points while Dearica Hamby and Jackie Young each scored 20, as Vegas shot 52.1 percent and kept the Sun to 41-percent shooting and 4-of-19 from 3-point range to sweep the two-game season series inside the "Wubble."
Connecticut followed that defeat with back-to-back wins to clinch a playoff spot despite starting 0-5. Though the Sun dropped their final two games of the regular season, they certainly turned it while opening the playoffs with a rather resounding 73-59 upset of No. 3 seed Los Angeles this week.
Alyssa Thomas had 19 points and DeWanna Bonner scored 17 while pulling down 13 rebounds as Connecticut rolled out to a 22-8 lead after the first quarter. One year after reaching the WNBA Finals, Connecticut again has a shot at getting there again.
This time, it doesn't have as much pressure as year ago, when they were among the best teams in the league during the regular season. Now, the Sun in these 2020 playoffs after finishing 10-12 on the regular season, and feeling good and loose following their impressive win over the Sparks.
"We are absolutely know that no one is going to pick us (to beat Las Vegas and return to the Finals," Sun coach Curt Miller told ESPN. "Even if it's not happening, we're going to use the disrespect card."
Nobody around the league has disrespected Bonner (19.7 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game during the regular season) and Thomas (15.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.8 apg). Bonner scored 22 against the Aces earlier this month, while Thomas had 15 points with seven assists during a 99-78 loss to Las Vegas back on Aug. 20.