Considering the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces each posted road wins during the season series, it is fair to say there is not much in the way of home-court advantage heading into Sunday’s second-round showdown in Las Vegas.
But the Aces are hoping a shift in venue helps create a better atmosphere as the scene shifts from Mandalay Bay to the Thomas and Mack Center with a spot in the WNBA semifinals on the line.
Las Vegas (21-13) finished one game ahead of Chicago (20-14) and also won the season series 2-1 en route to claiming the final first-round bye as the No. 4 seed. The Aces normally play their games at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, which has a capacity of 12,000 and hosted this summer’s All-Star Game. The Thomas & Mack Center, which hosts UNLV college basketball games, holds more than 19,000.
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer penned a letter as part of a two-page advertisement the team purchased in the Las Vegas Review-Journal asking for the city’s support, which is still in the early stages following their move from Tulsa two years ago. Las Vegas drew an average of just under 4,700 fans for the season but had nearly double that amount – almost 8,400 – see a 92-86 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Aug. 31 in the home finale en route to clinching the first-round bye.
“I do not promise a win, but I promise passion. I promise intense, talented, physical athletes playing great basketball,” he wrote. “I have the same message for my players at the end of every one of my pregame chalk talks – HAVE FUN. I promise if you show up Sunday, you will too.”
Despite their record, the Aces have been maddeningly inconsistent despite having two of the league’s best players in All-Stars Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson. Las Vegas also has the Sixth Woman of the Year in Dearica Hamby, who helped stabilize the team midseason when Wilson was lost with a sprained ankle and averaged 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Cambage, who went public with her dealings with depression during the season to explain a two-game absence, totaled 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. She gave the Sky fits, recording double-doubles in two of the three meetings while averaging 22.3 points and 10.0 rebounds.
There is also no love between Cambage and the Sky’s frontcourt after the last meeting, a 100-85 Aces victory in Chicago on Aug. 18 in which Cambage had 23 points and 10 rebounds while 50 combined personal fouls were whistled. Sky coach James Wade criticized the refs for protecting Cambage and Wilson while his center Stefanie Dolson was limited to 11 minutes, and there is still lingering resentment from Sky players.
“I wish we could get a clean slate of refs who don’t know any of the players because a lot of times – just being A’ja Wilson, Cambage – it’s like they just automatically want to call a foul because that’s who they are,” forward Cheyenne Parker told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday.
Chicago’s frontcourt has adjusted to the loss of injured starting forward Jantel Lavender thanks to the contributions of Astou Ndour, who has averaged 11.3 points in her last 12 starts. The Sky recorded their first postseason win since 2016 on Wednesday night, routing Phoenix 105-76 behind an impressive defensive effort – they limited the Mercury to 36.9 percent shooting — to go with their usual offensive proficiency.
Diamond DeShields scored 25 points to lead five players in double figures while point guard and Courtney Vandersloot had 11 assists directing a Sky offense that hit 9 of 18 from 3-point range and shot 53.2 percent overall.
“[We’re going to] make them uncomfortable, try to disrupt them as much as possible,” Parker added. “Frustrate them. Get them out of their rhythm.”
(Liz Cambage photo courtesy Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)