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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Reigning WNBA champion Aces struggling to start season while trying to get players healthy

    Las Vegas Aces center A'ja Wilson reacts after scoring during the first half of a WNBA game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday in Los Angeles. (Ryan Sun/AP Photo)

    The two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces are off to a rough start as they have been inconsistent over the first month of the season.

    The Aces (5-4) have dropped three of their last four games. They didn't lose their fourth game last season until August.

    “We’re one team in Minnesota,” coach Becky Hammon said after a loss at Los Angeles on Sunday night. “We’re another team in Atlanta. We’re one team in Dallas; we’re another team against Seattle.”

    It hasn't helped that Las Vegas has been playing without starting guard Chelsea Gray, who is still recovering from a leg injury she suffered in the WNBA Finals last season. There is no timetable on her return.

    One constant for Las Vegas has been the stellar play of A'ja Wilson.

    She has scored at least 20 points in 14 consecutive games, setting a WNBA record in the process. She became the third-fastest player in WNBA history to reach 4,000 career points in Sunday's loss. The only players to do it faster were Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi.

    Wilson has also been playing dominant defense, blocking at least one shot in every game this season. Wilson isn't extremely concerned about the team's rough start to the year.

    “These times are hard, but I guarantee you they will not last forever," she said. “I was just saying in the huddle, we’re going to be good.”

    AP WNBA poll

    New York has taken over the No. 1 spot in this week's AP WNBA poll. The Liberty went 4-0 last week to clinch home court advantage in the Commissioner's Cup title game. Connecticut was second and Minnesota third. Seattle and Las Vegas were the next two. Phoenix was sixth and Atlanta seventh. Los Angeles and Chicago followed. Dallas, Indiana and Washington rounded out the rankings.

    Surging numbers

    The first month of the WNBA season drew its highest attendance since the league’s second season in 1998 and the best television ratings in its history.

    The figures are the latest evidence of the surging popularity of the WNBA. Across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS, ION and NBA TV, WNBA games are averaging 1.32 million viewers, nearly tripling last season’s average of 462,000, the league said on Tuesday. Attendance is also booming with teams having sold out more than half their games, more than double the number of sellouts last year. Approximately 400,000 fans have attended games, the most through the first month in 26 years.

    Caitlin corner

    Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark, the former Iowa All-American, has said not making the Olympic team will motivate her to work harder to be on future U.S. squads. Even though she's not on social media, Clark said it's hard to avoid seeing all of the attention being put on the decision.

    “I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it, of just blocking out the noise and doing what I can to focus on basketball,” she said. “But yeah, it’s tough. Like I go on my iPad to read the news, to catch up on current events. It’s like it’s one of the first things I see on the news side. So it is what it is. But I still don’t view it as a negative thing. Like I’m I’m very fortunate. I know a lot of people would want to be in this position and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

    Clark and the Fever struggled in a loss at Connecticut on Monday night. They host Atlanta on Friday and then Chicago on Sunday.

    Rookie watch

    Los Angeles rookie Rickea Jackson had one of the best games of her young career, scoring 16 points in the win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday night. It matched her season-best total. Fellow Sparks rookie Cameron Brink had a rough shooting night, but had five blocks. She is second in the league, averaging 2.8 per game. Chicago's Kamilla Cardoso got her first start on Sunday and scored 13 points in a loss to the Atlanta Dream.

    Player of the week

    Breanna Stewart of New York earned AP Player of the Week honors. The Liberty forward averaged 21.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and four assists to help New York win all four games last week and clinch home court in the Commissioner's Cup final on June 25. Kahleah Copper of Phoenix, Dearica Hamby of Los Angeles and Kayla McBride of Minnesota also received votes.

    Game of the week

    New York at Las Vegas, Saturday. The first matchup of last season's WNBA Finals with the Liberty visiting the Aces. New York will come into that game fresh as the Liberty's last game was Sunday. Las Vegas has two Commissioner's Cup games this week before the rematch.

    Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum, left, scores past Los Angeles Sparks center Li Yueru during the first half of a WNBA game Sunday in Los Angeles. (Ryan Sun/AP Photo)
    Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd, right, shoots against Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark during the second half of a WNBA game May 30 in Indianapolis. (Doug McSchooler/AP File Photo)

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