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Top seed Aces set sights on resilient Mercury in first round

Jul 26, 2022; Chicago, IL, USA;  Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray (12) moves the ball with Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) against the Chicago Sky during the second half of the Commissioners Cup-Championships at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Virtually everything has gone according to plan for the Las Vegas Aces, and virtually nothing has gone according to plan for the Phoenix Mercury.

But both teams made the postseason and will begin a best-of-three first-round playoff series Wednesday night in Las Vegas.

The Aces won their last four regular-season games, including against the defending champion Chicago Sky last Thursday to tie them for the league’s best record. They held the tiebreaker over the Sky and clinched the top seed by beating Seattle 109-100 on Sunday.

Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson has made a strong case to win the MVP award for the second time in three seasons. She has averaged 19.5 points, a career-high 9.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

“She’s been solid all year,” Aces guard Chelsea Gray said of Wilson. “Whenever we went through those lulls, she stayed the same, and that’s what an MVP does.”

Las Vegas thrived under first-year head coach Becky Hammon.

“That trust factor just continues to grow,” Hammon said. “Once you get that, you can get something special.”

The Mercury ousted the Aces in five games to reach the WNBA Finals last season. But the team was rocked in February by the detention of star center Brittney Griner in a Russian jail, where she remains.

They released her replacement, Tina Charles, during the middle of the season and stars Diana Taurasi (quad) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal) were sidelined for the final week of the regular season.

Still, Phoenix reached the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year.

“They are resilient beyond belief,” first-year coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “Every day we got hit by different stuff and different challenges and different things that happened in every possible way. Fate was just laughing at us, it felt like most of the year.

“To be in the playoffs is a great reward, but now it’s a new season.”

Las Vegas won all three regular-season meetings, but the teams haven’t played since May 21.

–Field Level Media