The No. 1 seed for the WNBA playoffs is at stake Sunday when the Seattle Storm square off against the Las Vegas Aces.
Both teams have clinched byes into the semifinals as the top two teams in the league. Seattle (18-3) leads Las Vegas (17-4) by one game, but a victory by the Aces would give them the top spot by virtue of sweeping the head-to-head series, having beaten the Storm 82-74 on Aug. 22.
This game was originally scheduled to be played Aug. 27, but rescheduled after players took two days to recommit themselves to various social injustice causes that has been an integral part of the WNBA season in the "wubble" in Florida.
As a result of the rescheduling, the Aces may be at a disadvantage playing on back-to-back days as well as playing their third game in four days. Bill Laimbeer's team, though, got to this point on the strength of a five-game winning streak after defeating Los Angeles 84-70 on Saturday to clinch the double bye.
A'ja Wilson had 19 points and eight rebounds to pace Las Vegas, but it was the defense that shined. The Aces limited the Sparks to 10 fourth-quarter points, turning back a challenge as Angel McCoughtry contributed a key 3-pointer and 3-point pay to keep her team in control as she finished with 18 points.
Laimbeer didn't tip his hand post-game on whether the Aces would go all out for the No. 1 seed with a spot in the semifinals secured, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "We're going to go play basketball. I'm not going to slow us down or speed us up or try to make us anything we're not.
"We're going to go to play to win. If we win and get the top seed, wonderful. If we lose, then we're No. 2."
Seattle is the only team on a roll longer than Las Vegas, entering this contest on a seven-game winning streak since losing to the Aces. The Storm dismantled the Phoenix Mercury 83-60 on Friday night, opening a 24-point halftime lead and getting balanced scoring as starters Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird were spectators.
Stewart sat out with tendinitis in her left ankle while Bird was held out after aggravating a bone bruise on her left knee in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over Dallas. Jordin Canada scored 13 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Storm held the Mercury to 24.2 percent shooting.
"We've been sending a statement all year long with how deep our bench is and how we just follow the game plan and we execute," Canada told the Seattle Times. "Everyone on this team knows their role, and we play to our strengths, and I think that showed tonight. "All year long we've done that, but tonight was a special night just because we know how important it is these last two games just coming out and making sure we do what we need to do to lock in on that No. 1 spot."
Stewart, who sat out last season with a torn Achilles and is a candidate to win the MVP award for the second time in three years, should be available for this game. Bird's status is less certain as her knee injury has limited her to 11 games in the "wubble" while averaging 9.8 points and 5.2 assists.
Wilson and McCoughtry had double-doubles in last month's win over Seattle as Las Vegas seized control with a 26-11 second quarter. Wilson totaled 23 points and 14 rebounds while McCoughtry had 13 and 14 and Danielle Robinson chipped in 16 points and seven assists off the bench.
Stewart had 29 points and a career-best 18 rebounds for the Storm, who played without Bird and shot 37.3 percent.