The Aces finally returned to Las Vegas after a road trip from hell, but their home environs did little to change their fortunes, as the Minnesota Lynx handed them an 89-73 loss on Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The loss was harmful to the Aces’ playoff push, as Las Vegas is now 12-18 on the season and 2.5 games behind the Dallas Wings for the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff spot with four games remaining on the schedule.
Minnesota edged in front toward the end of the second quarter and carried a 43-37 lead into halftime, and the Lynx extended their advantage when star forward Maya Moore caught fire in the third quarter. Moore scored 10 points in the frame, including a step-back 3-pointer to put Minnesota ahead, 63-51, with two minutes left in the quarter.
The Aces trimmed the deficit to eight points midway through the fourth quarter, but Moore hit a pull-up dagger 3 with 5:21 remaining to give the Lynx an 81-65 lead.
Moore finished with a game-high 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
Rookie star A’ja Wilson led Las Vegas with 18 points but struggled from the field (4-of-16 FGs).
The Aces went into the All-Star break as one of the hottest teams in the WNBA, winning six of seven contests. Since resuming regular-season play, however, Las Vegas has been unable to recapture that momentum. The team lost its first outing after the break, dropping a home game to Phoenix, and then the Aces embarked on their disastrous road trip which saw them get stranded in an airport for more than 24 hours before forfeiting a game at Washington. After the forfeit, the Aces continued on to Connecticut and Atlanta, where they lost both games by a combined 30 points.
That led into Thursday’s loss, which had head coach Bill Laimbeer questioning the team’s spirit.
“Disappointing tonight,” Laimbeer said. “Not so much that we lost the game, disappointed in the energy that we didn’t have tonight. We were very sluggish. You can’t come into a game like that against the defending champion. They needed the game as bad as we did and we didn’t have the energy necessary to compete in that game.”
Laimbeer stopped short of blaming the travel issues for the Aces' play on Thursday.
“I don’t know. There’s an old cliché, when you come back off a long road trip you’re always going to be sluggish that next game. Is that what happened to us tonight? I don’t know. We haven’t been the same team since the All-Star break.”
Wilson said the Aces have to forget about the forfeit and the losing streak and focus on the four remaining games.
“We had a tough little week, but we overcame it,” Wilson said. “It’s really good to be home. We’ve just got to kind of get back into the swing of things mentally. This is the part where we really have to lock in on the little things. That’s the biggest thing. They make the biggest impact on the court and also just the mentality of it all. I think we just have to regroup and come back together and get our mentality back on track.”