Aces feel right at home to start WNBA Playoffs

Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Las Vegas led by as many as 32 points late in cruising to an 87-59 win over the Chicago Sky in Game 1 Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.

LAS VEGAS — It doesn’t seem to matter where the court is. For the Las Vegas Aces, a house is a home wherever the welcome mat is rolled out.

It could be at Mandalay Bay. It could be at T-Mobile Arena. Heck, it could be at Sunset Park for all that matters. The fact is, the Aces are comfortable wearing black, fashionable as it is.

Wednesday, the quest to repeat as WNBA Champions began in earnest against the No. 8 seed Chicago Sky, which hadn’t come close to beating Las Vegas this year, losing the three games by an average of just under 11 points. And it wasn’t close this time around as the Aces got balanced scoring, forced the Sky into a miserable shooting night and cruised to an 87-59 win to take Game 1 of the best-of-three opening round series in front of 12,927 at the home of the Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights.

Everyone was saying the right things prior to tipoff. It was the usual “It’s a new season,” “Chicago has a great team,” “The regular season is over,” that sort of stuff.

There’s always a “One game at a time” mentality in the playoffs, so in a way, I can’t blame Aces coach Becky Hammon for eluding my question prior to tipoff of Game 1 about forward Candace Parker’s return at some point in the playoffs. Parker has been out since June 25 when she had surgery to repair a broken left foot. She appeared in just 18 games, the Aces going 16-2 with her on the floor.

“She’s rehabbing,” Hammon said. “Probably for a while.”

Perhaps the fact the Aces coach was in an NHL arena inspired her to be vague about injuries. She probably should’ve said Parker has a lower-body injury and left it at that.

Where was Bruce Cassidy when I needed him?

The reason I brought the subject up is not for this series, or even the semifinals. The Aces showed they could win without the veteran Parker with the exception of when they played the New York Liberty in Brooklyn and lost. They certainly could’ve used her both of those nights.

And should the expected Aces-Liberty WNBA Finals come to pass, I’d like Las Vegas’ chances more with Parker on the floor than in street clothes. But I get it. Hammon can’t get caught looking ahead beyond Wednesday. Maybe Parker is ready to play should the Aces make it back to the Finals and the Aces get a huge lift from her return. So far, everything is going according to the script while she remains sidelined. Overall, they’ve handled her absence remarkably well. 

“We definitely miss her,” said guard Jackie Young. “But we’ve had that ‘Next person up’ mentality and we’ve tried to use everyone to fill her absence.”

That formula was fine Wednesday. Alysha Clark gave the Aces a nice little boost off the bench with 13 points and Hammon substituted liberally as she should have given Chicago was playing El Kabong when it came to shooting the basketball. The Sky were never a threat after a dismal performance, hitting just 33 percent from the floor and making only a handful of 3-pointers (5 for 26).  

“Defensively, everybody was locked in — 1 through 5,” Hammon said. “Our guards did a great job and our bigs covered a lot of ground.

“I thought our offense was just O.K. tonight. I think we can get to another level.” 

The question is what do we see for an encore Sunday in Game 2? The Aces return to their true home court at Michelob Ultra Arena knowing a win keeps them from getting on a plane to Chicago where Game 3 would be held on the 20th at Wintrust Arena.

It’s a tough deal for the lower seed in the WNBA playoffs. Just trying to get a split is a formidable task to even give yourself a shot at playing in front of your home crowd. I get that the better team and higher seed gets rewarded. But this seems unfair. I know it’s about keeping costs down but I kinda feel bad for the Sky. Same for the Minnesota Lynx, which went to Connecticut Wednesday and got poleaxed by the Sun, 90-60, in Game 1 of their best-of-3 series. I’m guessing the Sun isn’t too concerned about playing at the Target Center in Minneapolis next week.

But at least the teams get to charter to face their elimination. So maybe that’s progress.

As for Hammon and her Aces, I hope they can get Parker back before the season is over. She’s funny doing the commercials with Steph Curry for a used car company, swatting his phone again and again. It’d be better to see her swatting Breanna Stewart’s shot and playing for another title.