Aces, Liberty create buzz in time for WNBA season

The Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty are co-favorites to win the WNBA title, and the buzz is creating plenty of conversation for the league.

LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas Aces forward Alysha Clark did her best to diffuse any talk of the Aces and New York Liberty providing us with a WNBA Finals preview before the regular season even gets started, as the two met for a preseason clash Saturday afternoon.

“That’s more so for like the outside, like the fans and the media,” said the two-time WNBA champion. “It gives y’all something to talk about, which is exciting. But for us, we focus in-house, we focus on what we’re doing every day, what we’re getting better at, and just the chemistry that we’re building.”

After the Aces beat New York 84-77 in front of 4,460 exuberant fans, Liberty star guard Sabrina Ionescu echoed the sentiments.

“I think now more than ever, probably, it’s more media-wise,” Ionescu said. “Obviously top two teams, starting the season there’s always this rivalry (talk). But to be honest, I don’t think there’s one within the team. There’s not this whole, ‘We’re playing Vegas, there’s this hype.’ I think for us, any opportunity that we have to play a team we know there’s a target on our back, and we know that’s only going to make us better.”

Both Clark and Ionescu are consummate professionals, and I understand exactly where they’re coming from.

Aces coach Becky Hammon hopes to sculpt another championship season out of a roster infused with new faces, including Clark and fellow veteran Candace Parker. The last thing they want to hear is they’re being penciled into the WNBA Finals against anyone, let alone the new-look Liberty.

Think Hammon has her hands full? New York coach Sandy Brondello now has Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot on her roster, and some might say if there is anyone who has no excuses and should be entered into the championship conversation, it’s the Liberty.

“I think every team has gotten better,” Brondello said. “I’m excited to just get into the season. … But we have to not get too high or too low because we still need some time to (build) chemistry. You saw the chemistry that the Vegas team has … we’re still learning how to play together.”

Okay, enough with all the right things to say – and let’s be clear, they said exactly what they were supposed to – I’ll just make it clear that this preseason hype should be welcomed.

Like Brondello said, it’s a good thing if we’re talking about the WNBA.

And if we’re already anticipating a heavyweight showdown between the Aces and Liberty, so what?

Let the hype train chug along.

I mean, now that the Lakers are in the Western Conference Finals, aren’t the old heads hoping Los Angeles and the Boston Celtics renew an NBA Finals rivalry that has been revisited over different decades? I know I wouldn’t mind it.

As for the rest of the league, speaking a rivalry that’s never existed into existence could infuriate some teams who don’t believe for one minute the WNBA is a two-horse race.

You try telling Natasha Cloud her Washington Mystics don’t matter. Or let Diana Taurasi know the return of Brittney Griner means nothing and the Phoenix Mercury won’t contend. The Chicago Sky may have lost Parker and Vandersloot, but Courtney Williams and Isabelle Harrison joining Kahleah Cooper, Rebekah Gardner, Ruthy Hebard and Kristine Anigwe in the Windy City is a little enticing.

Nearly every team has an intriguing storyline heading into the regular season, yes, even last year’s five-win, last-place Indiana Fever, who will be no easy out with No. 1 overall pick Aliyah Boston joining the likes of Lexie Hull, Kelsey Mitchell, Erica Wheeler and NaLyssa Smith.

See, the more we – the media and the fans – discuss the Aces and Liberty, and a potential blockbuster WNBA Finals later this year, the further we’ll infuriate 10 other teams, creating even more rivalries.

And as much as they’d like to downplay it, they all know conversation is good.

“I think it’s good for our league to just have a conversation about it,” reigning WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray said. “It happens in other sports, and on the men’s side. You look forward to certain matchups and you get a lot of fan engagement and you look forward to that matchup. And so when our fans engage and you see it around in different sports networks, it brings a lot of fans out and people that haven’t seen the game.”

Said Brondello: “Look, I think it’s good. I think we have to create rivalries. I think that’s where we create the storylines and people start talking about it. So if they’re talking about WNBA that’s a good thing. We’re all winners, aren’t we?”

Yes. Yes, indeed.

Let the games begin.