Aces stay focused while dominating rest of league

While the Las Vegas Aces are atop the WNBA with a 10-1 record, they've focused on not becoming complacent with a second- straight championship being the goal.

LAS VEGAS — As Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson stammered on the microphone during Saturday’s celebration rally at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas Aces fans could’ve easily been reminded of All-Star MVP Kelsey Plum’s speech at their championship parade, proclaiming it was just the beginning.

“We just getting started,” Plum said back in September, among other things that included a couple of choice expletives.

Apparently so, as the WNBA has made its turn at the quarter-pole, and to no surprise, the star-studded Aces lead the pack with a lineup that appears unbeatable.

The Aces improved to 10-1 on the year as four players scored in double digits in Sunday’s 93-62 win over the Minnesota Lynx.

Jackie Young led the way with 24 points, Plum finished with 21 points, Chelsea Gray had 17 points, and Candace Parker contributed with 11.

But it’s not the six double-digit wins that are important to the Aces, as much as it’s been the four wins that came by an average margin of 6.2 points per game, and the 94-77 loss to the Connecticut Sun.

They’ve created learning lessons, and reasons to fine-tune details every day.

“That’s what it takes to be a professional, that’s how we are wired,” reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson said. “That’s how we’re built and that’s why we are in the WNBA and do what we do, because we cross those T’s and dot those Is.”

And when you play for coach Becky Hammon, there is no margin for error.

For instance, when informed her team’s defensive efficiency was second in the league before Sunday’s game, Hammon’s face went stoic before answering.

“We were first the other day … damn!” Hammon said. “Y’all better get to work today.”

And they did, using a dominating second half to outscore Minnesota 39-21 to pull away for the win.

“I’ve said it before we’re not playing our best basketball yet,” Hammon added.

Which is why she refuses to let her team rest on their laurels, knowing the importance of avoiding complacency.

It’s why both Wilson and Plum said preparation for another playoff run began well before the season started. Now, it’s a matter of getting in the lab on off days to tweak any and all deficiencies that may surface.

“That’s super important,” Plum said. “Everyone in this league is good and … we’re not even looking anywhere past (teams). Because if you don’t show up to play in a quarter, it could cost you. So we understand we got to lock in.”

Added Wilson: “This is my job, this is what I do. And the last thing I want to do is disrespect the game and be complacent as to who I am and where I am in my career. And I want to make sure that I’m doing the same exact thing for my teammates as well.”

Adding past champions Parker and Alysha Clark to this year’s roster had many calling the roster one of the WNBA’s best ever.

They might be right, considering how deep the individual superlatives ran heading into Sunday.

Young ranked sixth in the WNBA with 20.5 points per game, with Wilson not too far behind in ninth (19.5 ppg) while ranking seventh with 8.6 rebounds and fourth with 2.0 blocks per game. Gray was third in the league with 6.2 assists per game, while she and Parker were tied with 1.8 steals per game.

On the efficiency front, Young ranked third with a 60.0% shooting percentage, Wilson was fifth (55.8%) and Gray was tied for 12th (50.0%). From 3-point range, Gray was tied for first (50.0%), Young was fourth (47.6%) and Clark checked in at sixth (45.5%).

And while Plum hasn’t seemed nearly as efficient offensively as she was last season – she’s quietly averaging about 16 points per game – it’s been her vast improvement on defense that has helped her teammates at the other end.

For Hammon, it’s the balance and depth that allows her to coach her players against their own potential during games, rather than the opposition.

“Most nights I’m coaching the Aces against the Aces,” Hammon said. “Are we being who we know we should be and how we know our identity is built out? Because a lot of times I’m probably not coaching the score, or coaching against, necessarily, opponents. I’m holding them accountable to be who they are as basketball players and teammates.”

Which can be hard when you’re trying to repeat, according to Plum, when you’re dealing with the type of roster Hammon is coaching. Normally, egos will infiltrate a locker room and can be a distraction when they hit the floor.

“So to be able to maintain what we’ve been able to maintain I think is really special,” Plum said. “It’s a testament to the character on this team.”