Late night hoops: Liberty take on the Las Vegas Aces

Not quite the start you want. The New York Liberty began their three game pre All Star Game road trip in Los Angeles against the Sparks, but the team lost by 10 points as the offense couldn’t finish strong down the stretch.

The opponent tonight will be the Las Vegas Aces. Under new head coach, Becky Hammon, Vegas has blitzed opponents for much of the season and are a title favorite. They last played on Sunday, and were on the receiving end of a 31 point drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Lynx as Minnesota retired the jersey of former player and current assistant coach, Rebekah Brunson.

Where to follow the game

CBS Sports Network has us again. Late night affair so we’re getting started after 10:00 p.m. ET.

Injuries

No Betnijah Laney or Jocelyn Willoughby. Sami Whitcomb sat on Sunday for a rest day and will be back tonight. Rebecca Allen left Sunday’s game and was evaluated for a concussion after Chiney Ogwumike elbowed her in the face. She passed all of the concussion tests, but is listed as being out tonight for rest.

Nothing doing for Vegas.

The game

If you think back to March of this year, Howard Megdal of The Next reported that the WNBA fined the Liberty half a million dollars for flying the team on chartered flights as compared to the coach players and coaches are forced to fly on. The league has been doing players wrong for years on that front, and that rule will rear its ugly head over the next few days. Tonight is the first leg of a back-to-back for the Liberty, and when they’re done here, they have to immediately fly to Phoenix to take on the Mercury Thursday evening. League has to do better and treat the world class athletes that work there with the respect and care they deserve.

There’s something about the Aces. Their starting five is absolutely electric, and they tend to knock their opponents around. Their starting five of Plum-Gray-Young-Hamby-Wilson leads the WNBA in minutes by far, playing 377 minutes total. They outscore teams by 10 points per 100 possessions, which has everyone dreaming of a Vegas championship. However, their bench leaves a lot to be desired, and that could prove fatal come playoff time. Becky Hammon and the Aces staff will have to strike that balance of stacking up as many wins as you can while also giving your best players pockets of rest so they aren’t burnt out come title time.

The Aces can get nice and comfortable with the Liberty as they’ll play them tonight, have the week off for the All Star break, then come back from the break and play them two more times, this time in Barclays Center. Scheduling is weird.

The rebounding battle will prove to be crucial tonight. The Aces are the best defensive rebounding team in the W this season, and the Liberty allow the second most offensive rebounds on the other side. Fortunately for New York, Vegas doesn’t crash the O-boards like that (second lowest offensive rebound rate this season), so they may not get hammered on that end as much as they have been in recent games. The Liberty will have to win the rebound battle and keep the turnovers at an absolute minimum if they want to win tonight. Can’t afford to start off slow against a team like this.

In a development that will make our pal Alec Sturm happy, we’ve got two French national team members in the house tonight! Marine Johannes was terrific on Sunday as she knocked down five three pointers in 35 minutes. With Allen out, Johannes has had to take on more responsibility, and it’s been a massive success for the Liberty. Iliana Rupert recently came over and is playing around 15 minutes a night. This is her first season in the WNBA, so it’s going to take some time for her to get fully acclimated and display the potential that has Aces fans excited to see her.

Sabrina Ionescu was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month, and we wrote about it here. Ionescu has been struggling from the field in recent games, and with the pace expected to be lightning fast tonight, could make it happen in transition and get some easy baskets that way. The Liberty were a bit rushed in their offense against the Sparks, and Ionescu was not immune as she turned it over six times plus missed a bunch of shots she normally makes. Vegas will play fast and look to speed her up, but if Ionescu takes her time and lets the game come to her, she’ll play great.

Sab will be seeing another All Star guard, Kelsey Plum. KP is second in the WNBA in scoring at 20 a night and has been fully unlocked from three point range. Plum’s attempts from deep have nearly doubled as she’s taking around eight threes a night and is shooting an impressive 42.2 percent. Plum is incredibly quick off the dribble and has made a living at the cup this year. Crystal Dangerfield and Johannes will probably draw the Plum assignment, and they’re going to have to keep her in front of them and stay out of foul trouble.

Player to watch: A’ja Wilson

The Aces said goodbye to Liz Cambage, and Wilson has seamlessly stepped in as the full time center. Wilson is seventh in scoring (18 points a game), first in rebounds (10.1) and second in blocks (2.2) while gradually expanding her range out to the three point line, taking a touch over two a night from deep. Wilson is one of the leaders of the next generation of hoopers, and she’s repped the Aces with pride and honor. A title at the end of this season would be the crowning achievement for one of the game’s greatest players.

The Liberty bigs of Stef Dolson, Natasha Howard, and Han Xu will have to be locked in from the start if they hope to slow Wilson down. Han is an automatic bucket off the bench and she had some nice post moves when Liz Cambage was guarding her on Sunday. Dolson and Howard will have to keep Wilson from going off and if she stumbles into foul trouble, that will help NY’s chances immensely.

From the Vault

Janet Jackson performed at Essence Festival on Saturday night, so it’s only right we revisit one of her many number one records

More reading: Swish Appeal, Nets Republic, Just Women’s Sports, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats and The Next

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