The Las Vegas Aces' first game of the season had likely been circled on the calendars of many WNBA fans for quite some time. It pitted a team with the last three No. 1 overall picks against a Los Angeles Sparks team stocked with talent all over the roster. As the game—and the season—grew closer, the matchup only got more intriguing.
What would the Sparks do with Candace Parker missing time at the beginning of the season? How would Chiney Ogwumike fit into the lineup after securing a trade away from the Connecticut Sun? Wait, Liz Cambage finally got traded? And it wasn't to the Sparks? What happens when an up-and-coming team acquires one of the best players in the league?
We got the answer to a good amount of those questions Sunday night, though we'll have to wait a bit longer for Cambage's Vegas debut. But the Aces didn't miss a beat, putting in solid defensive performance that stymied the Sparks at multiple levels and saw Las Vegas earn its first win of the season, 83–70, and put the rest of the league on notice of what it is capable of.
A'ja Wilson picked up right where she left off during her 2018 Rookie of the Year season, scoring at will at the rim and dominating the boards for the Aces. Her 21 points led the Aces, while Kayla McBride also had a great offensive game, going 9-of-15 for 20 points while Kelsey Plum dished out six assists. Jackie Young hit each of her four shots to put in a relatively quiet eight points while looking comfortable on both sides of the floor.
Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer doesn't appear to be timid about tossing this year's top selection in the deep water early, and Young's play shows why. During an opening weekend in which some of her fellow draftees put up big numbers—more on that later—Young looked calm and controlled on the court, as she did during her time at Notre Dame.
Her presence will only help a Vegas team on the verge of ascension and looking to justify the hype it came into the season with after the WNBA GM survey saw the Aces be picked as the favorite to win it all. But among the most surprising things to come out of Sunday's game was how Vegas's defense stifled the Sparks.
After being a middle-of-the-road defensive team last year, the Aces managed to hold the Sparks to eight points in the second quarter and 70 points in the entire game on Sunday. Whether that was mainly a function of L.A. missing shots or Las Vegas altering them could be up for debate, but when your leading scorer is Maria Vadeeva—a surprise starter at center who more than proved her worth in the starting lineup—with 24 points and the only other person to score in double digits is Nneka Ogwumike, it's a problem. Chiney Ogwumike struggled in her first game in L.A., going 1-for-10 and only scoring two points while coming off the bench. Most nights won't see the Ogwumike sisters combining for 19 points, but accomplishing that feat should be cause for celebration for the Aces' frontcourt.
Dearica Hamby was a menace on the inside, racking up three blocks and dropping 12 points in 27 minutes to show just how good and deep this Vegas team is in the frontcourt. While a lot of attention has been paid to how well this team should score—and any team that adds Young and Cambage to a lineup of Wilson, McBride and Plum is going to score—the defense might be more of a talking point if it can keep it up as the season goes on. It took the Aces five games to tally their first win last season before finishing 14–20; something tells me they won't struggle so mightily in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Sparks look like they need Parker back as soon as possible. Starting Vadeeva was a smart move by first-year coach Derek Fisher, but he's going to need more from the rest of his roster if the Sparks want to still be in talk of contention by the time Parker returns. One bright side for L.A., however, was the play of second-rounder Marina Mabrey.
Anyone who watched Mabrey at Notre Dame knows that she's more than capable of shooting the ball, but her sharpshooting capabilities are going to be a necessity for a Sparks team that's light on long-range shooting. Mabrey and Vadeeva were the only players with more than one three-point make Sunday, and their spacing of the floor will likely see both get plenty of run this season. Shooting from this kind of distance is just unfair.
It was both teams' first game, and there will be plenty of other inflection points as we get deeper into the season, but in the initial battle of title-contending teams, first blood goes to the Las Vegas Aces.
I tried to tell you all that Napheesa Collier was going to be a problem.
Scoring 27 points in your WNBA debut isn't a bad way to start your career, and having it just so happen to be the second-most points in a rookie debut ever is an awesome stat. It's strange seeing this Lynx team missing so many players that have been staples in Minnesota for quite some time, but don't tell Cheryl Reeve or her team that they aren't contenders.
It will be interesting to see where the Lynx go from here, but one thing is for sure: Collier is more than ready to take the WNBA by storm.
Well, it didn't take too long for Teaira McCowan to prove her worth to the Indiana Fever. The former Mississippi State star is walking matchup nightmare, towering over many of her opponents and providing the type of defense we became accustomed to during her time in Starkville. She got two blocks and two steals in the Fever's opener—and she scored the winning bucket at the buzzer.
Fever fans didn't have much to cheer for last year, but the tide may be slowly turning in Indiana.
It appears reports of the Storm's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Seattle players got their rings and proceeded to beat one of the best teams in the league with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird in the stands. This team may now be light on star power for a good chunk of the season, but seeing players like Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard and Jordin Canada get more shine is going to make its season interesting.
If the Storm can keep up the good fight and potentially get Bird back before the end of the season, this team could be a scary first-round opponent for a higher seed in the playoffs. Also, just because Stewie is sidelined this year doesn't mean we'll be seeing less of her, or less of this, and that should be good news for the whole league.