The Las Vegas Aces open a season-ending two-game road swing in a bid to claim the No. 3 seed for the WNBA playoffs Thursday night when they face the Atlanta Dream.
The Aces (20-12) are tied for third with the Sparks, with both teams leading fifth-place Chicago by one game. If Las Vegas beats both Atlanta (7-25) and Phoenix in its season finale Sunday, it would finish no worse than fourth and claim a first-round bye. The Aces, though, need the Sparks to drop one of their two remaining games to claim the No. 3 spot since they lose the tiebreaker of having a worse record against above-.500 teams.
Bill Laimbeer's team at least gave itself a chance for third with a 92-86 victory over Los Angeles on Saturday. Kelsey Plum picked an opportune time to snap out of a season-long shooting funk, scoring 17 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Aces snapped a three-game losing streak and overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 11:54.
"I'm really trying to not be too high or too low, you know? There's been a lot of low points for me this year. Personally, professionally," Plum told the Las Vegas Review-Journal about a season in which she is shooting just 37.2 percent. "You fail a lot in this league. Everyone is so good. … I think for me (it's about) continuing to stay aggressive."
A'ja Wilson paced the Aces with 24 points and 12 rebounds while Dearica Hamby had 12 and 12 off the bench as they picked up Liz Cambage, who struggled to an eight-point game on 3-of-12 shooting.
Las Vegas is looking to avoid a fourth straight road loss, having given up 91 points per game in the three defeats.
Atlanta will guarantee itself a last-place finish in the 12-team league with a loss in either of its final two games and came up empty on a two-game West Coast swing following Tuesday night's 70-60 loss at Los Angeles.
The Dream came out hot and shot 55 percent while opening an 11-point lead in the first quarter, but - as the case has been all season - could not sustain that offensive proficiency and scored just 36 points in the final three quarters.
"These teams like Atlanta, they're the hardest to beat, because they're playing carefree basketball," Sparks center Chiney Ogwumike noted to the Los Angeles Times.
Alex Bentley scored all 15 of her points in the first half while Elizabeth Williams also had 15 for Atlanta, which is also assured of its worst record since going 4-30 in its inaugural 2008 season.
Hamby has been a pivotal contributor in Las Vegas' two wins over Atlanta this season, totaling 38 points and 24 rebounds. She had 23 and 16 in the most recent matchup Aug. 13, when the Aces held off the Dream 94-90 at home.