A road-heavy finish to the regular season has played a part in the Las Vegas Aces' current struggles. An apparent injury to star Liz Cambage might drain even more of their confidence as the postseason approaches.
With or without Cambage, the Aces can earn the No. 4 seed in the playoffs by snapping a four-game road slide in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Phoenix Mercury, who also have not looked like a postseason team of late.
There was a time in the middle of August that Las Vegas (20-13) was flirting with the idea of finishing in the top two of the WNBA standings. Those days are gone, as the Aces have followed a four-game winning streak from Aug. 11-20 with losses in four of the next five.
Each of those defeats has come on the road, where Vegas fell 78-74 to lowly Atlanta on Thursday. A'ja Wilson (16.4 points per game) had 19 points, but the Aces shot 38.7 percent from the field and a miserable 1 of 15 from 3-point range.
"I think we just really need to take a deep breath; step back and really observe what's around us, rather than in our heads," Wilson, averaging 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over the last three games, said via the Aces' official Facebook page.
"I just think we really need to come together … We've got to get back to the drawing board."
Las Vegas is 7-9 on the road, but the good news is whether it finishes as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, the first playoff game will be at home. The Aces are currently tied with Chicago for the fourth seed, and hold the tiebreaker over the Sky, who conclude the regular season at top-seeded Washington on Sunday.
The concern now turns to whether Cambage (15.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will be available. She was limited to just 13 minutes - scoring 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting - against Atlanta, reportedly because of a lower leg injury. Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer did not have an update following the game.
"It's kind of tough when she's out, but that shouldn't make us kind of fall back or get down," Wilson said. "We need to keep grinding and pulling away, and I think that's what we need to keep continuing to build."
The Aces already lost once at Phoenix this season, 86-84 back on May 31, and minus Cambage, could be in for a major challenge in the finale. The Mercury are locked into the eighth seed for the postseason, and should Vegas slip into the No. 5 spot, this could be a first-round preview.
Phoenix (15-18), the only team that will enter the playoffs with a losing record, has dropped its last three games by an average of almost 18 points. However, Brittney Griner has been the most consistent factor, pretty much during what's been an up-and-down, inconsistent campaign for the Mercury.
Griner averaged 26 points in her previous six games before posting 16, with seven rebounds, and drawing two technical fouls and an ejection late in the third quarter of a Friday's 83-69 home loss to Minnesota.
Phoenix lost in overtime 84-79 at Vegas on Aug. 20. Griner and DeWanna Bonner (17.3 ppg) each scored 24. Cambage and Wilson, meanwhile, had 19 apiece for the Aces.