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Las Vegas looks to end skid against Minnesota

Sports Xchange - Thursday 9th August, 2018

With only five games to go in the regular season, the Las Vegas Aces find themselves backed into a corner.

They have lost four straight, including Friday's forfeit loss to Washington, to fall 2 1/2 games behind Dallas for the final playoff spot.

The forfeit, which was announced by the WNBA on Tuesday, was the first in the league's 22-year history and surprised many.

And now the Aces play host to the Minnesota Lynx on Thursday at Mandalay Bay Events Center on the Las Vegas Strip.

"Our entire organization has the utmost respect for the very difficult decision our players made, and we stand with them," Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said in a statement. "We are disappointed with the league's decision, but our focus is now on winning as many games as we can in our drive for our first playoff appearance."

The decision not to play after a 25-hour cross-country trek might cost the Aces a spot in the playoffs, but more importantly it put the national spotlight on treatment of women players versus men and the issues the league has had to face concerning scheduling and traveling.

Connecticut guard Layshia Clarendon, the first vice president of the WNBA executive committee, as well as many other players defended the Aces' decision not to play and expressed hope that it might lead to changes in travel.

The Aces (12-17) are prepared to move on and try to get back on the winning track. They're coming off a nine-point loss to Atlanta on Tuesday. Las Vegas has given up more than 100 points in three straight games.

A'ja Wilson reached double figures in scoring for the 28th straight time to start her career. Kayla McBride scored in double figures for the 24th time this season, including the 23rd straight.

To snap their skid, all the Aces have to do on Thursday is defeat the defending champion Lynx, who at 16-13 have had an up-and-down season. The Lynx can clinch a playoff spot with a win in Las Vegas.

"I think we know that we can compete with anyone," Aces guard Kelsey Plum said after scoring 20 points and dishing out a career-high 13 assists in the 109-100 loss to Atlanta. "This league is so good from top to bottom. You have to come every night with your A-game or you're going to get beat."

Minnesota and Las Vegas have split their first two meetings this season, with each winning on the other's court.

After losing three straight, the Lynx got back in the win column with an 85-64 win over Chicago on Tuesday. Maya Moore scored 31 points and Sylvia Fowles recorded a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards.

Minnesota was without two starters -- Lindsay Whalen (rest) and Rebekkah Brunson (broken nose).

"I thought our communication was really good, which helps when you have some unusual lineups," Moore told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "That caused us to focus more."

The Lynx defense was stellar, holding the Sky to 34 percent from the field, Minnesota's best showing of the season. In their win over Las Vegas on June 24, the Lynx held the Aces to 41 percent from the field and Moore led four players in double figures with 23 points.

When Las Vegas beat the Lynx on July 13, the plan was "to try to run players at (Fowles) and take her out of her comfort zone," Laimbeer explained.

The Aces' game plan didn't surprise Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve.

"It's nothing that we haven't seen from other teams. They were pretty persistent and it's that game that we had in terms of our impatience. We didn't have balance. We didn't wait for screens, didn't set screens and didn't have aggression from our perimeter players."

Wilson struggled in that game, but the Aces proved two things: They are capable of putting together a balanced offense and they aren't intimidated by the Lynx.

"It came from everywhere," McBride said. "I thought Tamera Young hit some huge shots. Carolyn Swords had 11 and 11. Plum hit some big threes. Moriah Jefferson had a 5-0 spurt. It came from everybody, and to beat a good team like Minnesota you have to have some come from everybody. It is not just going to be one or two players that can beat them. I thought it was a great win on the road."

Coming into Thursday's game, the Lynx average 78.2 points, third lowest in the league, while the Aces score nearly six more per game than Minnesota.

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