Las Vegas Aces are back in a big way

This week, Above the Break looks at the suddenly red hot Las Vegas Aces, the problems with WNBA All-Star weekend, Teira McCowan’s re-emergence and more.

Welcome back to Above The Break, our weekly look around the WNBA. With the All-Star break behind us, the WNBA is hurtling toward its conclusion. The playoff battle is tight and the trade deadline is Friday. Will anyone make a final change to build their team up for the stretch run?

Three-game losing streaks for the Sparks and Liberty have started to make the playoff picture more clear, as both teams threaten to fall out of the race because of their current struggles. Meanwhile, the league’s top teams keep winning, with the three teams in the top three all on multi-game win streaks.

The Las Vegas Aces are back

Not that the Aces were really went away, but the team was definitely not hitting on all cylinders — losing 102-71 to the Lynx and 116-107 to the Liberty right before the WNBA All-Star break.

But if there’s something that can fix a team, it’s more meetings with New York. The Aces opened the second half with a 107-101 win over New York, then destroyed the Liberty 108-74 in the next game. Per Aces PR, that 108-74 win was a record-breaking game for the Aces, as they became the first team to score 100 points in three consecutive games.

One of my main theories for why the Aces were struggling some down the stretch was tiredness. This isn’t a deep team. Each starter plays at least 28.7 minutes per game and there’s only one other backcourt player averaging double-digit minutes.

That might account for why the Aces averaged 91.8 points per game in May and then 87.7 in June. The team shot 46.3 percent in that first month, then 44.1 percent in June. That small little fall is part of why the team was 9-1 in May and then 5-4 in June.

These first two games might suggest that the Aces are refreshed from the break and can get back to draining 3s and just running over their opponents.

It could also just suggest that the Aces match up really well with the Liberty. New York doesn’t have the size to defend A’ja Wilson and doesn’t quite have the speed defensively to stop the backcourt. We probably need to see Vegas do this against any other team first before we can conclude that the issues that plagued the team in June are over.

Thoughts on WNBA All-Star weekend

The WNBA All-Star Game was last weekend. And it sounds like there were some…issues.

Not with the game itself, which was entertaining and featured a Sylvia Fowles dunk, which is always a treat, and a Sylvia Fowles 3, which is just as rare.

But the day before the game itself, the league had its skills competition and 3-point contest and those things didn’t go as smoothly as expected.

Picture this scene, which I’m sure a lot of W fans were in. You don’t live in Chicago, but you decided you wanted to go to the All-Star Game. So, you book tickets. You fly there. You decide you should also go to the events on Saturday, so you head down there.

And then you end up standing outside, watching the contests on a screen at a fan fest that the league put together:

That’s because the 3-point and skills contests were essentially held in a closed gym, with some media and some EYBL players present. That’s a huge misstep. The league said that Wintrust was already booked that day, but…you’re in Chicago! There are a lot of basketball arenas on college campuses that could have hosted these events and also hosted fans!

Following these events, there was a Chance The Rapper concert. Maybe.

If a concert happens in a closed gym, did it happen? And the whole “fears due to gun violence” thing just reeks of the conservative talking points about Chicago being dangerous, right? Gun violence is a serious concern everywhere, but the way this concern manifested here just feels icky, like the WNBA has bought into the demonization of the city of Chicago. Maybe it’s not that. Maybe any concert by any artist in any host city would have been held in a closed gym. But the whole thing feels off.

And, of course, the issues didn’t just happen in Chicago. The television audience for Saturday’s events was bumped from ESPN to ESPNU.

According to Deadline, 76 million households had ESPN at the end of the last fiscal year. ESPNU is in 51 million households. So, right there, you’re taking the game away from 25 million potential viewers. I understand that conflicts with Wimbledon were the issue, but those issues were avoidable if the contests had been held a little later. Or, if that wasn’t possible, maybe there’s some other solution. Can ESPN make the streams to events that were pushed to an ancillary channel available to all subscribers? Or heck…maybe any ESPN subscriber actually could have streamed this online and we just didn’t know it because the network didn’t make that clear. I don’t know!

One thing I will note is that there was a lot of chatter about how the league should have put the events on League Pass. I’m sympathetic to that, but it’s also not how television contracts work. ESPN had the rights to the event. The league can’t circumvent that by saying “oh, ESPN moved the game to a different ESPN network, so let’s just air it ourselves.” ESPNU is still in a lot more households than League Pass is. But there’s got to be some solution that makes it easier to cover the gap when a game is kicked from the main network to a side network, whether it’s a technological change or a start time change.

Teaira McCowan is finally playing!

Before the season began, the Wings traded for Teaira McCowan, essentially sending three draft picks for McCowan and two (theoretically) worse draft picks.

McCowan was expected to fill a hole at center. Charli Collier’s disappointing rookie season sparked concerns about the long-term future of the 5 position in Dallas, and McCowan was an easy pick to fill that role once she was acquired.

But then the Wings went with Isabelle Harrison at the five. That’s fine because Harrison is really good. But she’s also a free agent after this season and the Wings probably need to be thinking about moving on from her for salary reasons, as Allisha Gray and Satou Sabally will need new deals in 2024, and Marina Mabrey is also a free agent in 2023.

But McCowan was barely in the rotation for a long time. Over the first six games, she played 10 minutes just once. Her minutes were up after that, but in the first 17 games of the season, she played 20-plus minutes just one time.

Things have changed. In four games this month, McCowan has played 20-plus minutes four times.

This month, McCowan is averaging 12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Her size advantage up front makes her a walking double-double threat. She’s shooting 61.9 percent from inside of five feet, with 84 of her 102 shot attempts coming there.

You have to sacrifice some things defensively with McCowan on the floor. You can’t trust her to defend in space like you can with Harrison. But in the four games she’s played in July, the Wings have only been outscored with McCowan on the floor in one, when she was a minus-two against the Lynx. Her ability to alter shots at the basket has mattered more than her issues in space, as she has 10 blocks over the last four games.

The Wings are a team to watch on Friday with trades. Could Harrison or Collier be on the move, which would further solidify that McCowan’s bump in minutes will be permanent?

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