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Aces Beat Sparks 97-78

AP Photo

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson, left, celebrates with guard Kelsey Plum (10) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks in Los Angeles, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The way A’ja Wilson sees it, this is her first true WNBA All-Star experience in Las Vegas.

Though the WNBA’s midseason classic will be set in Las Vegas for the third time in four seasons, the Las Vegas Aces’ MVP hasn’t had the experience to represent her franchise in this capacity.

In 2019 as one of the team captains, Wilson missed the game due to an ankle injury. The game returned to Michelob ULTRA Arena in 2021 in a matchup between WNBA All-Stars and the United States Women’s National Team; Wilson represented Team USA and played 17 minutes that game.

Wilson is a team captain for the third time and will lead her group — along with coach Becky Hammon and teammates Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young — against New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart and her team on Saturday (5:30 p.m., ABC).

“I’m excited to have it here,” said Wilson, the reigning league MVP. “We definitely know how to put on a show, and we’re going to have some fun.”

The recognition doesn’t come as a surprise for the Aces, who are a league-best 19-2 at the halfway point of the season and are the odds-on favorites to pick up a second straight WNBA championship this year.

The Aces’ four All-Stars — better known as the “Core Four” of Wilson, Plum, Gray and Young — have played significant roles in getting the Aces off to one off to this great start.

Wilson, the two-time MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, was the top vote getter this year. She and Stewart drafted teams based on the 18 other All-Star selections.

Of course Wilson drafted her teammates. Gray (five-time All-Star) and Young (two-time All-Star) were voted as starters. Plum, last year’s All-Star Game MVP as a first-time selection, was added as a reserve.

“I’m sure there’s a pride type of thing having the four of us here,” Gray said. “I’m excited to experience it with them, I’m excited for the fans and the city to come out. You know the Aces are going to show out.”

No team has ever had a trio of players average 18 points or more in a season. The Aces have three at more than 19 points a night — Wilson (19.7), Young (19.1) and Plum (19.1) have contributed to the Aces’ record-setting offense. Gray (14.8 points) is third in the WNBA with 6.5 assists per game.

The balanced attack is what’s led the Aces to a league-best 94 points per game and are on pace to become the first team in over a decade to average more than 90 points in back-to-back seasons.

“A lot of energy in the city,” Hammon said. “It’s nice that we have so many people participating, and being that it’s in Las Vegas, I think it’s special because we’re going to have a lot of Aces fans in the building, but also the best display of women’s basketball in the world.”

The All-Star break is considered perfect for teams to reset and prepare for the second half of the season. Though the Aces are mostly healthy — minus reserve guard Riquna Williams not playing this year due to a back injury — the break is coming at a good time.

The Aces wrapped up the first half with a home-and-road back-to-back, winning 98-72 against the Phoenix Mercury at home on Tuesday, then a 97-78 win in Los Angeles less than 24 hours later.

It’s a much different feel this time around for Hammon, who appeared in six All-Star Games as a player and will coach in her second straight game. The Aces went into last year’s break off back-to-back losses — a 31-point loss to Minnesota, and a nine-point home loss to New York.

“It’s always nice to have a break mentally,” Hammon said. “Hopefully my break is a lot more enjoyable this time around.”

All-Star weekend comes at a time where the basketball world has descended upon Las Vegas thanks to the NBA’s Summer League, which runs at the Thomas & Mack Center until Monday.

No disrespect to the NBA’s gathering 10 minutes away from Mandalay Bay, Plum said, but she’s not just there for the NBA’s stars who may come to watch the game.

“It’s great that we have a bunch of people come out. We love sold-out crowds, and we have the best fans,” Plum said. “There’s no extra (motivation) if I have an NBA guy sitting there, respectfully. We just play hard whoever is sitting courtside.

Las Vegas has become the epicenter of the WNBA just by the Aces winning their first championship last fall, and now home to the best team in the league. Their on-court success is a part of the WNBA’s recent surge in viewership.

ESPN is averaging 546,000 viewers toward WNBA games this year, a 46% increase on its platforms. ABC, which will carry the All-Star Game, has seen nearly 650,000 viewers for eight games prior to the All-Star break. That’s an 18% increase from last season.

The odds are great that should Wilson’s team win, an Aces player could be named the game’s MVP. Wilson said she doesn’t care for that. Plum might not even care considering the trophy she received for her All-Star record 30 points last year was considerably small.

But it’s about having fun for Wilson. She hopes that’s extended toward everybody.

“I think the fans are going to experience a lot of love, great energy around,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be super fun.”

Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Danny on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun