Heading into last year’s All-Star break, the Aces had lost five of seven games. Coach Becky Hammon said she lost some sleep with the team’s struggles at the time.
Hammon and the rest of the Aces will head into this year’s All-Star break in a much better spot after they cruised to a 97-78 road victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena to improve to 19-2.
A’ja Wilson scored 23 of her game-high 25 points before halftime — the most she’s scored in a first half. She made nine of her 14 shots and added 12 rebounds.
“We came out really good in the first half and imposed our will on both ends of the floor,” Hammon said. “I thought our defense was really good. It’s a good way to go into the All-Star break, a lot better than my break last year.”
Guard Kelsey Plum poured in 21 points, and guard Chelsea Gray scored 16 while making six of her nine shots. Wing Jackie Young added 14 points.
The Aces rolled to their third consecutive win of 19 points or more despite playing without starter Candace Parker, who missed her third straight game with a right ankle injury.
Center Azura Stevens scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds, and All-Star forward Nneka Ogwumike had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Sparks (7-13).
The Aces are off the next seven days with the All-Star break beginning Thursday. Their next game is on the road against the Seattle Storm on July 20.
Las Vegas will host the WNBA All-Star Game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Michelob Ultra Arena. Wilson, Young, Plum and Gray will participate in the game as part of Team Wilson, coached by Hammon and her staff.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Big first quarter
Early on, it was clear Wilson, the reigning league MVP, wasn’t looking ahead to the weekend festivities as captain of one of the All-Star teams.
Wilson scored 16 first-quarter points and single-handedly outscored the Sparks as the Aces held a 32-15 advantage after the first 10 minutes.
“Becky kept reeling me in saying, ‘Don’t clock out. Don’t clock out,’” Wilson said. “… I just came out and my teammates kept feeding me the basketball, and the ball is going through the hoop.”
The Aces attacked the paint with Wilson early. She scored her first six points in the paint and knocked down a 3-pointer as she made her first four shots.
Wilson made seven of her eight first-quarter shots as the Aces shot 68.4 percent from the field in the quarter. She grabbed five rebounds in the first.
2. Third-quarter response
Hammon has shown she isn’t afraid to call a timeout to get a message across to her team.
The Aces didn’t need that reminder to start the game, making their first five shots and leading by double digits early. But they did need it in the third quarter as the Sparks tried to chip away at the Aces’ lead.
Los Angeles went on a 10-0 scoring run midway through the quarter and cut the deficit to 14 points, causing Hammon to burn a pair of timeouts.
“Our experience helps in these situations,” Plum said. “We don’t allow runs to go from seven and eight to 15 (points). … Just stop the bleeding early and get good shots, and good things will happen.”
The Aces responded with a strong end of the quarter, going on a 10-0 run to hold their largest lead to that point, 80-52, entering the fourth quarter. Plum scored 10 points in the quarter.
3. Gray moves up list
With the night Wilson had, the Aces didn’t need Gray to make an impact scoring. While the five-time All-Star was in double figures, she made her usual impact as a passer.
Gray had five assists and moved up to No. 14 on the WNBA’s all-time assist list (1,340), passing Briann January. Gray was third in the WNBA in assists this season, averaging 6.6 per game, entering Wednesday.
Gray was not an All-Star last season, but her teammates and others around the league believed she was deserving of the honor.
The snub sparked a strong second half of the season and playoff run as Gray averaged 21.7 points in 10 postseason games to help lead the Aces to the title and earn Finals MVP.