Aces – Sun matchup could decide the final standings

Dearica Hamby is defended by Jasmine Thomas. Julio Aguilar/NBAE via Getty Images.

The top two teams in the WNBA meet on Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena, in a game which could decide the final standings for the playoffs.

The Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun are tied for the league lead at 17-6 as they prepare for their third matchup of the season.

On paper, the Sun hold the edge in a number of ways. First, they are the best home team in the league at 10-1, and their fans are going to be in the stands. Secondly, they have defeated the Aces in their two early season matchups by scores of 72-65 and 74-67. Third, Connecticut is 9-1 in their last 10 games (not including the Commissioner’s Cup), while Las Vegas is 7-3.

As those close scores attest, however, there is not a wide margin between these teams. The Aces’ Liz Cambage has performed up to her high standards since returning to the WNBA after her surprising withdrawal from the Olympics. Aja Wilson provides All-Star performances in the paint every night.

In fact, Las Vegas is a team that matches up well with the Sun’s interior power trio of Jonquel Jones (a player in the hunt for league MVP along with Wilson), Brionna Jones, and DeWanna Bonner.

The teams play contrasting styles, and the game will likely be decided on which club controls the pace. The Aces play fast and score a league-leading 90.5 points per game. Connecticut plays at a deliberate pace, averaging just 79.2 points, but giving up just 71.9. Las Vegas outscores teams, while the Sun may be the best defenders in the league. They did, after all, hold the Aces under 70 points twice already this year.

No one is ignoring the defending champion Seattle Storm when looking at the final nine (or eight) games of the season. But in the current one vs. one matchup, Connecticut holds a slight season advantage, whatever the outcome. They have already secured the tie-breaker over Las Vegas (though not Seattle) even if they lose Tuesday. If they win, they are in a very strong position to finish in the top two, which gives them a double bye in the playoffs, avoiding both one-game rounds.

The Sun’s remaining schedule includes just one team over .500 (Phoenix), while the Aces face two, plus three games against the talented, but sometimes under-performing Chicago Sky. Las Vegas also plays six of the last nine games on the road, while Connecticut is home for five of nine. [The Storm have five of nine at home, two against winning teams.]

Tuesday’s contest will certainly have a playoff feel, and should be close. If the Aces score 80, they probably win. If the Sun once again hold them under 70, Connecticut will sit atop the standings, perhaps until the playoffs.