The Las Vegas Aces picked up their second loss, responded to it with their highest point total of the season, secured their place in the Commissioner’s Cup final and are looking forward to hosting WNBA All-Star weekend.
Despite falling at the Dallas Wings 80-78 on Friday, the Aces remain where they’ve been since the preseason: No. 1 in ESPN’s weekly WNBA Power Rankings. The Aces are averaging a league-best 93.6 PPG, so scoring fewer than 80 points was downright bizarre. But it wasn’t surprising they beat the Minnesota Lynx 113-89 on Sunday. That’s how the Aces roll.
But it’s noteworthy the Aces weren’t the winningest team for the week. That was the Atlanta Dream, who went 3-0 and move back into the top half of the Power Rankings.
In the four games since the All-Star reserves were named July 1, Atlanta’s Rhyne Howard has averaged 26.8 PPG, including a career-high 43 points on July 2. Howard was an All-Star last season, when she was also Rookie of the Year after being the No. 1 pick. Howard wasn’t selected this year, but she’s playing like an All-Star.
— ESPN (@espn) July 8, 2023
Her Dream teammates Allisha Gray and Cheyenne Parker are headed to Saturday’s All-Star Game (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App). But earlier that day, a woman very dear to Gray and many people in the basketball world will be eulogized in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Nikki McCray-Penson — the former Tennessee Lady Vols star who won two Olympic gold medals and played in the WNBA and ABL before becoming a college coach — died Friday at age 51. She had first been diagnosed with breast cancer almost 10 years ago.
McCray-Penson was a three-time WNBA All-Star. She was part of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that helped change the sport dramatically by paving the way for the launch of the WNBA in 1997.
“She always guarded me; she made my work really hard,” remembered New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, who played with Australia against McCray-Penson and Team USA in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics. “It’s tragic, so sad. She was so young. I also coached her in San Antonio as well. So I really got to know her.
“Just working with her, how competitive she was, how much she wanted to win. She was a great defensive player, a great slasher. It’s a huge loss to our community.”
McCray-Penson coached several current WNBA players — such as Atlanta’s Gray, Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson, Minnesota’s Tiffany Mitchell and Connecticut’s Tyasha Harris — as an assistant to Dawn Staley as they built the South Carolina Gamecocks into a national championship program.
That 2017 NCAA title meant a lot to Staley and McCray-Penson, both of whom played in the women’s Final Four but didn’t win a national championship in college. They were best friends who shared many memories together. McCray-Penson’s death has prompted an outpouring of emotion from all those who had a chance to interact with her over the years, including on the 1996 “Dream Team.”
The All-Star Game will be a celebration of the WNBA, but McCray-Penson was a big part of helping the league be what it is today.
1. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Phoenix (Tuesday), at Los Angeles (Wednesday)
After beating Dallas at home, the Aces fell to the Wings on the road. But while that legitimately was a big deal to Dallas, it seemed more of a hiccup to Las Vegas. The Aces have responded well to both their losses this season, getting double-digit wins in the next game. Kelsey Plum joined the WNBA’s ever-expanding 40-point club in the victory against Minnesota on Sunday, and did so with super efficiency by making 14 of 18 shots from the field and all six free throws.
2. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 2
This week: at Indiana (Wednesday)
The Liberty had more trouble putting away the bottom two teams in the standings than anticipated, but still got four-point wins over both Phoenix and Seattle at home. Breanna Stewart had 43 points, 12 rebounds and six assists vs. the Mercury and 25, eight and three against the Storm. And the Liberty needed all of it. Now, can she lead the way this week for Team Stewart — with Liberty teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu — at the All-Star Game?
3. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Chicago (Wednesday)
After a rough previous week with losses to New York and Las Vegas, things were back to normal with a 2-0 week for the Sun. They topped Seattle and Washington at home, with DeWanna Bonner scoring a combined 44 points. Bonner, in her 14th WNBA season, has 42 3-pointers through 19 games. If she keeps this pace, she will shatter her career high for 3-pointers in a season: 55 in 34 games played in 2018.
Wings hand Aces just their 2nd loss
Check out the back-and-fourth end as the Wings hand the Aces just their second loss of the season.
4. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Minnesota (Wednesday)
The Wings have won four of their last five, moving them into the top four of the Power Rankings for the first time this season. They edged the Aces in front of a sold-out College Park Center crowd on Friday. Natasha Howard’s two free throws with less than a second left provided the winning margin after she was fouled by A’ja Wilson. The Wings’ victory Sunday at Indiana was also big. Yes, the Fever are struggling, but it was just the third road win of the season for Dallas.
Rhyne Howard pours in 32 points as Dream win 5th straight
Rhyne Howard scores a game-high 32 points to propel the Dream past the Sky.
5. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Seattle (Wednesday)
The Dream have the league’s longest active winning streak at five in a row, beating the Sparks once and the Sky twice this past week. Along with the strong play by Howard, Gray and Parker, veteran guard Danielle Robinson has done a nice job as a playmaker in this stretch, averaging 5.0 assists in the five games.
6. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Dallas (Wednesday)
The Lynx didn’t do anything wrong to drop a spot; they were just vaulted by big weeks for Dallas and Atlanta. Minnesota beat Indiana and Phoenix last week but then had the burden of facing an angry Las Vegas team after a loss. That 24-point defeat aside, the Lynx have won eight of their last 11.
Elena Delle Donne limps off after apparent ankle injury
Mystics star Elena Delle Donne hobbles off the court after rolling her left ankle against the Sun.
7. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Seattle (Tuesday)
Injuries propelled the Mystics’ drop; they have lost four of their past six. All-Star reserve Elena Delle Donne appeared to reinjure her left ankle in Sunday’s loss at Connecticut. She was returning after missing two games with an ankle sprain; she played just 13 minutes and didn’t score against the Sun. Natasha Cloud, Shakira Austin and Kristi Toliver are currently out injured. The Mystics did add another young center, trading Amanda Zahui B. to Indiana for Queen Egbo, who had eight points and seven rebounds Sunday for Washington.
8. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Connecticut (Wednesday)
After going 3-0 in a week where they go lost coach James Wade to the NBA’s Raptors, the Sky this past week ran into a hot Atlanta team, losing twice to the visiting Dream. All-Star reserve Kahleah Copper had a combined 44 points in those games as the Sky stayed put in the Power Rankings.
Brittney Griner throws down a 1-handed slam
Brittney Griner rises up to throw down a one-handed dunk for the Mercury vs. the Sparks.
9. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Las Vegas (Tuesday)
As much as the bottom four teams in the Power Rankings are struggling, it doesn’t take much to move up. The Mercury were the only one of the quartet to win this past week, beating Los Angeles after losses to New York and Minnesota. All-Star starter Brittney Griner got a dunk against the Sparks, along with 29 points and 11 rebounds.
10. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Wednesday)
The Sparks have lost five in a row, including to Atlanta and Phoenix this past week. All-Star starter Nneka Ogwumike continues to have a great season. But with five players injured or recovering from illness, the Sparks are struggling with their depth and energy. They are second-to-last in offensive rating (96.4), an especially bad feeling when you’re about to face Las Vegas.
11. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Washington (Tuesday), at Atlanta (Wednesday)
Like the Sparks, the Storm have lost five in row, and All-Star starter Jewell Loyd had to leave Saturday’s 80-76 loss at New York with an sprained ankle. However, in that defeat, the Storm showed a lot of grit and pushed the Liberty to the end. This wasn’t expected to be a winning season for Seattle. But there’s some promise with the younger players they have, including first-time All-Star Ezi Magbegor.
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. New York (Wednesday)
After another 0-3 week, the Fever have lost seven in a row. After falling at Minnesota and Washington, it looked like Indiana might get back on track at home against Dallas on Sunday. But the Wings prevailed 77-76, and now the Fever have to figure out how to get themselves out of a funk that is starting to feel too much like last season.