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The Las Vegas Aces lost only six games in the 2023 regular season en route to their second consecutive WNBA championship. A fourth into this season, and the Aces have lost five of 10 games to sit seventh in the league standings. 

In 2023, the Aces averaged a league-leading 92.8 points per game while holding opponents to 80.3 points (second overall) per game. However, there was no discussion internally about being a "superteam." 

"I don't feel that we've won enough to claim that," two-time WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson told CBS Sports last August

Last year, Wilson was talking more about titles than individual games, but it begs the question: What is wrong with the reigning WNBA champions? 

Through 10 games, the Aces are still keeping teams under 90 points. The bad news: so is everyone else. Opponents are scoring an average of 83.9 points against Las Vegas this season, the eighth best in the league right now. The back-to-back champions have a 102.1 defensive rating in 2024, good for seventh overall. 

"Quite frankly, I have not felt good about the vibe since Day 1. I think our defense has sucked from Day 1," Aces coach Becky Hammon said Tuesday. "I mean, I've had them in defensive stances doing slides like they're in second grade ... but at a certain point, throw the schemes out -- you have to play hard. Every moment you're out there, you have to play hard. You have to play the right way. It's not like a suggestion. It's mandatory. And we have not done it for 40 minutes."

The lack of focus and discipline is troubling early on for the Aces, and it is symptomatic of what they aren't doing and also who isn't on the court.

To understand what is going wrong with the Aces early in 2024, you have to start with a glaring omission from the active roster, point guard Chelsea Gray. The three-time champion suffered a foot injury in the Game 3 loss to the New York Liberty in the 2023 WNBA Finals. 

Gray averaged a career-high 15.3 points and 7.3 assists last year, helping Las Vegas own the second-best assist ratio (19.3) and pace (98.58) in the league. Without Gray to move the ball and be the lead facilitator, the Aces are still second overall in pace (98.64) but have dropped slightly in their assist ratio to fourth overall early (17.5). 

"I think [Hammon] gave a really good analogy the other day -- this is not an excuse -- but when you bake a cake, or you make anything, really, and you take a main ingredient like Chelsea Gray out of the equation, the food tastes different," Aces guard Kelsey Plum said Tuesday. "There are some just like schematic things that are different. I think people are guarding us differently because she's not out there."

Plum also felt there is a general lack of accountability for the team at the moment. Gray's ability to focus her team while also making the game fun is perhaps her most important role for the Aces.

"She's always in my ears, 'KP run this' or, 'Look at this,'" Plum said. "Figuring out a way to try to emulate that is really hard."

While Gray's absence has been difficult to overcome, A'ja Wilson is doing her best to keep the Aces in championship form. Wilson is once again putting up gaudy numbers that have her in early MVP conversations, but perhaps like we saw with the New York Liberty last season, placing all your eggs on a post player -- even the likes of MVPs like Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Wilson herself -- is not enough to win in the WNBA. 

Wilson is averaging 28.3 points and 11.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 30+ minutes per night. As a team, the Aces have 348 rebounds and Wilson accounts for nearly 33% of that total. Wilson also accounts for 33% of the Aces' offense through 10 games. The Aces score nearly 40% of their points in the paint, but other than Wilson, no post player has more than 100 total points. In fact, the other four front court players have a combined 133 points out of the Aces' 857 points this season. 

"That girl is about winning at the end of the day and we gotta give her some support," Hammon said of Wilson. "We got to try to make her life easier because she's trying to make everybody else's life easier out there on the court. And so we have to build back some trust because it's been lost."

Wilson's frontcourt partner, starting center Kiah Stokes, has built a WNBA career on her ability to rebound -- especially on the defensive end. However, if she is going to continue to start for the Aces, she will need to do better than 2.1 points per game. 

The days of a back-to-the-basket center are over. From Jones in New York to Griner in Phoenix, players at the five position are scoring from the block to the arc. While Stokes moves well defensively to guard the perimeter, she is not countering enough offensively for Las Vegas. 

New addition Megan Gustafson offers Hammon more range at the five position, but her career numbers leave the Aces short roughly three rebounds per night compared to Stokes. 

Despite the self-inflicted wounds Las Vegas is experiencing 10 games into the season, they are not overreacting or overcorrecting. If anything, Wilson and the Aces are embracing the reminder that winning in the WNBA, especially winning championships, is hard work. 

"Everyone goes through their moments. I don't think we're going to press the panic button right now, there's really no need," Wilson said Tuesday. "I think it's just more so just getting in tune with ourselves, that's the biggest thing is getting in tune within our locker room and understanding that we have more than enough in our locker room.

"We can look at the record or everyone's gonna look at the record, but we can't pay attention to that, it's just gonna make things worse. So right now for us, in order to just move forward, I definitely think we're just going to come in tune with ourselves and just be us and find our true identity."

While losing is not what any elite competitor wants to do, the Aces have to temper their emotions and focus on the big picture. If the season ended today, the Aces would make the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, a stark contrast to their championship seasons. 

However, 30 more games remain and Chelsea Gray -- who will represent Team USA in the 2024 Summer Olympics -- is expected back before the All-Star break next month. While things may seem as though they come easy for the Aces, that has never been the case. 

"I'm always give myself 24 hours just to kind of figure it out. And then after that, we move on and we roll with the punches because it's not going to get easier. It's never gonna be -- it's never been easy for us," Wilson said. "So we're gonna continue to be us, continue to find us, and grind it out. It's always one of those moments, we always had these moments we just haven't had the beginning of the season."

So the lumps are coming earlier but the season is far from lost, and Hammon and her team will go all-in on their squad any day of the week. 

"We can either wallow in self pity or we can pick ourselves up and take the next step forward," Hammon said. "The problem is we can't take one step forward and two steps back. So we're not two-stepping in around here. I'm from Texas. We don't want a two-step."