The Las Vegas Aces have been one of the best teams in the league all season long, but between new head coach Becky Hammon, their revamped offense, the emergence of Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young and a short mid-season swoon, A'ja Wilson has managed to fly under the radar – at least to the extent that's possible for an MVP candidate.
Over the last few weeks, however, Wilson has been impossible to ignore. Since the All-Star break, she's putting up 22.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and two blocks per game, while shooting 52 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point land. She earned the most recent Player of the Week honor for the Western Conference, and has also scored 20-plus points in seven straight games, which is the longest such streak of her career.
During that stretch, the Aces are 5-1, and have gotten back on track after their disappointing close to the first half of the season. Thanks to Wilson's leadership, they're now 20-8 on the season, and have moved to within one game of the Chicago Sky in the race for first place and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. And with two straight games against the last-place Indiana Fever up next, neither Wilson nor the Aces' hot streak should end any time soon.
A dominant force on both sides of the ball, Wilson is one of the leading contenders for MVP. While it will likely end up being a narrow vote between her and Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart, Wilson's work earning the Aces a superior record may wind up being the difference. If Wilson does end up winning her second MVP in three seasons, she'll become just the sixth player in league history to lift the trophy multiple times.
There's a long way to go until any of that is decided, of course, but this recent stretch from Wilson has been another reminder that she's one of the best players in the world.
1. Chicago Sky (21-7) -- Last week No. 1
The Sky's six-game winning streak came to an end over the weekend in frustrating circumstances, as they dealt with a brutal travel situation and then lost on a last-second bucket by Sabrina Ionescu. Still, they've won 11 of their last 13 games and sit all alone in first place ahead of their Commissioner's Cup title game against the Aces.
2. Las Vegas Aces (20-8) -- Last week No. 2
Reigning Player of the Week A'ja Wilson, who has scored 20 points in seven straight games, has been spectacular as of late. Thanks to her leadership, the Aces have gotten back on track. Since the All-Star break they're 5-1, clinched a playoff spot, and have moved within a game of the Sky in the race for first place. Those two teams will meet in a potential Finals preview on Tuesday night in the Commissioner's Cup championship.
3. Connecticut Sun (19-9) -- Last week No. 3
Jonquel Jones missed a few games in the health and safety protocols and veteran guard Bria Hartley, who the team just picked up off the waiver wire, went down with a scary knee injury in their most recent outing. But despite some bad luck with health, the Sun have been rolling along. They've won three in a row and five of six out of the All-Star break to move within two games of first place. In a win over the Lynx, Alyssa Thomas became the first player in franchise history to record a triple-double.
4. Seattle Storm (18-10) -- Last week No. 4
The Storm picked up a much-needed win on Sunday over the Dream, as they snapped a two-game losing streak thanks in large part to 27 points and 15 rebounds from Tina Charles in her best game since joining the club. She'll need to keep playing like that in order to justify her somewhat controversial insertion into the starting lineup. This is a major week for the Storm, as they head out East on a three-game road trip to play the Sun and Mystics (twice). They'll need at least a few wins in order to hold onto a top-four seed.
5. Washington Mystics (17-11) -- Last week No. 5
Elena Delle Donne has now played in five straight games on either side of the All-Star break, and the Mystics are 4-1 in those contests. Averaging 23.4 points and seven rebounds on 56.8/52.0/95.2 shooting splits over that stretch, the former MVP appears to be back at her best. The task for the Mystics, as always, is going to be keeping her healthy enough to stay at that level, especially with a crucial home back-to-back against the Storm coming up this weekend.
6. Los Angeles Sparks (12-15) -- Last week No. 8
If the Sparks weren't three games under .500, Nneka Ogwumike would be in the MVP conversation; that's how impressive she's been this season in single-handedly keeping the Sparks in the playoff race. With Ogwumike, who recently put up a season-high 35 points in a win over the Fever, leading the way, the Sparks have jumped up to sixth and are in the driver's seat for a playoff spot thanks to owning tiebreakers over the Wings and Mercury (they could still win the tiebreakers over the Dream, Liberty and Lynx as well). L.A., however, will move forward without Liz Cambage after the star center and the team.
7. Phoenix Mercury (12-16) -- Last week No. 11
Every time the Mercury are on the ropes, they manage to pull a performance or two out of nowhere – thanks most often to Skylar Diggins-Smith. This week, they beat the Mystics and then the Storm in the final game between Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. Though still sitting in ninth because the Dream won the tiebreaker between them, the Mercury are now just half a game out of sixth place. With five games remaining against fellow postseason hopefuls, they could still keep their nine-season playoff streak alive.
8. Atlanta Dream (12-16) -- Last week No. 6
Atlanta has just not been able to find any sustained success over the past few weeks. Two straight road wins, including a tie-breaking victory over the Mercury and a major upset against the Aces, proved to be false hope, as the Dream then promptly lost their next two games. Now 12-16 on the season, the Dream are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot via a tiebreaker over the Mercury. The defense that carried them through the first few months has not been the same in recent weeks.
9. Dallas Wings (12-15) -- Last week No. 10
Since the All-Star break the Wings have had three competitive defeats to the Storm and Sky (twice) and two wins over the Lynx and Fever, which just about sums up their season. Despite hanging around they can't beat good teams consistently, but have generally done enough against everyone else: 4-9 against teams above .500 and 8-6 against teams below .500. Whether they can hang on to a playoff spot that way remains to be seen, and also depends on whether Satou Sabally can return from an ankle injury that has kept her sidelined for the past two weeks.
10. New York Liberty (10-17) -- Last week No. 7
The Liberty's mid-season turnaround may have been fool's gold after all. Just when it seemed they had figured things out and would make a playoff charge, they lost five straight to give all that ground back. They're still in the mix, though, thanks in large part to Sabrina Ionescu's heroics over the weekend, as her last-second and-one gave them a massive win over the Sky and stopped their skid. They're now in 10th place and 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot.
11. Minnesota Lynx (10-19) -- Last week No. 9
While the Lynx's late-season surge to get back in the playoff conversation was extremely impressive, their hopes are now slim. They've lost three in a row to drop to 11th place and 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot. With just seven games left, including two against the Storm and one against the Sun, it's hard to see them making up that ground. The other story to watch with the Lynx down the stretch is Napheesa Collier's attempted return from maternity leave. The team may not risk if if they're eliminated from the playoffs by the time she's ready, but she wants to take the floor once more with Sylva Fowles before the legend retires.
12. Indiana Fever (5-25) -- Last week No. 12
The Fever have now lost 12 games in a row and were the first team officially eliminated from playoff contention. They're going back to the lottery for the sixth straight year, and will have the best odds to win the No. 1 pick – something they still have never done in franchise history. Kelsey Mitchell and star rookie NaLyssa Smith are doing their best, but this team is just not good and that won't change over the final few weeks.