After pushing the eventual champions to five games in the semifinals, and signing Angel McCoughtry in free agency, the Las Vegas Aces looked like a definite title contender. Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened.
Liz Cambage stayed in Australia after being declared medically high-risk, and Kelsey Plum tore her Achilles tendon while preparing for the season. In the span of a few weeks, they lost their best player and their starting point guard, and all of a sudden there were a lot of questions about what the Aces were going to look like.
Turns out, pretty good. Now on a four-game winning streak, the Aces have climbed to 5-2 on the season, which is tied for second in the league, and they have the second-best net rating as well at plus-6.8 points per 100 possessions. Their defense is dominant, and they've been finding ways to score despite not shooting any 3-pointers.
Much of the reason for that success on the offensive end is because of A'ja Wilson, who is looking like an MVP candidate through the first third of the season. She's putting up 22.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and shooting 50 percent from the field, all of which are career highs, while chipping in a steal and a block per game as well.
On Sunday afternoon she had her biggest game yet, dropping 31 points on the New York Liberty, including the game-winner with seven seconds left to cap off a double-digit second-half comeback.
With Cambage and Plum out, the Aces needed their other stars to step up, and so far Wilson has delivered in a big way. If she can keep playing like this, Las Vegas just might be able to contend for a title anyway.
1. Seattle Storm (6-1) -- last week No. 1
The Storm are all alone in first place at 6-1, have the best defensive rating and best net rating in the league, and they've done it all despite Sue Bird missing multiple games due to a knee injury, and Natasha Howard being strangely invisible. Turns out having Breanna Stewart back is pretty helpful.
2. Chicago Sky (5-2) -- last week No. 3
With everything that's gone on in the offseason, and now in the bubble, it feels like the Sky have been flying under the radar, which is probably fine with them. They're cruising along with one of the best offenses in the league, and both Kahleah Copper and Cheyenne Parker are in the midst of breakout seasons.
3. Minnesota Lynx (5-2) -- last week No. 4
There was a lot of talk early on about how the Mystics still have Mike Thibault. Well, the Lynx still have Cheryl Reeve. And after the first two weeks, she has the Lynx tied for second in the league. They'll need Sylvia Fowles to get healthy in order to stay there, however. She sat out two games with a calf injury this week, her first missed games since joining the team in 2015.
4. Las Vegas Aces (5-2) -- last week No. 6
Four wins in a row for the Aces, who are suddenly tied for second place in the standings, and have the second-best net rating in the league. Second-year guard Jackie Young has been a bright spot in recent games, showing more aggressiveness on the offensive end. It would be a big boost for the Aces if she's starting to figure things out.
5. Los Angeles Sparks (4-3) -- last week No. 5
Win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win. The Sparks have been inconsistent to start the season, but as expected, it's clear they have the top-tier talent to compete with anyone in the league. Candace Parker has turned in five double-doubles in a row, her longest such streak since 2015, when she had seven in a row.
6. Phoenix Mercury (4-3) -- last week No. 7
Injuries are unfortunately once again the story for the Mercury. Diana Taurasi left the loss to the Storm with a hip injury, and though the MRI came back clean, it's unclear when she'll be able to play again. Leading scorer Bria Hartley has also been out with a foot injury. They're in big trouble as long as those two stay sidelined.
7. Washington Mystics (3-4) -- last week No. 2
Well, perhaps the first week was a bit of fool's gold. Four straight losses for the Mystics now, and their offense has fallen off a cliff. They'll be hoping for good news on Aerial Powers after the fifth-year wing suffered an ugly fall against the Liberty and underwent an MRI on her hip. She's been leading the team in scoring this season.
8. Indiana Fever (3-4) -- last week No. 8
The good news: The Fever have the best offense in the league, Kelsey Mitchell appears to be making a leap and Lauren Cox has made her debut. The bad news: The Fever have the worst defense in the league, and veteran point guard Erica Wheeler is still yet to make her way to the bubble after dealing with COVID-19.
9. Dallas Wings (3-4) -- last week No. 10
While much of the attention in Dallas goes to talented youngsters such as Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally, its oldest player deserves some recognition as well. Kayla Thornton is actually only 27, but that makes her a wily vet on this team. Her defensive versatility, which she put on display by shutting down Chennedy Carter in their win on Saturday, is vital for the Wings.
10. Connecticut Sun (1-6) -- last week No. 9
There's too much veteran talent on this Sun team to completely give up on them after seven games, but this just doesn't appear to be working. It's too hard for them to score consistently, which in turn puts a lot of pressure on their defense and star forwards Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner to be near perfect if they want to win.
11. Atlanta Dream (2-5) -- last week No. 11
Four straight losses for the Dream, who just cannot guard anyone. More important than their record, though, is the play of Chennedy Carter. Their star rookie already looks extremely comfortable in the league, and became the youngest player in WNBA history to put up 30 points in a game when she dropped 35 in their loss to the Storm.
12. New York Liberty (1-6) -- last week No. 12
The Liberty finally got their first win of the season, which had to be a huge weight off their shoulders, especially for a young team with a brand new head coach. They're obviously in a tough spot after Sabrina Ionescu's injury, but they've looked much more competitive over the last few games than they did earlier in the season, which is a positive sign.