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May 5, 2022 8:56 pm

Reloaded Aces, Mercury poised for title runs as season opens

The Las Vegas Aces and Phoenix Mercury both feel like they have unfinished business from last season.

Both teams have undergone significant changes, but still have championship aspirations as they open the WNBA season against one another Friday night in Phoenix.

The opener is a rematch of last season’s semifinal playoff series that the Mercury won 3-2 before losing to Chicago 3-1 in the WNBA Finals.

Phoenix has a new head coach in former Aces assistant Vanessa Nygaard.

“I have a little bit of an advantage before the first game in that nobody knows exactly what I’m going to do,” Nygaard said.

One thing she’s likely to do is lean heavily on Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, but half the roster is new and star center Brittney Griner is being detained in a Russian prison after being arrested at a Moscow airport.

“I think about her every day,” Diggins-Smith said, “and I can’t wait until she gets back here with us.”

Griner’s place will be taken by newly acquired Tina Charles, who led the league in scoring (23.4 points per game) and was tied for third in rebounding (9.6) last season.

Las Vegas also has a new head coach as former San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon takes over for Bill Laimbeer, who became a consultant.

“There’s definitely unfinished business,” said Riquna Williams, who spurned overtures from other teams in free agency to re-sign with Las Vegas. “We’re going to get it done. Some way we’re going to figure it out.”

The Aces lost star center Liz Cambage to the Los Angeles Sparks in free agency, but re-signed star wing A’ja Wilson, the WNBA MVP in 2020.

“If we stay healthy, the sky’s the limit for this group,” Hammon said.

Las Vegas was well-positioned for a title run last season after earning the No. 2 seed and a double-bye, but fell to the visiting Mercury 87-84 in the deciding fifth game.

“We know we left a lot on the table last year,” guard Kelsey Plum said.

–Field Level Media

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