Las Vegas Aces prove they are champions, beat Sun to win franchise first WNBA title

2022 WNBA Finals - Game Four
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The Las Vegas Aces entered these playoffs with much to prove.

A’Ja Wilson wanted to prove she was not just an MVP but could be the best player on a championship team. Becky Hammon had come so close as a player but never won a ring, then came to the WNBA to prove she could win it all as a head coach. Kelsey Plum was trying to prove she could bring her WNBA career full circle from No.1 pick to champion. Chelsea Grey, who Connecticut drafted, was ready to prove she could be the woman stepping up to an MVP level under pressure.

Sunday afternoon the Aces proved all that and more — that the Aces organization is changing the level of the WNBA game.

“They’re just big-time players, they love big moments, and that’s nothing I can teach,” Hammon said as the Aces accepted the title trophy. “It’s in their DNA. It’s who they are.”

For the second time in these Finals, Las Vegas won a game played in Connecticut’s style — physical, defensive, low scoring and grinding. The Aces had one of the best offenses in WNBA history this season, and the Sun defense ground it down.

Yet the Aces still came out with the win — 78-71, taking the WNBA title with a 3-1 series win over the Sun. And on the home court of the Sun.

Gray was named Finals MVP after putting up 20 in the win.

What won Las Vegas the title was not only a depth of talent but also a commitment to playing together that Hammon had emphasized from the moment she walked in the door.

The Aces proved that depth matters — when they needed a bucket late in the fourth quarter it was not their biggest names but 18-minute-a-night bench player Riquna Williams who was draining threes on her way to a personal 8-0 run that keyed the win.

Williams was in because Hammon trusted her Aces team to go small against a three bigs lineup from the Sun.

“Well, obviously we went small. I felt like if we could scrap and just dig out balls on the other end, that they would have a tough time guarding us down there,” Hammon said. “So it was kind of just whoever their biggest player was on, we were running them into pick-and-roll actions and then just kind of slipping out and making them pay.”

The Aces were an offensive juggernaut this season, but Hammon changed their defense by mixing things up. That goes back to her time under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs.

“You know, we’ve tried different defense on Steph Curry Dame Lillard. I was like we can try stuff. If we can junk it up on them, we could junk it up on anybody,” Hammon said. “So it was just an idea to try to give people a different look just to mix it up.

“I think that the bigger thing is the players really bought into it. It doesn’t matter what scheme you’re doing. The players have to believe in it. And I think at the end of the day, they saw enough good results that you know, there was times where Chelsea’s call on the defense, junk defense. I’m not even putting us in junk. She’s putting us in junk. So it’s a fun way to play.”

Las Vegas was a fun team all season, and Aces owner Mark Davis — also the owner of the NFL’s Raiders — deserves credit for that. He is one of a new breed of WNBA owners willing to spend to make the product better — he gave Hammon a seven-figure contract to leave the NBA and coach his team. He is building them a new state-of-the-art practice facility (which should be open next season). He’s overseen a front office that put together the best roster in the WNBA.

Davis spent where he could and the results are the players have become stars and Sin City has embraced the team. He has built the kind of foundation free agent players will want to come be a part of.

And he has built a champion with nothing left to prove this season.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.