When Dearica Hamby laid on the floor clutching her knee on Tuesday night, everyone knew it would be bad news. The All-Star, coming off the bench in a new role, had an awkward landing that resulted in a bone bruise. The Aces expect her to miss two-to-four weeks, meaning they’ll likely be without one of their top two-way players who averages 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds for at least the first round of the playoffs.
Losing a great player is, obviously, bad news for any team, but Las Vegas could feel the repercussions worse than others. It’s no secret Vegas is a team lacking depth, riding the success of their four All-Stars, plus Chelsea Gray (which means five All-Stars) all season long.
That group of five (including Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson) has spent 561 minutes on the floor together this season, which is over 200 minutes more than the next group of five in the entire league.
An injury to any of its top players was always Vegas’s biggest risk, and with a new playoff structure, even a top-2 seed can’t help them. Last season, those teams were awarded a double-bye and lengthy rest period before the first postseason game. Now, every team will play in each round of the playoffs, starting with a best-of-3 series.
If the season ended today, Vegas would see a tough Minnesota team riding a 4-1 record in its last five games, with All-Star Napheesa Collier back in the lineup 11 weeks after giving birth. But no matter the matchup, surviving a short series won’t be easy — especially with the potential third game on the road.
In Hamby’s absence, one of the Kiah Stokes, Theresa Plaisance or Iliana Rupert supporting center cast will have to show up big on the defensive end, while Wilson, Plum, Gray and Young can ill-afford to have a collectively off night.
It’s strange to call a team as strong as the Aces vulnerable for an upset, but so goes the WNBA playoffs. The semifinals are a mere best-of-5 series, and there’s no guarantee Hamby would return for those games either. Based on today’s standings and a chalk run in the first round, Vegas would play the Connecticut Sun in the semis.