Aces, Sparks to mix it up again

Something just might be cooking in the 100-degree heat in the desert and the rest of the WNBA might want to take notice, especially after Friday night.

If the Aces were looking for a signature moment in their first year in Las Vegas, Bill Laimbeer’s squad found it with Friday’s 94-78 dismantling of the Los Angeles Sparks.

A telling sign of just how far the Aces (6-11) have come since moving from San Antonio, where the Stars won only 15 games in the past two seasons (and lost 53 times), will come Sunday afternoon at Staples Center in Los Angeles when the Aces and Sparks meet again.

The Sparks (11-5) were coming off a loss in Seattle to the Storm on Thursday night and the schedule played right into the Aces’ hands.

“We wanted to push the pace and we did throughout the whole course of the game,” Laimbeer said. “Our game is we want to push, especially when we knew they were coming from Seattle on a back-to-back with tired legs. We’re going to take advantage of that.”

The Sparks made no excuses.

“We don’t make any excuses when playing back-to-backs,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “We are who we are and (Friday night) that was not very good. Our defensive effort was substandard.”

The Sparks came into the game sitting atop the WNBA standings.

Before Friday’s defeat, the Sparks were allowing only 75.5 points per game and the Aces were giving up more than 85.

Not having injured Nneka Ogwumike (back) for a third straight game might have made a difference as rookie A’ja Wilson had her way — again.

Wilson is the third leading scorer in the league at 20.7 points per game. With boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oakland (soon-to-be Las Vegas) Raiders owner Mark Davis at courtside, Wilson produced 29 points and nine rebounds.

More pleasing to Laimbeer was the play of last year’s No. 1 pick, Kelsey Plum, who compiled 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

“I’ve kept her in a box for a while now and I wanted to make sure that she ran our team the way I wanted it to,” Laimbeer said. “I’m getting more comfortable with her now to give her a little more freedom to go out there and create. We know she’s always going to be a good shooter, but I’m looking for a bit more offensive from her.”

Friday’s effort was Plum’s best as a pro. And that can’t be good news for Las Vegas opponents.

“This is a huge win for us,” Plum said. “We’ve had moments where we’ve been close like the Dallas and Chicago games. But to be able to close out a game against the best team in the league is something that I’m really proud of.”

Sustaining that kind of play against the league’s elite teams on the road will be the key for a young team like the Aces.

Los Angeles is 7-1 at Staples this season. The Aces are 3-6 on the road. The Sparks are happy to leave the heat behind and get back to playing winning hoops.

“We’ve lost some games and I think it’s just getting back to practice,” said Candace Parker, who was held to seven points on Friday. “We have to figure it out watching film and figure it out of the court as we go. We’re going to be happy to go home for this two-game homestand and hopefully get back on a roll.”