Struggling Aces host improved Dream

Atlanta was expected to be one of the most improved teams this season in the WNBA.

Las Vegas was expected to be one of the more vulnerable teams this season.

And that’s exactly how the young season has played out after its first three weeks.

The Dream are 3-3 and coming off an impressive win after handing the Connecticut Sun their first loss of the season. The Aces are 1-5 in their first season playing in Las Vegas. The two meet Friday at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

The Aces are led by this year’s top pick in the draft, A’ja Wilson, who is averaging 21.0 points, tied for fourth-best in the league.

Las Vegas last played Sunday and lost to the Chicago Sky 95-90 in what coach Bill Laimbeer thought was a very winnable game. The Aces might have notched their second win if not for Wilson being plagued by fouls and Nia Coffey going down with an ankle injury that could sideline her a few weeks.

“I thought we had control of the game early on and we just kind of relaxed too much,” Laimbeer lamented. “They picked up the pace and we weren’t able to recover our intensity. They just kept attacking the rim and we kept fouling.

“Too many fouls and offensive rebounds for them and that’s a recipe for disaster.”

The Dream cooked up the perfect mix of offense and defense to ground the Sun on Tuesday. Tiffany Hayes knocked down 22 points and Atlanta held the league’s highest scoring team to 77 points, 17 points below the Sun’s average after six games. The Sun had scored at least 100 points in three straight games.

“We just talked as a team and said, ‘nobody is scoring 100 points on us.’ So, that was that,” Hayes told highposthoops.com. “Like I said before, I think our defense is one of the best in the league. We can’t just have people coming to our home court and scoring 100 points. We definitely had a talk as a team that we’re not going to let that happen.”

Playing key roles this season for the Dream have been two newcomers and one familiar face. After sitting out a year, Angel McCoughtry is back. She’s averaging 15.3 points after scoring 11 against the Sun.

Free-agent signings brought Jessica Breland and Renee Montgomery into the fold. Montgomery is third on the team in scoring, averaging 10.7 points and a team-leading 3.2 assists. Breland is tops on the Dream in rebounds at 8.7 per contest.

They’ll have their hands full with Wilson, though, who is still adjusting to the pro game and learning to be a team leader despite having all of six games under her belt.

“I think (my leadership skills) are slowly coming around. It’s kind of tough, I still have a rookie mind,” Wilson said. “This is my first year going at this, so I’m trying to be a sponge instead of a rock.”

The Aces are still waiting for last year’s top pick in the draft, Kelsey Plum, to get going. Since returning from overseas, Plum has played four games and is averaging only 5.0 points per game.

Plum being able to score is crucial to the Aces’ success. But Laimbeer said he’s not sure what to expect from Plum yet.

“She’s too new to our team. I know she can shoot (3-pointers). She needs to learn our offense and how to run a team. Overall, she had a good game today,” he said after the loss to the Sky.