Streaks defined the first week of the second half of the 2023 WNBA season.
On the upswing: The Las Vegas Aces, who’ve been the clear-cut best team in the league, and the Dallas Wings both sport five-game win streaks. Dallas started its streak by beating Las Vegas on July 7, although the Aces have since won five consecutive games by 15-plus points, tied for the longest such streak in WNBA history. With 13 such victories in 2023, it seems only a matter of time before Becky Hammon’s squad crushes the single-season record of 16 wins by 15-plus points, held by the 2019 Washington Mystics.
On the downswing: The Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Sparks have lost nine and eight games, respectively, both franchise single-season records. Seattle is in rebuilding mode following the departure of Breanna Stewart and the retirement of Sue Bird, while the Sparks are still finding their footing after battling a slew of illnesses and injuries. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the fifth time in WNBA history, and first since 2019, when multiple teams have lost eight-plus games in a row at the same time.
Two other notable streaks were snapped this past week: The Atlanta Dream cooled off from their seven-game-winning streak with back-to-back losses to the Connecticut Sun, while the Indiana Fever got back into the win column Wednesday versus the Mystics after eight consecutive losses.
Time will tell whether the Aces and Wings can keep up their winning ways, whether the Storm and Sparks can right the ship, and exactly what the Dream and Fever are made of — and of course, how the league’s other six teams will fare across the final seven weeks of the regular season. For now, here’s how all 12 teams stack up in ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings.
1. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at Chicago (Tuesday), vs. Dallas (Sunday)
The Las Vegas Aces keep doing what we’ve come to expect from them this summer: win. With comfortable victories over Seattle and Minnesota, the Aces’ plus-357 point differential this season is the best over a 23-game span in league history. They haven’t slowed down much either with two-time MVP Candace Parker sidelined since early July with injuries.
A’ja Wilson, another two-time WNBA MVP, reminded onlookers that just because she has a wealth of talent around her doesn’t mean she’s not squarely in the MVP conversation. Wilson dominated the week, stringing together three consecutive games with at least 20 points on 60% shooting and 10 rebounds, capped by a season-high 35 points on just 17 shots Saturday against the Lynx.
Sunday’s meeting versus Dallas will be must-watch TV: The Wings gave the Aces a tough night the last time they played in Las Vegas before beating them the following game in Dallas, the second loss on the season for a team on track to be remembered as one of the best in history.
A’ja Wilson goes off for 35 points in Aces’ victory
A’ja Wilson goes off for 35 points as the Aces cruise to a 98-81 victory over the Lynx.
2. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Seattle (Tuesday), vs. Atlanta (Thursday), vs. Minnesota (Friday), at Los Angeles (Sunday)
New York was bested in the paint and on the glass, outscored 20-0 in points off turnovers and didn’t assert itself defensively in Wednesday’s loss to the Wings. But the Liberty bounced back with wins over Washington and Indiana, the latter securing a tie for the best start in franchise history at 16-5. Most critically, Jonquel Jones had her best stretch of the season with a season-high 27 points and 11 rebounds Friday and then 18 points and 11 rebounds Sunday, after stating previously that overthinking had caused her early-season struggles.
The Liberty’s win over the Fever made history: New York’s 44 points were the most any WNBA team has ever scored in a quarter. Betnijah Laney also starred in the effort with a season-high 22 points. Laney and Jones playing this well offensively, and Marine Johannes hitting her 3s, will only help the Liberty lessen the load on Breanna Stewart and become more multifaceted offensively. Their depth and defensive growth, however, will be tested this week as they play four games in six days.
Liberty set WNBA record for most points in a quarter
The New York Liberty score a record-setting 44 points in the first quarter against the Indiana Fever.
3. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Connecticut (Tuesday), vs. Washington (Friday), at Las Vegas (Sunday)
First-year head coach Latricia Trammel has guided her squad to five consecutive wins dating to before the All-Star break, highlighted most recently by a huge victory over New York on Wednesday. The Wings are the only team to beat the Aces and the Liberty this season and are increasingly looking like a top-four squad capable of making a lot of noise the rest of the way.
Dallas’ big three was on full display Saturday against the Sparks, as Satou Sabally, Natasha Howard and Arike Ogunbowale each finished with at least 25 points. But don’t overlook the recent contributions of Teaira McCowan, who had four emphatic rejections Saturday against the Sparks after a 15-point, 12-rebound outing Wednesday versus the Liberty. One particularly shocking statistic from that matchup: The Wings turned over the ball just twice against New York and outscored the Liberty 20-0 in points off turnovers. That’s the sign of a disciplined basketball team, which will be imperative during the upcoming stretch of games against the Sun, Mystics and Aces.
4. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 3
This week: at Dallas (Tuesday), vs. Minnesota (Sunday)
A loss to a potential lottery team in Phoenix is not the way they wanted to kick off the second half of the season, but the Sun got back on track with wins over the Dream on Thursday and Saturday. Since the break, DeWanna Bonner passed Candace Parker for eighth on the league’s all-time scoring list, while Alyssa Thomas (a forward!) became the first Connecticut player to eclipse the 1,000-assist threshold. The two Connecticut All-Stars also announced their engagement.
The Sun got a massive boost in their back-to-back versus the Dream from guard Natisha Hiedeman, who combined for 39 points off 11-for-15 shooting from 3, making her the first player in franchise history to make five 3s in consecutive games. The more backcourt firepower Connecticut can get from Hiedeman and her teammates the better as they look to remain one of the best teams in the league despite Brionna Jones’ season-ending injury.
5. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. Phoenix (Tuesday), at New York (Thursday), vs. Washington (Sunday)
The Dream beat the Lynx to extend their win streak to seven games before suffering back-to-back losses to Connecticut on Thursday and Saturday. Aari McDonald‘s return from a left shoulder injury was a bright spot, though. To get far this summer, Atlanta has some work to do against the top teams in the league, as it sports a 3-8 record against opponents above .500 this season and a 9-1 record versus clubs below that mark. The Dream have an opportunity to further prove themselves against some of the league’s best when they take on New York and Washington this week.
Second-year star Rhyne Howard continued her dominant individual run post-All-Star break with a pair of 20-point performances. The former Kentucky star and No. 1 overall pick is 31 points from the 1,000-career point mark, and is on track to become the fastest player in Dream history to reach that milestone.
Washington Mystics vs. Phoenix Mercury – Condensed Game
Watch the Game Highlights from Washington Mystics vs. Phoenix Mercury, 07/23/2023
6. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Minnesota (Wednesday), at Dallas (Friday), at Atlanta (Sunday)
Injuries have decimated the Mystics in recent weeks, as Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins, Shakira Austin and Kristi Toliver all remain out, but Washington managed to rebound from a two-game skid by beating Phoenix handily Sunday. Brittney Sykes and Natasha Cloud — as well as Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who are typically role players — had to take on larger roles amid this stretch, with Sykes tying her season high with 29 points Friday and Cloud tying a season high with 23 points and dishing out nine assists on Sunday. Despite being short-handed, the Mystics gave the second-place Liberty a tough game before falling by nine.
With coach Eric Thibault generally pleased with how the offense has started to click, defense has been a focus heading into the second half of the season. The outing against the Mercury was better, albeit against a six-win team.
7. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Washington (Wednesday), at New York (Friday), at Connecticut (Sunday)
It wasn’t a banner week for the Lynx, who fell to Atlanta and Las Vegas but managed to complete a four-game season series sweep over Los Angeles. Cheryl Reeve’s squad has won just one of its past five games following its five-game win streak in late June/early July. Napheesa Collier dropped a career-high 35 points in the Atlanta loss; she now has five 30-point games this season, second only to Jewell Loyd’s six. But the most important development of the week might have been how rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhasz performed Thursday: Miller flirted with a triple-double (13 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds), while Juhász came away with a double-double featuring a career-high 16 points, indicating the future remains bright in Minneapolis.
On the health front, Rachel Banham has been ruled out for a few weeks with a thumb injury, while Aerial Powers and Tiffany Mitchell are back from their injuries and Jessica Shepard might return soon after a prolonged illness.
8. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Los Angeles (Tuesday), at Los Angeles (Thursday), vs. Seattle (Sunday)
The Fever also had an up-and-down week, starting with their win over the Mystics on Wednesday (without NaLyssa Smith and Lexie Hull, although the latter returned for Sunday). Sure, Washington was without several key players, but Indiana showed it has the ability to respond, maintain composure and get stops after the Mystics briefly pulled ahead in the third quarter. With the victory, Christie Sides’ squad has won more games this summer than the Fever did all of last year, and it’s not even August.
Sunday’s 101-83 loss to the Liberty, however, was rough, especially in the first quarter when Indiana fell behind 44-17, but the Fever didn’t play poorly offensively on the whole; defense and communication remain the top priorities as they seek their first playoff bid since 2016.
9. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Atlanta (Tuesday), at Chicago (Sunday)
The Mercury started the second half of the season on a strong note by recording their first back-to-back wins of the campaign, including a 72-66 dub over the Sun behind big nights from Sophie Cunningham and Shey Peddy. Thursday’s game against Chicago — Phoenix’s second double-digit win of 2023 — marked another celebration in Brittney Griner‘s first season back from her nearly 10-month detainment, as she became the second-leading scorer in franchise history.
But Sunday was another story, as the Mercury trailed a short-handed Mystics squad by double digits most of the afternoon and lost by 15. And just when they were finding a groove, Diana Taurasi has missed the past two games with a quad contusion and left big toe injury, and her return timeline is unclear. Taurasi is 71 points away from becoming the first WNBA player to score 10,000 in a career.
Kahleah Copper scores 29 points in Sky’s win against Storm
Kahleah Copper records 29 points and is perfect from the line in the Sky’s victory against the Storm.
10. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Tuesday), vs. Seattle (Friday), vs. Phoenix (Sunday)
Chicago came out of the All-Star break with an 18-point loss to Phoenix on Thursday but rebounded by comfortably defeating Seattle on the road Saturday, snapping a four-game losing streak. Kahleah Copper‘s 29 points Saturday marked her fourth 25-point game this summer, the most she has had in a season, while WNBA Most Improved Player contender Alanna Smith continued to showcase her remarkable growth by collecting 17 rebounds, a leaguewide high this season, against Seattle. The win also marked the second under interim head coach/general manager Emre Vatansever, who was elevated to the roles July 1 following James Wade’s departure for the NBA.
The Sky’s upcoming matchup versus the Aces will be tough, but a rematch against the Storm and a meeting with the Mercury provide Chicago an opportunity to inch closer to .500 and remain in the playoff picture. All three games will be at home.
11. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Indiana (Thursday), vs. New York (Sunday)
The good from last week in L.A.: The Sparks got back Layshia Clarendon (foot injury) and Lexie Brown (illness), both of whom were starters at the beginning of the season but had been sidelined for over a month. The bad: The Sparks lost both their games and are still working through so much flux in their personnel. Los Angeles played its 14th unique starting lineup in Saturday’s loss to Dallas, and Karlie Samuelson (knee), Chiney Ogwumike (foot) and Nia Clouden (knee) remain out.
Coach Curt Miller, in his first season in L.A., and the players reiterate that the onslaught of injuries and illnesses is unprecedented and that this season is mostly about building the foundation for the future. Still, the Sparks have an opportunity to claw back into the playoff picture with a strong showing during their upcoming four-game homestand.
12. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at New York (Tuesday), at Chicago (Friday), at Indiana (Sunday)
Rebuilding Seattle is still searching for its first win since June 24. The Storm fared relatively well against the Aces on Thursday and at one point cut a 24-point deficit to seven, but their matchup against the Sky on Saturday was a different story — in the first half, they gave up 15 offensive rebounds and trailed by as many as 23 points.
Loyd, the 2023 All-Star Game MVP, has scored double figures in 23 consecutive games, but her 24 combined points (on 5-for-24 shooting) in the Storm’s past two games marked her lowest scoring output for a two-game stretch this season. Seattle’s offense has continued to struggle after the All-Star break, averaging 69 points and 19 turnovers across the past two games; providing more help around Loyd and taking care of the ball are necessities for Noelle Quinn’s squad to get back into the win column.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.