The Commissioner's Cup debuted last year with a championship matchup between the Seattle Storm and Connecticut Sun that, at the time, was thought to be a potential WNBA Finals meeting. It didn't turn out that way as neither team advanced to the championship series.
This year's version again feels very much like a Finals preview. The Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces are the top two teams in the league standings and ESPN's WNBA Power Rankings, and have been among the hottest teams since the All-Star Game.
Chicago hosts Las Vegas on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET). The Commissioner's Cup championship game is on Amazon Prime, which was part of the deal the WNBA reached with Amazon in 2021 as another revenue source for the league.
Both teams lost this past week, but those were the only losses the Sky and Aces have had since Team A'ja Wilson won the All-Star Game on July 10. Both are 5-1 in that stretch, but Chicago has done it without All-Star point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who has missed the past four games while in concussion protocol.
The Sky's 83-80 loss at the New York Liberty on Saturday was their third game in four days, plus they had travel delays on the way to the Big Apple. Chicago coach James Wade brushed off questions about fatigue, saying it is just part of what all teams deal with. Despite the obstacles, the Sky still almost won that game.
Las Vegas has had defensive concerns in recent weeks, but coach Becky Hammon was happy with the way the Aces played in beating Los Angeles 84-66 on Saturday, calling it one of their better all-around efforts on both ends.
The Aces are now in for a travel test: Their next six games, starting with the Cup final, are on the road. They will go from Chicago to Indiana (two games) to Washington to Dallas to Seattle. Where will they be in the WNBA standings at the end of this stretch, headed into the final week of the regular season?
"Actually, we've been better on the road than at home, so hopefully that trend continues," Hammon said of the Aces' 10-3 mark away from Las Vegas compared to 10-5 there. "I have to do a good job of getting them the proper rest vs. keeping them sharp. We are literally making a whole circle around the United States. It hits every team at some point. But I think the road has been good for us with that foxhole mentality."
The Sky and Aces have split their two regular-season meetings in 2022, each winning on the other's home court. They will meet one more time, Aug. 11 in Las Vegas. Their matchup June 21 in Las Vegas was one of the stranger games of the season, with the Aces dominating the first quarter but then Chicago making the biggest comeback in league history (28 points) to win 104-95.
That loss sent Las Vegas in a bit of a tailspin -- the Aces lost five of seven going into the All-Star Game -- but it seems to be over now.
Chicago has had the league's most superior depth (even without Vandersloot) this season. Las Vegas has been the WNBA's best offensive team, leading the way in points per game (90.4) and offensive rating (108.3). The Sky are right behind in scoring average (85.6), and they have the edge in defensive rating: fifth at 98.0 to the Aces' sixth at 101.3.
Individually, Las Vegas' Kelsey Plum (20.1 PPG), Wilson (19.4) and Jackie Young (16.3) are all in the top 10 in the league in scoring. Seven Sky players are averaging between 14.8 and 9.0 points, led by Kahleah Copper. Chicago's Candace Parker has two triple-doubles this season.
No slight toward the other teams, but this seems to be the perfect showcase for the Commissioner's Cup championship, and a definite taste of the postseason.
1. Chicago Sky
Previous ranking: 1
The Sky beat Seattle and Dallas last week before the loss at New York. It has been a fun season for Sky fans, with the All-Star Game and the Commissioner's Cup final both at Chicago's Wintrust Arena. The defending WNBA champions will look to add another title with Tuesday's Cup final, and we will see if Vandersloot is back. There is no need to rush her, of course; this game has no impact on the standings and home-court advantage for the playoffs. The most important thing is having Vandersloot in as good a shape as possible for the stretch run and postseason. Incidentally, since Vandersloot's last game, July 14 vs. Los Angeles, the Sky have still averaged 22.5 assists, with forward Emma Meesseman averaging 6.0 assists in those four games.
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Tuesday), vs. New York (Friday), at Connecticut (Sunday)
2. Las Vegas Aces
Previous ranking: 2
The Aces didn't look sharp in a loss to Atlanta, allowing the Dream to shoot 51.6% from the field and 62.5% from behind the arc (15-for-24). But they followed that with wins over Indiana and Los Angeles. The latter victory was their fourth over the Sparks this summer, and it was a good showing to have before their lengthy road trip. The Aces' reliance on their starters this season has been much discussed, but this upcoming stretch might necessitate more contributions from the bench. Wilson continues to make her MVP case, having scored at least 20 points the past seven games.
This week: at Chicago (Tuesday), at Indiana (Friday), at Indiana (Sunday)
3. Connecticut Sun
Previous ranking: 4
It was a very good week for the Sun, save for new addition Bria Hartley suffering an injury in Sunday's win at Minnesota. Coach Curt Miller didn't have an update on her after the game. Hartley suffered a season-ending ACL injury in late August 2020 with Phoenix, and was limited to six games last year. She was traded to Indiana, playing 10 games with the Fever before being waived and signing July 18 with the Sun. She is a veteran guard presence who is expected to help with the absence of Jasmine Thomas (knee), so it would seem the Sun are snake bit at that spot if Hartley is out a significant time. Still, they went 3-0 this past week and lead the league in net rating (8.4). And like Chicago and Las Vegas, the Sun are 5-1 since the All-Star Game.
This week: vs. Seattle (Thursday), vs. Chicago (Sunday)
4. Washington Mystics
Previous ranking: 5
Washington had a light week, getting a victory against New York. For most of the season, the Mystics and Seattle have been close in the Power Rankings, and this is a big week for that matchup as they meet twice at Washington. Elena Delle Donne has led the Mystics in scoring the past five games, averaging 23.4 points and shooting 56.7% from the field in that stretch.
This week: at Dallas (Thursday), vs. Seattle (Saturday), vs. Seattle (Sunday)
5. Seattle Storm
Previous ranking: 3
The Storm fell at Chicago and at Phoenix this past week, the latter an emotional potential last meeting between Sue Bird and the Mercury's Diana Taurasi. Seattle also found out it will for sure be without center Mercedes Russell for at least the rest of the regular season after she underwent a procedure to treat recurrent headaches. But signing Tina Charles last month was part of the strategy in dealing with Russell's absence. Charles had her best overall game of the season in Sunday's victory over Atlanta, with 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots, as she crossed the 7,000-point threshold for her WNBA career. That kind of performance from her is a big boost to the Storm.
This week: at Connecticut (Thursday), at Washington (Saturday), at Washington (Sunday)
6. Phoenix Mercury
Previous ranking: 9
The Mercury had a week to prepare for Seattle and then thrilled the 14,000-plus fans who came to Footprint Center to see them win. Skylar Diggins-Smith continues to have a fantastic season; she led the way against the Storm with 35 points. Taurasi had 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. This kind of game makes you say, "The Mercury's small-ball style really can work." But inconsistency has plagued Phoenix, which is why the Mercury have been all over in the Power Rankings -- as high as fourth and as low as 11th. They haven't won back-to-back games since the end of June and need to put at least a little streak together to help their playoff aspirations.
This week: vs. Los Angeles (Thursday), at New York (Sunday)
7. Los Angeles Sparks
Previous ranking: 10
It was critical for the Sparks to end their long home stand with two wins, and they got them by beating Indiana and Atlanta. That was followed by a loss at Las Vegas, but the Sparks helped themselves this past week and jumped back into the top eight. Guard Chennedy Carter returned to Los Angeles' lineup against her former team, the Dream, on Thursday after last playing July 1. Center Liz Cambage also was back after missing two games (health and safety protocols).
This week: at Phoenix (Thursday), vs. Minnesota (Sunday)
8. Atlanta Dream
Previous ranking: 6
The Dream went 2-2 on their West Coast swing, including a win at Las Vegas this past week. That was followed by losses at Los Angeles and Seattle. Things have changed pretty dramatically for rookie forward Naz Hillmon, who has played at least 30 minutes in each of the past five games after not hitting that mark her first 20 games. In this stretch, she has pulled down double-digit rebounds three times. Next, the Dream have four in a row at home with a chance to make a playoff push.
This week: vs. Minnesota (Thursday), vs. Dallas (Saturday)
9. Dallas Wings
Previous ranking: 7
It seems like the Wings are treading water after a 1-1 week with a loss to Chicago and a win over Indiana. But that's not necessarily a terrible thing; Dallas is still in the playoff logjam. The Wings really need to put a couple of wins together to help their position, but that hasn't been easy for them to do all season. Center Teaira McCowan was a combined 15-of-20 from the field in her past two games, a good sign.
This week: vs. Washington (Thursday), at Atlanta (Saturday)
10. New York Liberty
Previous ranking: 11
After falling at Connecticut and Washington to extend their losing streak to five in a row, the Liberty were able to hold on to an upset over Chicago. If that one had gotten away -- the Sky's potential winning shot was short with 4.2 seconds left -- it really would have stung. Despite losing seven of its past nine, New York is still in the playoff mix. One issue is the offense has been all over the place: During July, the Liberty have scored as many as 116 points and as few as 63.
This week: at Chicago (Friday), vs. Phoenix (Sunday)
11. Minnesota Lynx
Previous ranking: 8
The Lynx really needed to win at least one of two games at home against Connecticut this past week, but didn't get either. They have lost four of their past five. While they're not out of playoff contention yet, it's looking like a more and more difficult path with just seven games left on their schedule.
This week: at Atlanta (Thursday), at Los Angeles (Sunday)
12. Indiana Fever
Previous ranking: 12
The Fever went 0-3 again this past week and have lost 12 in a row. Guard Kelsey Mitchell had a season-high 34 points, plus six assists, in the loss to Dallas on Sunday as she continues to have the best of her five seasons in Indiana. So there is that bright spot for the Fever.
This week: vs. Las Vegas (Friday), vs. Las Vegas (Sunday)