LAS VEGAS (AP) — The sprint to the finish of the WNBA season gets underway Tuesday as teams return to action after the All-Star break.
Las Vegas, Washington and Connecticut sit atop the standings, in part because they've been relatively healthy for most of the season. But A'ja Wilson has been sidelined with an ankle injury the last couple of games and is still probably at least a week away from returning for the Aces. Only 8 ½ games separate the first and last place teams right now with just a 3 ½ -game difference between first and eighth in the battle for playoff position.
Phoenix and Los Angeles have both won seven of their last 10 games and each should be getting key players back on the court after the break. Diana Taurasi has missed all but one game this season and the Sparks expect Candace Parker and Alana Beard back soon from injuries.
"It's been kind of weird," Phoenix center Brittney Griner said. "There has been a lot of injuries. And it's been hard for teams to break out of that bunched-up mosh pit. After All-Star, I think this is when teams start to break away or fall back. We definitely want to be one of the ones who breaks free."
Taurasi said she's trying to get her conditioning and timing back after her back injury.
"My back feels great," she said. "I'm pretty much 100 percent recovered. Now I'm just going through my own training camp two months after the team. I gave it a go in Connecticut two weeks ago, and I was just not ready. I'm really close."
A look at this week's WNBA poll:
1. Connecticut (13-6): The Sun play two games at home before a four-game road trip. Shekinna Stricklen had an All-Star weekend to remember, winning the 3-point contest.
2. Las Vegas (13-6): The Aces put on a show hosting All-Star weekend. Dearica Hamby has helped fill the void of Wilson.
3. Washington (12-6): The Mystics are play well on both ends of the court and Elena Delle Donne is putting up MVP-caliber numbers.
4. Seattle (12-9): The Storm got Jewell Loyd back after her ankle injury and will try to keep pace with the top teams in the standings. The have a pivotal game against Washington on Friday night.
5. Chicago (11-8): The Sky were well represented at All-Star weekend with Diamond DeShields winning the skills competition. Chicago will play four of its next five games on the road.
6. Los Angeles (11-8): The Sparks have played the least amount of home games (seven) so far this season which should help them in the stretch run.
7. Phoenix (10-8): A healthy Taurasi would make all the difference in the world for the Mercury.
8. Minnesota (10-10): The Lynx have lost three straight games and four out of five overall. Coach Cheryl Reeve will try and right the ship,
9. New York (8-11): The Liberty are on the outside of the playoffs right now, but should have a healthy roster for the first time this season for the stretch run.
10. Indiana (6-15): Erica Wheeler stole the show at the All-Star Game earning MVP honors. The Fever hope that they can ride that momentum into the final 11 games of the season.
12. Dallas (5-14): By the time the Wings play Las Vegas on Tuesday night it will have been 10 days since their last game.
11. Atlanta (5-15): The Dream will try and snap a five-game losing streak. They were one of two teams (Dallas) without an All-Star.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Kristi Toliver earned player of the week honors after helping Washington beat Minnesota in the Mystics only game this week. She had 32 points, six assists and three steals in the victory. Others receiving votes included Brittney Griner of Phoenix, Dearica Hamby of Las Vegas and Nneka Ogwumike of Los Angeles.
PICKING UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
The Washington Mystics and Las Vegas Aces will complete their game suspended by an earthquake on July 5 when they play the second half of the contest on Aug. 5 at T-Mobile Arena. The Aces' normal home of Mandalay Bay Arena wasn't available on that date and it was the only one that fit into both teams' schedules.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Las Vegas at Los Angeles, Thursday. The Sparks could be closer to full strength for this game with the potential return of Candace Parker and Alana Beard, who have been sidelined by injuries for the last few weeks.
Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DougFeinberg