The two-time defending champions have stumbled to a 5-5 start over the first month of the 2024 season.

What the heck is wrong with the Las Vegas Aces?

The two-time defending WNBA champions dropped to a measly 5-5 after a stinging defeat Tuesday against the upstart Minnesota Lynx. The 14-point loss is the third in a row for the Aces, who lost only six games in the entire 2023 regular season.

After the loss, Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon told reporters, “I’m not sure why the trust isn’t there,” which might sound alarming out of context. Even with two-time MVP center A’ja Wilson playing the best basketball of her career, the Aces are riding a three-game skid.

However, the rest of the WNBA would be wise not to underestimate this team.

Wilson leads the league with 28.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. She also ranks third in the league in blocks (2.7 per game) and fourth in steals (1.9 per game). She’s an early front-runner to win Most Valuable Player again, but the Aces’ struggles are a reminder that basketball is a five-on-five game.

A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces is greeted by teammates during player introductions before the team’s home opener against the Phoenix Mercury at Michelob ULTRA Arena on May 14, 2024, in Las Vegas.

A’ja Wilson is playing like an MVP, but the Las Vegas Aces have stumbled to a 5-5 start.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

The absence of key players is a big reason for Las Vegas’ struggles.

Five-time All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray, who averaged career highs in points (15.3) and assists (7.3) per game last season, has yet to make her 2024 debut due to a left foot injury suffered during last year’s WNBA Finals. She is expected to return around the Olympic break, but until then, the Aces are missing their anchor. Her ability to run the offense is sorely missed.

In Gray’s place is Jackie Young, who started this season with four consecutive 20-plus point performances before falling ill with a virus. She’s missed one game and played fewer minutes since. Even when she plays, she hasn’t been at her best, having scored a combined nine points in her last two appearances.

Still, there are things the Aces can improve in the meantime — especially on defense. Las Vegas ranks eighth among the WNBA’s 12 teams in allowing 83.9 points per game. Last season, the Aces ranked second in the league in scoring defense at 80.3 points per game.

Here are a few things to consider before pushing the panic button on the 2024 Las Vegas Aces.

First, Gray’s eventual return will make the Aces offense look more coordinated overall. Young, a two-time All-Star in her own right, should be fully healthy even sooner. Tiffany Hayes, who came out of retirement to sign with the Aces on May 31, is only four games into her season and could provide a boost when she is fully conditioned. Hammon is also relying heavily on rookie Kate Martin, evinced by her 20.3 minutes per game average. Although Hammon described Martin as “pro-ready” during training camp, the former Iowa standout needs time to acclimate to the WNBA.

The rest of the WNBA also has targeted the mighty Aces for the better part of three seasons — and they will not be letting up just because Las Vegas has lost a few games. Right now, teams are attacking the Aces’ perimeter defense instead of trying to challenge the 6-foot-4 Wilson in the paint. Indeed, opponents are shooting an impressive 39.7% on 3-pointers this season. In the Aces’ 100-86 loss to the Lynx on Tuesday night, Minnesota shot 15-of-27 (55.6%) from 3-point range.

The Aces play five games in the next two weeks, but the slate is challenging, with matchups against Phoenix (6-6), New York (11-2), Seattle (8-4) and Connecticut (11-1). This stretch could tell us a lot about what to expect from the Aces the rest of the season.