2021 WNBA All-Star Game set to be one of the league’s most competitive

There are seven first-time All-Stars on Team WNBA, including the Sky’s Kahleah Copper and Sky 2015 second-round draft pick Betnijah Laney. Ariel Atkins is a first-time All-Star playing on the national team.

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Candace Parker looks to pass during practice for the WNBA All-Star Basketball team, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Candace Parker looks to pass during practice for the WNBA All-Star Basketball team, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Las Vegas.

John Locher/AP

LAS VEGAS — The 2021 WNBA All-Star Game will have the same flash as in years past but with a slight adjustment to the competitive level.

The 17th WNBA All-Star Game, which will be held at Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Wednesday, will feature the All-Stars against the U.S. women’s national team, and the matchup has raised the stakes.

Many All-Stars have a history of winning gold with the national team or competing for a spot on the roster.

“It’s a game,” six-time All-Star Candace Parker said. “I don’t think anybody out here has to prove who they are or reinvent the wheel. We’re going to compete and have fun. Are we, like, happily walking down the hallways, saying, ‘Hey, USA Basketball!’ No.”

The last time the All-Stars played Team USA was in 2010 in the “Stars and the Sun Showcase” at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Typically during an Olympic year, the league forgoes its All-Star Game. This year, commissioner Cathy Engelbert was intent on having the game take place after it was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

Every player selected to the national team was automatically named an All-Star, so the voting process was even more competitive. This year, voters were tasked with selecting the 10 best players (six frontcourt players, four backcourt players) in the league instead of two teams of players as they would in standard years.

There are seven first-time All-Stars on Team WNBA, including the Sky’s Kahleah Copper and Sky 2015 second-round pick Betnijah Laney, who plays for the New York Liberty. Ariel Atkins of the Washington Mystics is a first-time All-Star playing on the national team. Copper and Laney go all the way back to AAU ball, and they continued together at Rutgers and almost played together with the Sky.

Laney was waived by the Sky in 2017, the same year the team sent Elena Delle Donne to the Mystics for a trade package that included Copper.

Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson will serve as the coaches of Team WNBA; Dawn Staley will be leading her team of Olympians.

Diana Taurasi isn’t expected to play. She’s recovering from a hip pointer and said being ready for Tokyo is what’s best for her and the team.

Team USA is in the middle of training for the Olympics, and the players’ focus will remain on the Games. Staley’s advice to her team was: “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

Parker, Liz Cambage and Courtney Vandersloot headline Team WNBA and have every weapon at their disposal, as does Team USA. Parker said she’s looking forward to going at former teammate Chelsea Gray.

“The first time down the court, I just need a back screen and a switch with her on the block,” Parker said.

The lighthearted energy of years past, though, is still present, but both teams have something to prove.

“There’s a chip on the shoulder of both teams,’’ Gray said.

‘‘The All-Star team wants to compete against [Team USA], and we’re preparing for the Olympics.”

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