Why the Washington Mystics are title contenders, travel woes and other observations from the first week of the 2022 WNBA season

 Why the Washington Mystics are title contenders, travel woes and other observations from the first week of the 2022 WNBA season

Natasha Cloud watched her Washington Mystics teammates beat the Las Vegas Aces from her apartment Tuesday night after entering health and safety protocols for testing positive for COVID-19. Cloud live tweeted the game, with the Mystics trailing by 15 before rallying after halftime to take an 89-76 victory and become the first team to start the 2022 WNBA season 3-0.

“I hope you know I’m running into this apartment flexing,” he tweeted. “BETTER STARTING ABOUT THEIR MYSTICS.”

He was not wrong. The most surprising thing about Tuesday’s outing was that Washington was able to express its will on a team most expected to win, and it turned out that there weren’t many players changing the game in the Cloud. , Alysha Clark (foot injury) and Elizabeth Williams (fighting abroad). Once these three are back in the crowd, and considering that two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne continues to progress in the right direction physically as she bounces back from a back injury, the Mystics don’t just watch them return to the playoffs afterwards. lost the cut last season. They are cheap serious championship contenders.

Sometime in the last two years, Washington’s 2019 title run has been as much a year as it was a year ago. By 2022, Delle Donne has only played three games in the past two seasons, and many more players who have opted out and injured have left the Mystics without its expected core or shorthaned. most of that stretch.

When asked about the presence of Delle Donne and Clark, the expectations surrounding the team were, understandably, a bit upset. Our own ESPN rankings put them at No. 7 in the preseason, before they climbed to No. 3 after the league’s opening weekend.

But playing the red hot Aces without Cloud isn’t something they can’t do.

“We have time to try to build muscle in anyone who wears this jersey, that’s what we’re in danger of,” guard Ariel Atkins said. “We gave each other trust and faith in each other and that helped us walk by what we knew fundamentally about our organization and get out there and do the best we could to get the win that night. . “

After breaking early against Becky Hammon’s Aces, who at first looked like the team that crushed Phoenix Mercury and defeated the championship -minded Seattle Storm, Washington knocked them back on their heels.

“I just think that’s the attitude of the people we draft, sell, recruit,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “They have toughness about them.”

Cloud added on Twitter: “Culture really does make a difference.”

What does this team look like at full strength? Thibault said they felt all offseason that they could be a top-tier defensive team, and on Tuesday (where they held the Aces to seven third-quarter points) showed a brief glimpse. what it looks like. The addition of a former defensive player of the year caliber player to Clark and the 2020 All-Defensive Team selection of Williams back in the lineup will only help.

On the other end of the floor, Cloud is even hungrier-he even announced the league during Sunday’s game in Minnesota, taking the microphone during the in-game interview to claim he’s a shooter now. Critical to the Mystics ’long-term success were Atkins, who posted the only double-digit plus-minus Tuesday (+28), and Myisha Hines-Allen, who nearly scored a triple-double against the Aces (15 points, eight assists, eight rebounds). Hines-Allen said Cloud helped him rediscover his confidence after he was in his head against the Minnesota Lynx, telling him, “You’re a dawg, no one here can take you.” Hines-Allen texted Cloud after his diagnosis of COVID-19, “I hold down the dawg pound tonight.” And he did.

As for Delle Donne, Thibault said he “might tell you he’s not yet in the rhythm he wants … [19 points and seven rebounds in just under 30 minutes Tuesday] is the best we’ve had, it should be good! ”That he averaged a team-best 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 blocks per game early in the season is a positive sign for Washington.

It’s too early in the season – and there are missing key features that could change teams – that estimates of who will be the last squad to stand this fall are out of date. But the somewhat surprisingly fast start of the Mystics forced their inclusion in that discussion.

“I feel like heaven is the limit for us,” Hines-Allen said. “It gives us a lot of confidence, just knowing that our whole team isn’t here yet, but we’re still playing good basketball.”

This week too

The ongoing misfortunes of travel to the W

Cloud isn’t really one to mumble words, and he didn’t hold back on Tuesday, calling on the league for commercial ways to fly it especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Shoutout to @WNBA for flying us commercial during a pandemic. (And no mask mandate),” he tweeted sarcastically. On Instagram: “At what point is the safety of the players paramount? I’m doing my part …”

Seattle’s Breanna Stewart joined the criticism on Wednesday, after she and Epiphanny Prince also entered into COVID-19 protocols before the Phoenix team’s game.

New Aces general manager Natalie Williams posted a since deleted tweet calling on celebrities and brands to “donate to the cause” and help WNBA teams charter flights.

Players, and even some owners, have been particularly critical of the league’s commercial travel policies, an issue that arose in March when it was reported that New York Liberty was fined $ 500,000 for chartering flights. in the second half of the 2021 season, among other violations of the rules.

Even if WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert goes on to say that hiring is too expensive for the league right now (she cites a $ 20 million cost per season, which Williams referred to in her tweet) , obviously this will continue to be a hot button issue. . And if big players like Stewart come out strong against commercial travel, the pressure will be even more intensified for the league to find a solution.

The inclusivity conversation

Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart, DiDi Richards and Te’a Cooper will be featured in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, seen by some as a significant expansion of the league on a platform with significant reach. in culture.

Several WNBA players took to social media to share a fruitful dialogue on what true inclusivity looks like.

“I love trying Sports Illustrated to be more inclusive and nurture women in the W,” the Connecticut Sun’s Courtney Williams tweeted. “At the same time even if it’s raw to see a pretty lil sports bra and some swaggin ‘shorts. There’s more than one way to look sexy, and I hope that in the future we can do that. . “

Liberty’s Stefanie Dolson agreed with an Instagram story: “Can’t agree yet … There are more ways to represent W. The big girls are SEXY too.”

Williams ’tweet addresses this, but there is a whole conversation that needs to be had – one that is outside the boundaries of this space – about what types of bodies, gender identity and sexual expressions is constantly being raised in and around the WNBA. That this conversation happened even a start, but it’s ultimately up to brands and companies to be able to diversify who they promote on their platforms.

Looking ahead

How a dominant Rhyne Howard and the Atlanta Dream, who advanced to 2-0 Wednesday with a win over the previously undefeated Los Angeles Sparks, against a tough Aces team looking for a bounce-back win (Friday, 7:30 pm ET)? The rookie-fueled Indiana Fever is also fun to watch, getting their first win of 2022 on Tuesday against the Lynx. Will they see another against Liberty (Friday, 8:00 pm ET) or Dream (Sunday, 3:00 pm ET)?

The Sun, who still do not have Williams (suspended) and DeWanna Bonner (overseas), have not played since their start of the season loss to Liberty on May 7. What is their response from a week off (vs Sparks, Saturday, 7:00 pm)? Liberty, on the other hand, had a bad outing (i.e. a 33-point loss) against Chicago Sky Wednesday and has a chance to get back on track against Fever and Dallas Wings (Sunday, 2:00 pm ET).

While some players eventually adjust to their teams over the next few days, others are still out of the country or sidelined due to COVID. Entering the second weekend of the season, it’s still hard to fully understand what teams can do with so much personnel fluidity.

Fantasy tips

Who starts:

Sabrina Ionescu: After a disappointing outing on Wednesday against Chicago, it is expected that the former No. 1 pick to return to form against Fever and Wings this weekend.

Tina Charles: Charles went first in two games this week between Phoenix and Seattle Wednesday. Without Mercedes Russell with a non-basketball injury and Stewart likely still sidelining COVID-19 for the Storm on Saturday, there should be a similar impact if these squads meet again.

Dana Evans: Evans is unlikely to see many minutes once Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper return for Sky (note: Quigley will make his season debut on Saturday). Until Quigley is back in proper form, however, Evans remains a less obvious but important fantasy choice, averaging 19.5 PPG in 30.5 minutes in both games.

Who will sit:

in Seattle Stewart and princeas well as in Washington CLOUD is all in the COVID-19 protocols, so be sure to bench it. The Lynx Natalie Achonwa also not forever, the team announced Wednesday, after suffering a right hamstring strain, and 2020 rookie of the year Crystal DangerfieldThe difficult contract came to Fever after a strong outing against his former Minnesota team.

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