Why The Washington Mystics are title contenders, travel woes and other notes from week one of the 2022 WNBA season

Natasha Cloud watched her Washington Mystics teammates defeat the Las Vegas Aces from her apartment Tuesday night after they entered health and safety protocols for testing positive for COVID-19. Cloud Live tweeted the match, with the Mystics trailing 15 before rallying after halftime to come out with an 89-76 win and become the first team to start the 2022 WNBA season 3-0.

“Hope you know I’m running around this apartment flexing my muscles,” she wrote on Twitter. “We’d better start talking about these legends.”

She is not mistaken. Arguably the most impressive thing about Tuesday’s outing is that Washington was able to assert her will on the team most likely to win, and to do so without the many game-changing players in the Cloud, Alisha Clark (a foot injury) and Elizabeth Williams (contesting in the the outside) . Once those three are back in the fold, and assuming twice the Championship’s best player Elena Delle Donne continues to progress in the right direction physically as she returns from a back injury, the mystics won’t look like they’ll be heading back to the playoffs after missing last season’s cut. They look like serious contenders for the championship.

At times over the past couple of years, the 2019 Washington title has seemed like another eon. Coming into 2022, Delle Donne has played only three games over the past two seasons, and a slew of other players and injuries have left the Mystics without its anticipated core or shortened most of that stretch.

With questions about the availability of Delle Donne and Clark, expectations surrounding the team were, understandably, somewhat mediocre. Our ESPN ranking saw them sit seventh in pre-season, before rising to third after the league’s opening weekend.

But playing Aces without a cloud wasn’t something they couldn’t handle.

“We’ve had the time to try and build that muscle out of whoever wears this jersey, that’s what we’re rocking with,” said guard Ariel Atkins. “We’ve given each other trust and faith in each other and that helps us walk through what we basically know about our organization and go out there and do our best to win that night.”

After falling big early on against the Aces, Becky Hammon, who looked in the first half like the team that crushed Phoenix Mercury and beat championship title Seattle Storm, Washington put them back in their wake.

“I think that’s the nature of the people we’ve recruited, traded with and recruited,” said Mestex coach Mike Tybault. “They have a toughness towards them.”

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

What could this team look like in full force? Tybalt said they felt every season was inappropriate because they could be a top-tier defensive team, and on Tuesday (they picked up seven points in the third quarter) showed a glimpse of what that could look like. Adding a former defensive player of Clark’s Player of the Year and picking the 2020 Williams All-Defensive Team back to the squad should only help.

On the other end of the earth, Cloud is hungrier than ever — she even put out a league notice during Sunday’s game in Minnesota, and took the microphone during an in-game interview to claim she’s now fatal. Crucial to the long-term success of the Mystics will have Atkins, who posted the only double-digit plus-minus Tuesday (+28), and Myisha Hines-Allen, who nearly scored a hat-trick against the Aces (15 points, eight points) assists, eight rebounds). Hines-Allen said Cloud helped her rediscover her confidence after she was in her head against the Minnesota Lynx, telling her, “You dawdle, no one here can take you.” Hines-Allen texted Cloud after being diagnosed with COVID-19, “ima is hitting the dawg pound tonight.” And I did.

As for the Daily Dawn, Tebow said she would “probably tell you she doesn’t have the rhythm you want yet…but if [19 points and seven rebounds in just under 30 minutes Tuesday] It was the best we had, that must be great! That she’s top 20.0 on the team, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.0 pieces per game so early in the season is a positive sign for Washington.

It’s early enough in the season – and there are still important pieces missing that could change teams – that predictions about who will be the last team standing this fall are completely premature. But Mystics’ surprisingly strong start compelled their inclusion in that discussion.

“I feel like the sky’s the limit for us,” Heinz Allen said. “It gives us a lot of confidence, just knowing our whole team isn’t there yet, but we still play great basketball.”

Also this week

W .’s Ongoing Travel Problems

Cloud has never uttered words, nor did it back down on Tuesday, calling the league to commercial aviation practices especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Shout out to the WNBA for taking us a commercial during the pandemic. (No mandates for masks),” she tweeted sarcastically. On Instagram: “At what stage does player safety come first? I’m doing my part…”

Seattle’s Brianna Stewart joined the criticism on Wednesday, after she and Epiphany Prince also went into COVID-19 protocols before the team’s game in Phoenix.

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

Players, and even some owners, have increasingly criticized the league’s commercial travel policies, an issue that came to light in March when New York Liberty was reported to have been fined $500,000 for chartering flights in the second half of the 2021 season, among other rule violations.

Even as WNBA Commissioner Kathy Engelbert continues to stress that renting is too expensive for the league at this time (she cited a cost of $20 million per season, which Williams referenced in her tweet), it’s clear that this will continue to be a hot issue. . And if famous players like Stewart are coming out strong against commercial travel, the pressure is only increasing for the league to find a solution.

holistic conversation

Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart, DiDi Richards, and Te’a Cooper will be featured in the upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which was seen by some as a meaningful amplification of the league on a platform with significant cultural reach.

A few WNBA players have taken to social media to engage in constructive dialogue about what true inclusion might look like.

“I love Sports Illustrated’s attempt to be more inclusive and amplify women in the Western world,” Courtney Williams of the Connecticut Sun tweeted. “At the same time, though, it was hard to see soft sports bras and some shorts.” There is more than one way to look attractive, and I hope in the future we can take advantage of that. “

Liberty’s Stephanie Dolson agreed in an Instagram story: “Couldn’t agree more…there are more inclusive ways of representing W Big Girls are sexy too.”

Williams’ tweet hints at this, but there’s a whole conversation to be had — a conversation outside the confines of this space — about the types of bodies, gender identities, and sexual expressions that are constantly inflated in and around the WNBA. Having this conversation happen is a start, but in the end it should be the brands and companies that are diversifying the people they promote on their platforms.

I look ahead

How will dominant Ryan Howard and Atlanta Dreams, who improved to 2-0 Wednesday with the previously unbeaten Los Angeles Sparks, perform against a tough Aces looking for a rebound win (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET)? The rookie-fueled Indiana Fever was fun to watch as well, taking its first win of 2022 on Tuesday against Lynx. Can they win another against Liberty (Friday, 8:00 PM ET) or Dream (Sunday, 3:00 PM ET)?

The Sun, who are still without Williams (suspended) and DeWanna Bonner (out), have not played since their season-opening loss to Liberty on May 7. How will they respond after a week of rest (versus Sparks, Saturday, 7:00 p.m.)? Meanwhile, Liberty had a poor run (i.e. a 33-point loss) against Chicago Sky Wednesday and had a chance to get back on track against the Fever and the Dallas Wings (Sunday, 2:00 PM ET).

While some players are finally getting dressed for their teams over the next few days, others remain out or have been sidelined due to COVID. As we enter the second weekend of the season, it’s still hard to fathom what teams can do with so much human fluidity.

fancy tips

Who starts:

Sabrina Ionescu: After a disappointing outing on Wednesday against Chicago, expect the former No.1 back to line-up against the Fever and Wings this weekend.

Tina Charles: Charles kicked off the first two games of the week between Phoenix and Seattle on Wednesday. With Mercedes Russell out with a non-basketball related injury and Stewart presumably still sidelined with COVID-19 due to Saturday’s storm, it should have the same effect when these teams meet again.

Dana Evans: You likely won’t see Evans for several minutes once Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper return to Sky (note: Quigley could start her first season on Saturday). Until Quigley gets back into shape, Evans remains a less obvious but still valuable fantasy pick, averaging 19.5 PPG in 30.5 minutes across two games.

Who sits:

Seattle Stewart And Princeas well as Washington clouds They are all in the COVID-19 protocols, so be sure to use them. lynx Natalie Ashunwa The team announced, Wednesday, that it will be out indefinitely, after suffering a strain in the right hamstring, and its 2020 rookie of the year. Crystal DangerfieldThe hardship contract with Fever expired after a tough outing against her former team in Minnesota.

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