clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preview: Get excited for the WNBA’s four-game opening night, highlighted by Mystics-Liberty

An anticipated showdown in the nation’s capital between the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty headlines opening night in the WNBA (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Connecticut Sun at Indiana Fever (7 p.m. ET), Chicago Sky at Minnesota Lynx (8 p.m. ET) and Phoenix Mercury at Los Angeles Sparks (11 p.m. ET, ESPN) fill out the rest of the Friday night schedule.

Atlanta Dream v Washington Mystics
With Elena Delle Donne and an elite defense, the Washington Mystics have the opportunity to spoil the debut of the new-look New York Liberty.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s go!

The first 40-game season in WNBA history, totaling 480 games, begins with a four-game Friday night feature, headlined by the new-look New York Liberty visiting the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Mystics (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV). In other action, the Indiana Fever will welcome the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m. ET) and the Chicago Sky will meet the Minnesota Lynx (8 p.m. ET) before the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks face off in the night’s final game (11 p.m. ET, ESPN).

While all eyes will be on the official debut of the seafoam super team, opening night is an opportunity for the home team in DC to send a message. The loaded Liberty and restocked defending-champion Aces are considered the clear class of the league. The Mystics, however, have a chance to crash this two-team championship chase with an optimized Elena Delle Donne surrounded by swarming, swaggering defense. The league’s best defense last season, Washington has added three-time All-Defensive team member and two-time steals champ Brittney Sykes, forming a perimeter defensive corps of Sykes, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud that is backed by post Shakira Austin, who impressed with her defensive instincts during her rookie season. Although the Liberty have explosive offensive potential, the Mystics could cause troubles for a squad still establishing cohesion, and, in turn, announce their championship bona fides by securing the perceived upset.

The WNBA debut of Aliyah Boston takes top billing when the Indiana Fever host the Connecticut Sun, as the women’s hoops world anticipates observing how the No. 1 pick asserts her intelligence on defense and operates on offense when not facing double (or triple or quadruple) teams. Yet, as with Mystics-Liberty, other takeaways could emerge. Fever fans should be just as excited about a potential sophomore leap from NaLyssa Smith. The 2023 Athletes Unlimited Basketball Champion starred in the Fever’s final preseason game, flashing an all-around offensive repertoire that, complementing the crafty Kelsey Mitchell, can lead to a more threatening attack under first-year head coach Christie Sides. If Smith can go to work against the likes of Alyssa Thomas, the Fever might be ready to rise up the WNBA standing sooner than expected.

Seeing the revitalized Sun in action also intrigues. Despite a run to the 2022 WNBA Finals, it increasingly was clear that Connecticut needed a refresh, leading to an offseason of change when the organization eschewed the previously post-heavy roster short on shooting in favor of a group better suited for a modern offensive system, all without sacrificing the Sun’s signature defensive aggressiveness. The key to continued success for the Sun? Tiffany Hayes, who brings the kind offensive dynamism from the perimeter that Connecticut has lacked due to her ability to pressure the rim and willingness to take pull-up threes.

Friday’s third contest is a rematch of the joyous WNBA Canada Game, just with Chicago traveling north to Minnesota instead of north of the border. Expect this matchup to look different from last weekend’s affair, as additional personnel will result in shifted rotations and strategies. With Marina Mabrey in uniform, the most interesting strategic element will be the Sky’s offense, as the pass-happy system of previous Sky squads is ill-suited for a roster featuring players who thrive as isolation artists or play finishers. How will head coach James Wade situate the trio of Mabrey, Kahleah Copper and Courtney Williams for success? For Minnesota, the insertion of Napheesa Collier into the lineup gives Cheryl Reeve’s offense a fulcrum around which No. 2 pick Diamond Miller and Minnesota’s slate of shooters can orbit, providing greater clarity about what the Lynx will look like this season.

The final score of the night’s final game will be secondary. When the Mercury and Sparks take the court in LA, everyone should simply celebrate Brittney Griner’s safe and happy return to the W. Not an ounce of pressure should be placed on her to find her former, familiar and elite form. Yet, expectations likely will inescapably intervene because, if Phoenix is to approach their ambitions, they need BG to be the team’s best player. The Sparks likewise enter opening night with questions about their ultimate outlook, with new head coach Curt Miller tasked with maximizing a re-envisioned roster featuring a combination of familiar faces, imported and experienced vets and (hopefully) ascendant young players.

Game information

Washington Mystics (0-0) vs. New York Liberty (0-0)

When: Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, DC

How to watch: NBA TV

Mystics injury report: Myisha Hines-Allen (out indefinitely; knee)

Liberty injury report: Courtney Vandersloot (probable; concussion), Jonquel Jones (questionable; foot), Nyara Sabally (out; knee), Marine Johannes (out indefinitely; temporary contract suspension)

Indiana Fever (0-0) vs. Connecticut Sun (0-0)

When: Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN

How to watch: WNBA League Pass

Sun injury report: Lauren Cox (questionable; personal)

Fever injury report: Victoria Vivians (questionable; undisclosed), Bernadett Határ (out indefinitely; temporary contract suspension)

Chicago Sky (0-0) vs. Minnesota Lynx (0-0)

When: Friday, May 19 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center in Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: WNBA League Pass

Sky injury report: Marina Mabrey (probable; personal), Elizabeth Williams (questionable; concussion), Isabelle Harrison (out indefinitely; knee injury), Ruthy Hebard (out indefinitely; maternity leave), Li Yueru (out for season; lower-body injury)

Lynx injury report: Jessica Shepard (probable; oblique), Bridget Carleton (questionable; personal), Nikolina Milic (questionable; personal), Lindsay Allen (doubtful; hamstring); Natalie Achonwa (out indefinitely; maternity leave)

Phoenix Mercury (0-0) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (0-0)

When: Friday, May 19 at 11 p.m. ET

Where: Arena in Los Angeles, CA

How to watch: ESPN

Mercury injury report: Sophie Cunningham (out; knee), Shey Peddy (out; knee), Megan Gustafson (out; foot), Skylar Diggins-Smith (out indefinitely; maternity leave)

Sparks injury report: Azurá Stevens (out; back), Jasmine Thomas (out indefinitely; knee), Katie Lou Samuelson (out for season; maternity leave)