WNBA: Sky-Sparks, Mercury-Aces highlight four-game opening night

So it begins.

The 2022 WNBA season kicks off on Friday evening with four intriguing games: Washington Mystics vs. Indiana Fever at 7 p.m. ET on Facebook; Chicago Sky vs. Los Angeles Sparks at 8 p.m. ET on NBA TV; Phoenix Mercury vs. Las Vegas Aces at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV and Seattle Storm vs. Minnesota Lynx at 10 p.m. ET on WNBA League Pass.

All eight teams enter the season with a number of new faces, both on the court and on the sidelines. These opening games should provide some interesting hints as to how these retooled teams with fare during the 2022 season.

The season officially will begin when the Mystics and Fever tip off in DC. Hopefully, it will mark the start of a healthy season for Elena Delle Donne, who managed to play only three games last season after two back surgeries in the 2020-21 offseason. Unfortunately, it looks like Alysha Clark, who missed the entire 2021 season due to a foot injury, will not yet make her long-awaited debut for the Mystics. Nevertheless, the 2022 Mystics should resemble the pre-2020 iterations of the Thibault era teams, with a high-octane offense and solid-enough defense. Once she arrives from her overseas obligations, new addition Elizabeth Williams will help solidify the DC defense. On the other end of the floor, it will be interesting to see if Rui Machida, joining the WNBA after a stellar performance at last summer’s Olympics for Japan, can unleash some of her offensive wizardry as an off-the-bench spark.

After a forgettable 2021 season, there are reasons to be excited about the 2022 Indiana Fever, even if seems unlikely that their record will vastly improve. The Fever are undergoing a needed refresh, as the return of 74-year-old Lin Dunn and her southern twang to the front office has resulted in an Indy roster reoriented around a more concerted youth movement. Rookies NaLyssa Smith, Lexie Hull, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson, who combine to offer defensive intensity and high-level shooting, can develop into a more sensible supporting cast around the likes of Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians. Although it might take some time for the Fever to coalesce, it will be encouraging if they are competitive with the Mystics on opening night.

Next up, the defending champions will receive their 2021 rings against Candace Parker’s former team, a delicious bit of scheduling shenanigans from the WNBA. It also will be the first time that Parker has taken the court against the Sparks. Despite capturing the title, the Sky decided not to simply run it back, instead importing 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman. The combination of the orchestration of Courtney Vandersloot, the ever-present defense-to-offense threat of Parker and the methodical shot making of Meeseman should strike fear into opponents, including a Sparks team featuring a number of new faces.

The trio of Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter and Jordin Canada will make their purple-and-gold debuts in the Windy City. How Derek Fisher mixes and matches his rotation, and manages the personalities involved, will be scrutinized, even with Kristi Toliver and Katie Lou Samuelson not yet with the team. However, more than these new names, the key to the Sparks’ success lies with Nneka Ogwumike. After a pair of injury-plagued seasons, Ogwumike finding good health and rediscovering her MVP form would make the many complicated decisions facing Fisher easier to answer.

When the Aces and Mercury meet, the sidelines will inspire as much interest as the court, as both Becky Hammon and Vanessa Nygaard will be making their WNBA head coaching debuts. Hammon, certainly, has received much attention for her new role, beginning with her big contract and continuing to her expressed intention to have the Aces fire away from 3.

However, for as much as Hammon is expected to recharge Vegas, the potential difference Nygaard makes for Phoenix need not be overlooked, as former head coach Sandy Brondello had been with the Mercury since 2014. All the more, the absence of Brittney Griner and the arrival of Tina Charles significantly changes things in Phoenix. Last season, Charles was almost an offense unto herself for the Mystics. How will Nygaard merge her skills with those of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi? It also is worth noting that Nygaard served as an assistant coach for Vegas last season, suggesting she might have some extra insight when it comes to slowing down A’ja Wilson and company.

The night’s final matchup between the Lynx and Storm launches the farewell tours of Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird. Both legends will take their final lap around the W surrounded by new teammates who will be key to their squads’ potential successes. In Minnesota, head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve seems less than enthused about the current state of her team, especially on the offensive end. Earlier this week, Reeve surprisingly chose to part ways with Layshia Clarendon, credited with righting the Lynx’s 2021 season, and Crystal Dangerfield, the 2020 Rookie of the Year. These decisions leave last-minute roster addition Odyssey Sims as the Lynx lone primary ball handler. The expected absence of Angel McCoughtry, who recently received a PRP injection, raises further concern about the Lynx’s offense, particularly the important ability to get the ball to Sylvia Fowles.

Things are less unsettled for Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm. The core of Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd equips the Storm one of the most solid and trustworthy top threes in the league. This sense of stability extends to Seattle’s new veteran supporting pieces in Briann January and Jantel Lavender. In contrast, the WNBA return of Gabby Williams gives the Storm some versatility and verve on both ends on the floor.

Game information

Washington Mystics (0-0) vs. Indiana Fever (0-0)

When: Friday, May 6 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, DC

How to watch: Facebook

Key to the matchup: Although Elena Delle Donne put up 21 points in less than 20 minutes of action during the preseason, questions will continue to linger about her condition, with fans trepidatiously fearing any apparent tweak of her back. While reporting suggests she will be on a season-long load management plan, it will be worth monitoring how head coach Mike Thibault manages her minutes in game in order to optimize the Mystics. However, even a managed EDD is dangerous enough to steer her team to a victory.

Mystics injury report: Elena Delle Donne (probable; back), Alysha Clark (out; foot), Elizabeth Williams (out; overseas)

Fever injury report: Danielle Robinson (out; overseas), Bria Hartley (out; overseas), Alaina Coates (out; overseas)

Chicago Sky (0-0) vs. Los Angeles Sparks (0-0)

When: Friday, May 6 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL

How to watch: NBA TV

Key to the matchup: As alluded to above, how head coach Derek Fisher navigates his rotations inspires intrigue. In the front court, how will things shake out with Cambage and the Ogwumike sisters? In the back court, will we see Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter on the court together? Might rookie Rae Burrell get some time running the offense? Without Toliver and Samuelson, can Fisher find the personnel to generate enough spacing on offense? Can the surprising Amy Atwell serve as that 3-point threat? And, will the Sparks’ performance answer some of these questions? Or, will it raise more questions?

Sky injury report: Allie Quigley (out; undisclosed), Kahleah Copper (out; overseas), Julie Allemand (out; overseas), Li Yueru (out; overseas)

Sparks injury report: Olivia Nelson-Ododa (out indefinitely; hip), Katie Lou Samuelson (out; overseas), Kristi Toliver (out; coaching), Amanda Zahui B (out for season; contract suspended)

Phoenix Mercury (0-0) vs. Las Vegas Aces (0-0)

When: Friday, May 6 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ

How to watch: NBA TV

Key to the matchup: What will we learn about the new Aces offense? Head coach Becky Hammon has made it clear that she will encourage her team to embrace the 3-ball, suggesting that she expects the Aces to break the franchise’s record for 3-point attempts on opening night. How will merely taking these shots, much less making them, open up other actions for the Aces offense? What will this extra space allow A’ja Wilson to do? Against a Mercury team missing the anchor of their defense, the Aces’ revamped offense could have the opportunity to get cooking on opening night.

Mercury injury report: Kia Nurse (out indefinitely; knee); Brittney Griner (out indefinitely; personal)

Aces injury report: Chelsea Gray (questionable; ankle)

Seattle Storm (0-0) vs. Minnesota Lynx (0-0)

When: Friday, May 6 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, WA

How to watch: WNBA League Pass

Key to the matchup: Presuming she plays, it not only will be exciting to see Gabby Williams back in the WNBA, but also to see her in a new uniform and in a new context. In Chicago, head coach James Wade struggled to make sense of Williams’ unique skillset; she’s someone who can do things with the ball in her hands but lacks a reliable jumper. The possibility of surrounding Williams with surefire shooting threats in Bird, Stewart and Loyd should help head coach Noelle Quinn maximize Williams’ talents, and will endow the Storm with another player to whom the Lynx must be attuned.

Storm injury report: Gabby Williams (questionable; personal), Mercedes Russell (out; non-basketball injury)

Lynx injury report: Angel McCoughtry (questionable; knee), Kayla McBride (out; overseas), Damiris Dantas (out; foot), Napheesa Collier (out indefinitely; personal)