If the defending WNBA champion Washington Mystics are missing Elena Delle Donne, it sure is not being reflected in their play.
Looking to run their record to 4-0, the Mystics face the Chicago Sky in the Orlando "wubble" on Saturday night.
Much was made about who the Mystics would be missing in their title defense in this unprecedented season. That started with Delle Donne, who is also recuperating from offseason back surgery but was also not granted a medical exemption by the league despite battling Lyme disease. LaToya Sanders and Natasha Cloud also opted out of playing, and offseason acquisition Tina Charles was granted a medical exemption.
Still, Mike Thibault's team has thrived in the early going. The Mystics stayed perfect Thursday night by rolling past Seattle 89-71, racing out to a 12-2 lead and never looking back. Ariel Atkins scored 22 points in what some considered a potential WNBA Finals preview of the league's past two champions, while Myisha Hines-Allen added 17 to go with seven rebounds and five assists.
"We're not getting stagnant. We're trying to move the ball as best we can. .?.?. Just taking the open shot [in the first quarter], not passing up the shot," Atkins explained to The Washington Post. "Not only does that work for me, but [it] works for our team. When we take the shots that are open and don't overpass or overshoot, it gives us the opportunity to do what we do throughout the rest of the game."
Though missing Delle Donne, Washington's offense has picked up where it left off last season. The Mystics are averaging 94.7 points, the most in WNBA history after the first three games of a season after setting a league record in 2019 at 89.3 per contest.
The Sky (2-1) are more than willing partners to run and gun with the Mystics, they finished second in the WNBA in scoring last year at 84.6 point per game. Chicago, though, is looking to bounce back from its first loss after coming up short in an 83-81 defeat to Minnesota on Thursday night.
Azura Stevens had 16 points and 11 rebounds while Cheyenne Parker added 16 and 10, respectively, for the Sky, who had three chances to tie the game in the final seconds as they nearly rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final 3:26.
Courtney Vandersloot also scored 16 points but had an off night ' by her standards ' in terms of distribution with only four assists. Vandersloot, who has set the WNBA single-season assists record in each of the last two seasons, did move into fifth on the league's all-time list in Thursday's loss and has 1,710 dimes over her 10-year career.
Washington took three of four games between the teams last year, reaching the century mark in two of the victories. Delle Donne scored 25 points against her former team in the most recent matchup, a 100-86 Mystics victory in the regular-season finale as she became the first player in WNBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line in a season.