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Inside the W: First Impressions

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

With just a handful of days gone by in the 2018 WNBA regular season, those first impressions are forming around the league. To be clear, a first impression is far different than a final conclusion, but there are some early things worth noting as the schedule gets into full swing.

The Phoenix Mercury have reloaded and are ready to challenge the Sparks and the Lynx. The Mercury’s 2-0 start includes two wins over teams that are expected to be much improved in Dallas and Seattle, two teams that have two of the best post players in the league on their rosters in Liz Cambage and Breanna Stewart, respectively. Diana Taurasi is rested and motivated. DeWanna Bonner is back on the floor and as versatile as ever. Brittney Griner looks typically dominant and Briann January is the floor leader that Phoenix has been looking for. The Mercury have come to play. The last two seasons that Phoenix started the season 2-0 – 2009 and 2014 – they went on to win titles. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Dallas is going to need to rely on Liz Cambage early and often. A hamstring injury to Glory Johnson will keep the forward out for at least a month. Theresa Plaisance isn’t ready to play yet as she preps a return from her ACL injury, and the Wings are going to need Cambage to hold things down in the middle. After five years away from the WNBA, Cambage put up 21 points and nine rebounds against the Atlanta Dream on Sunday. She also blocked four shots. Dallas will need more of that.

The Sparks don’t need to be a full-strength to be one of the best teams in the league. Candace Parker stayed in Los Angeles with a minor back injury as the Sparks made the opening-game trip to Minnesota to face their rival Lynx. And Los Angeles won anyway. The Sparks followed up that game with a win vs Indiana on Tuesday. Los Angeles is hungry, experienced and following coach Brian Agler’s “no excuses” mantra. Parker will only make them more formidable.

Elena Delle Donne wants into the MVP race. The Mystics’ star was settling in a year ago to her new home in Washington and Mike Thibault’s position-less basketball game plan. She was hardly slacking, but averaged less than 20 points a game for the season for the first time in three years. She is off to a strong start 2018, doling out seven assists to go with 13 points in the season opening win over Indiana and then followed up Tuesday with a 23-point, 11-rebound effort in the second game against Las Vegas.

Change is going to be good for the Chicago Sky. After three games, including their first two at Wintrust Arena in downtown Chicago, the remade Sky have jumped out to a 2-1 record. In the absence of point guard Courtney Vandersloot, veteran guard Allie Quigley has picked up the slack and is among the early league leaders in scoring. With rookies Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams playing well early, the team who was picked 10th in the preseason WNBA.com Power Rankings, looks energized.

Diamond DeShields is pro ready after her time in Turkey. Speaking of DeShields, who let go of her final year of college eligibility to begin her professional career this past winter in Turkey, it might have been the right move. DeShields already looks pro ready, with 18 points in her WNBA debut against Indiana. DeShields could be a darkhorse candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Minnesota is going to be mad for a while. They got their championship rings. They sold out the arena. The fans celebrated the huge Nike billboard of Maya Moore on the way into the newly remodeled Target Center. And then they lost on a buzzer-beater to their heated rival, the Los Angeles Sparks. That’s going to sting for a while. And there is a decent chance that the Lynx will be taking out that frustration on their upcoming opponents. While they wait for their next shot at L.A. on Sunday, June 3.

The Atlanta Dream chemistry is going to take some time to develop. Angel McCoughtry is back and new head coach Nicki Collen wants her team to be a defensive power in the league, but both of those things are going to take time to settle in, if the Dream’s first game is an indication. A 101-78 loss to Dallas shows that the defense still needs work and McCoughtry, who scored 13 points in the opener, needs more minutes with her new teammates to pull it together. Wednesday’s 81-63 victory over the Sky is a definite sign of improvement.

The Las Vegas Aces need to score more. The Aces are averaging less than 70 points a game so far. But when you are missing all three of your starting guards, that tends to put a drag on your offense. Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum are on the way back after finishing their seasons in Turkey. That should provide Las Vegas a boost.

The Connecticut Sun are going to score. Can the opponents keep up? Every single Sun player scored in their season-opening win over Las Vegas. The Sun shared the ball, racking up 27 assists on 37 field-goals. They hit 11 3-pointers. Connecticut has as many scoring options as any team in the WNBA, especially with the addition of Chiney Ogwumike back into the lineup. The challenge for the rest of the league will be to keep pace.

Seattle’s point guard of the future has already arrived. Jordin Canada was drafted to be the heir to Sue Bird at point guard. And while Bird isn’t going anywhere yet, Canada, the UCLA product, scored nine points in 20 minutes in the opener against Phoenix and collected four steals. She was on the floor during crunch time of a close game against one of the WNBA’s most experienced teams. All of that bodes well for a bright future.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

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