Any other year, an early-season matchup between two undefeated WNBA heavyweights who won the league title the previous two seasons would be cause for all sorts of hyperbole and over-the-top proclamations.
But there’s nothing ordinary about this truncated 22-game WNBA regular-season schedule that’s being played entirely inside a bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Storm has had little time to savor its 2-0 start or ramp up emotions for Thursday’s 3 p.m. PDT matchup (aired on ESPN) against defending WNBA champion Washington Mystics considering they’re in the middle of a head-spinning three-games-in-five-day stretch.
“The turnaround is really fast especially (with) those late games,” Storm backup center Mercedes Russell said. “But we get hyped for every single game no matter if we play every other day.
“Just bringing energy for every single day and being excited for every single game is important for everybody.”
Still, it’s dangerous for the Storm to put too much emphasis into one game knowing they have to return to the court less than 48 hours later on Saturday against the Los Angeles Sparks, which is considered another WNBA title contender.
“They are coming fast,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg following Tuesday’s 90-66 win over Minnesota, which ended after midnight in Florida. “Nobody got in bed probably until about 2 o’clock eastern time, so you have a quick turnaround.
“We practice (Wednesday) from 3-5. So getting the video, getting prepared, scouting the game from last night and … working on the preparation for Washington is a challenge when you’re playing every other day.”
Admittedly, the Storm doesn’t practice as hard as it did during the two-week training camp because the coaching staff and trainers have placed a high priority on keeping players healthy and rested at the expense of 5-on-5 drills during workouts.
“I’ve challenged the players to do their homework,” Kloppenburg said. “We’re sending them extra film of our upcoming opponents. I just want them to be as well prepared as they can individually be because we can’t do as much on the court physically the day before (games).”
Washington isn’t the same team that lost to Seattle in the 2018 WNBA Finals and won it all year.
The Mystics have racked up two impressive wins despite the absence of two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders and newcomer Tina Charles who are all sitting out this season.
Aerial Powers and Myisha Hines-Allen are each averaging 21.5 points, while Emma Messeman and Ariel Atkins average 13.0 apiece.
Washington has totaled 195 points in its first two contests and is second in the WNBA while averaging 97.5 points per game.
“They’ve had some players step up that maybe didn’t have a big role last year on that championship team,” Kloppenburg said. “And they’re very well coached. Mike (Thibault) is an outstanding coach.
“They have some veteran players that they are integrating into their system. They have Meesseman. They have an excellent backcourt with Powers and Atkins and Leilani Mitchell. They’re very good. … It’ll be a tough game, and I think our players are looking forward to tomorrow night.”
The Mystics are also in the middle of a three-games-in-five-days stretch, and its relative lack of depth could be costly on short rest. Washington, which has designated two roster spots for Delle Donne and Charles, relies on a nine-player rotation and its starting unit ranks second in the league averaging 75.5 points.
Conversely, Seattle utilizes its entire 12-player roster depending on the matchups, which is a rarity in a league with teams heavily dependent on its top-tier talent.
Storm subs average 34.0 points, which ranks third in the WNBA, and its starters average 54.5 points.
If both teams were full strength, it wouldn’t be difficult to envision Seattle and Washington recreating a rematch of the 2018 WNBA Finals in this year’s championship series.
“To me I’m looking at all the teams and everybody is going to be a battle,” Kloppenburg said. “Any of those teams can beat the so-called top teams. We have to be well-prepared for every game.
“Honestly, it’s really wide open. Keeping fresh legs and staying healthy is going to play a big role in this.”