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WNBA opening night: What to watch for in each game

Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky will look to defend their title. (Kena Krutsinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA regular season begins tonight, with eight of the league’s teams squaring off across four matchups.

Indiana Fever vs. Washington Mystics

7 p.m. ET, Facebook

Friday’s season opener marks the return of a healthy Elena Delle Donne to the court. Delle Donne has played just 52 minutes of WNBA basketball since winning a championship with the Mystics in 2019.

She had a great showing in the team’s preseason game against the Lynx, scoring 21 points on 9-for-13 field goal shooting.

Elizabeth Williams has yet to rejoin the team from overseas, leaving room for rookies like Shakira Austin to get some playing time and potentially carve out a significant role later on in the season.

“She’s one of the rare young players who can make an immediate impact on the defensive end of the court,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said of Austin.

The Fever, meanwhile, will take the court with five rookies, the most of any WNBA team – and four of them could crack the starting lineup. NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 overall pick, should be one of them.

Los Angeles Sparks vs. Chicago Sky

8 p.m. ET, NBA TV

Liz Cambage will make her LA debut against Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky, who will begin their title defense in the season opener.

Despite losing key player Diamond DeShields, the Sky have kept most of their core together. The team added the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP in Emma Meesseman.

On Friday, though, the team will be without Allie Quigley, who was ruled out for the first game with a knee injury. The decision is precautionary, with Sky head coach James Wade saying the team wants “to make sure we’re very careful with her” and that she’s at 100 percent before returning.

The Sky expect to have her back by their third game, a road matchup against the Minnesota Lynx on May 14.

In addition to Cambage, the Sparks added Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson from Seattle as well as Chennedy Carter from Atlanta. With better depth and scoring, Cambage expects the Sparks to compete this season, saying that it’ll be a wild summer in the WNBA and that “we’re gonna have a ring at the end of it.” The quest to back up that verbiage begins Friday.

Las Vegas Aces vs. Phoenix Mercury

10 p.m. ET, NBA TV

The time has arrived for Becky Hammon’s first regular-season game as a WNBA head coach and it could not come in a bigger matchup – a rematch of last year’s conference finals, which the Mercury won 3-2.

Phoenix is expected to contend for the WNBA title after finishing as the runner-up last season. The Mercury have added Diamond DeShields – who was a part of the title-winning opposition – as well as 2021 WNBA scoring leader Tina Charles. Look for the Mercury to come out firing.

The team will be without Brittney Griner, who remains detained in Russia.

The Aces also have some unfinished business this season after finishing first in the West but losing in the conference finals to the Mercury. Despite losing Cambage to the Sparks, A’ja Wilson returns, as well as Dearica Hamby and Riquna Williams. All three will look to factor into Friday night’s game.

“There’s definitely unfinished business,” Williams said. “We’re going to get it done. Some way we’re going to figure it out.”

Minnesota Lynx vs. Seattle Storm

10 p.m. ET, Twitter

The Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm will face off in a clash of titans between Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird. Both are likely in their final seasons in the WNBA.

Alongside Kayla McBride, Fowles will attempt to fill the hole left by Napheesa Collier, who is expecting her first child later this month. Fowles, the WNBA’s career leader in rebounds and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, will factor in both offensively and defensively.

The Storm are led by Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. Stewart is coming back from foot surgery but has had a strong preseason and looks to be fully healthy in Noelle Quinn’s first full season as head coach.

Neither team has any rookies gracing their rosters and bring significant veteran presence to the court.