Sky’s home opener provides big test as they work to develop chemistry

The Sky have controlled games on the defensive end, and point guard Dana Evans has been a critical player in that effort.

SHARE Sky’s home opener provides big test as they work to develop chemistry
Dana Evans has picked up opponents full-court, setting a tone with plays that aren’t necessarily reflected in the box score.

Dana Evans has picked up opponents full-court, setting a tone with plays that aren’t necessarily reflected in the box score.

Getty Images

Tests await teams every season. It didn’t take long for the Sky to be hit with their first: a pair of injuries.

Center Li Yueru arrived in Chicago with an undisclosed lower-extremity injury and was put on a full-season contract suspension on May 18. Newly arrived forward Isabelle Harrison, a projected starter, was ruled out indefinitely this week after surgery to repair her left meniscus.

Heading into the season opener against the Lynx last Friday, there was uncertainty about how the Sky would face their next trial: competition. But they earned road victories against the Lynx and Mercury with players who took the “next player up” mentality to heart. And now they’ll face their third and arguably most telling test: a matchup against former Sky centerpiece Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics in the home opener Friday night at Wintrust Arena.

“A team’s record doesn’t indicate anything about who they are,” coach and general manager James Wade said. “We know every team we play, we have to respect the game. If we look at the Mystics differently than the Lynx or the Aces as being better than whoever, it’d be a disrespect to the teams in the league.”

Yet there’s no arguing the Mystics are a different level of competition.

Delle Donne, traded to Washington in 2017 for guard/forward Kahleah Copper and forward/center Stefanie Dolson, said before the season that she’s back at 100% after multiple back surgeries. She sat out the 2020 pandemic “bubble” season and played just three games in 2021 because of extended rehab. Last season, she played in 25 games, sitting out the rest as part of a scheduled absence routine to help her ramp back up to her full capabilities.

Chalk it up to other teams’ big moves in free agency or the earlier uncertainty surrounding Delle Donne’s health, but the Mystics largely have been left out of the contender conversation this year. That’s a mistake.

“They know their roles and stick to them,” Sky guard Dana Evans said. “They’re a good defensive team, so we just have to be ready. We have to continue to do what we’ve been doing.”

The Sky have been controlling games on defense, and Evans has been a critical part of that effort. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but two games in, the Sky’s 85.4 defensive rating is second in the WNBA behind the Aces. They’re fourth in steals per game and third in blocks.

In the first two games, Evans has picked up opponents full-court, setting a tone with plays that aren’t necessarily reflected in the box score.

“It’s something we talked about in the offseason and last year in the exit meetings,” Wade said. “We wanted her to take the next step, and for her to do that, it would be defensively.”

Evans shared a vulnerable moment with reporters after the win over the Mercury on Sunday. She’d spent a day away from the team Saturday to attend the funeral of her cousin, Jerrett Mitchell.

She’s dedicating her season to him.

“I know my cousin would want me to go out there and be the best Dana I could be,” she said. “I remembered and thought about him [Sunday] in that aspect, and that made me play so much harder.”

The Sky, while feeling naturally connected, are still developing their on-court chemistry. Friday is an opportunity to take another step. A win would show how competitive they can be in the first season of a rebuild. A loss would be a first chance to navigate failure together.

The Latest
All four sessions are scheduled to last two-and-a-half hours. Three will be held at City Colleges locations, starting July 22 at Malcolm X College. A fourth roundtable, open only to ages 13 to 24, will be at the Harold Washington Library.
Lazarious Watt, 16, is charged as an adult and was ordered held in custody pending trial.
Grubhub shoppers will be able to order from Jewel-Osco stores, following a national partnership between the Chicago-based food delivery app and Albertsons, owner of Jewel-Osco.
Just one week after the Sky and Fever drew the WNBA’s biggest TV audience in 23 years — 2.25 million viewers on CBS — the teams broke ESPN’s WNBA viewership record with 2.3 million watching at home.
Jahmere Washington has picked Wisconsin and Jovan Clark committed to Wyoming.