The Washington Mystics will try to make it home sweet home Saturday night when they christen the Entertainment and Sports Arena against the Atlanta Dream in a rematch of last year's playoff semifinal series.
The Mystics (0-1) shuttled between George Mason and George Washington universities in 2018 while Capital One Arena was undergoing renovations. But in moving from the 18,000-seat arena that houses the Washington Wizards to the 4,200-set Entertainment and Sports Arena in which they are the primary tenant in southeast D.C., the team hopes to build a home-court advantage with a better atmosphere.
"It gets players who are in here working out a little hyped about stuff, like, yeah, we matter," Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault told The Washington Post. "I think that's part of it. … They feel that they're important to the organization, they're important to the city, and, you know, people want them to be successful. I think as a player you get that sense every day here when you walk in that, 'Okay, we have something special going.'"
The Mystics opened their season with an 84-69 loss at Connecticut on May 25. Elena Delle Donne, who averaged 20.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last year in helping Washington reach the WNBA Finals, is expected to play after sitting out the opener with soreness in her left knee.
Emma Meesseman picked up some of the scoring slack, scoring 14 points in her first game back with the team after playing in Belgium last year, while Natasha Cloud and Kristi Tolliver added 11 each. Tolliver should be available despite sitting out most of the second half with a knee injury.
After not playing in nearly a week, Atlanta (1-1) is trying to salvage a split playing on back-to-back nights after being outclassed 82-66 by the reigning WNBA champion Seattle Storm on Friday night. Brittany Sykes scored 12 points, but the Dream had no answer for a 16-4 Storm run that bridged the first and second quarters and resulted in 13-point first-half deficit.
Atlanta tried to make a game of it in the second half, whittling an 18-point deficit to 11 midway through the third quarter, but a Seattle run put the game out of reach. Dream coach Nicki Collen then opted to empty the bench to save her starters for this game while getting some of her younger players some minutes.
"Felt like more than (a) 16-point loss, I can tell you that," Collen told the team's official website after Atlanta shot 6 of 23 from 3-point range and 32.9 percent overall. "It was a little bit of everything tonight. It wasn't pretty."
The Mystics rallied from a 2-1 series deficit to beat the Dream in five games in last year's semifinals, winning the decisive contest in Atlanta.