Two months and 10 days after its scheduled start before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the WNBA began its 24th season in Bradenton, Florida. It was a treat to see basketball again, but it was also a solemn reminder of the social justice issues-- especially with how the league is honoring Breonna Taylor -- that WNBA players are putting at the forefront this season.
Here's what we learned from the first three games of 2020.
1. Strong start for Sparks
We all remember how badly things ended for the Sparks last season, with Candace Parker benched as the Connecticut Sun swept the Sparks in the WNBA semifinals. On Friday, on the eve of their 2020 season opener, Parker was asked about her relationship with coach Derek Fisher, and she gave a very honest answer.
"For me, there's not too many days left of playing basketball," said the 34-year-old Parker, who is in her 13th WNBA season. "We are in the spotlight, and we are out there, so when you see different individuals that work with each other have issues, in some ways it's no different than organizations and employees that have problems.
"I'm one of those that it's between him and I, and we'll see how it goes."
It went really well Saturday, as the Sparks cruised over the Phoenix Mercury 99-76 to start the season. The Sparks shot 55.9% from the field, led by Nneka Ogwumike and Seimone Augustus, who went a combined 14-of-14. Augustus, who signed with the Sparks as a free agent after 14 seasons with Minnesota, had 14 points, more than she scored in any of the 13 games she played for the Lynx last season while slowed by injury.
"It's been a smooth transition," said Augustus, 36. "Coach Fisher has been very open with communication and making sure I understood what he expected from me. It was no pressure, no stress. Just come out and play ball."
Ogwumike, who as the president of the players' union has had a lot of responsibility off the court in getting the WNBA's bubble set up, looked like her usual efficient self: 21 points on 8-of-8 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line, with seven rebounds. Parker had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Chelsea Gray had 13 points and seven assists.
Don't have ESPN? Get instant access.
The Sparks didn't just look good offensively, which was expected, but they also held Phoenix center Brittney Griner to eight points. In the third quarter, the Sparks outscored the Mercury 30-8.
It's just one game, but the Sparks couldn't have asked for a better one to open this season.
"We were happy to see what we saw tonight from our group," Fisher said, adding of Parker, "I think she feels just physically in a place where she can start to build over the next few weeks. She's in really good condition, and she's going to get better."
2. Ionescu gets a good lesson from Storm
Ionescu was the only one of the New York Liberty's seven rookies to start their season-opening 87-71 loss to Seattle. Ionescu shot 4-for-17 overall and 0-for-8 from behind the arc for 12 points. But she was going against the preseason favorites, a team with the experience and personnel to know how to frustrate a young guard.
"This is a good test because they're so long, and they're so aggressive in the pick-and-roll," New York coach Walt Hopkins said of how the Storm defended Ionescu. "In college, if she ever had anyone bother her, it was those long, athletic, aggressive teams that tried to disrupt her in the pick-and-roll. So it was a good thing for her to see.
"But it's nothing she hasn't done before or seen before. She got sped up a few times. On my end, I didn't do a good enough job off the ball for those traps to move into an angle where she could make those passes. All in all, I think she dealt with everything really well."
The Liberty saw some positives from two other rookies as well: Leaonna Odom and Jocelyn Willoughby each scored nine points.
3. Stewie's and Sue's return looked seamless
Seattle was a good team -- but not a championship contender -- last season, with Breanna Stewart (Achilles tendon) and Sue Bird (knee surgery) sidelined. The two are at very different stages of their careers -- Stewart is 25, and Bird is 39 -- but the two UConn grads and former No. 1 picks are linked in how much confidence and poise they bring to the Storm.
That was the case Saturday, as Stewart had 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists, and Bird had 11 points and 5 assists. With Jewell Loyd adding 14 points and Jordin Canada 10, the Storm looked solid.
That included Seattle's lone rookie, Ezi Magbegor, the youngest player in the league at 20. The 6-foot-4 center from Australia was drafted in 2019 but didn't play in the WNBA last year. On Saturday, in less than 12 minutes against New York, she was 3-for-4 from the field, with seven points and three rebounds.
"We're trying to just bring her along and see how she acclimates," Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. "She really proved she can come in and help us."
4. Don't count out the Mystics
Before Saturday's game with the Indiana Fever, Washington coach Mike Thibault said, "I'm not quite sure what to expect. I'm like Curious George today, trying to see what we bring."
The defending champion Mystics are missing four players who started most of their games last season, including 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne. They also don't have key addition Tina Charles, who is out with a medical exemption. But don't start playing sad music for the Mystics -- not based on their debut, a 101-76 thumping of Indiana.
Admittedly, the Fever -- led by Kelsey Mitchell's 25 points -- didn't look very sharp offensively or defensively. Maybe things will improve once the No. 3 draft pick, forward Lauren Cox, is able to join the team. She's still in quarantine after arriving in Florida on Thursday.
But the Mystics were the story of Saturday's final game. You know how sometimes in college, a class of stars graduates from a team, but the players who return are a lot better than most realized? The Mystics looked like that. In her third season in the WNBA, former Louisville standout Myisha Hines-Allen had a career-high 27 points, plus 10 rebounds.
"She just got stuck in a tough position last year with so many great post players," Thibault said. "She knew that when Tina or Elena wasn't going to play, this was a great opportunity for her to make a statement about her game."
Wing Aerial Powers had 16 points, and center Emma Meesseman, last year's WNBA Finals MVP, had 14.
We'll see how the Mystics build on that: On Tuesday, they're in a rematch of last year's WNBA Finals, as they meet Connecticut, and on Thursday, they take on Seattle.
5. What can we expect in Sunday's openers?
The WNBA's other six teams have their openers Sunday, starting with Connecticut vs. the Minnesota Lynx (ESPN, noon ET). The Sun came within a victory of the WNBA title last year, but like the Mystics, they don't have their top threat from 2019. Post player Jonquel Jones is sitting out this season, though the Sun get a big addition in DeWanna Bonner, the longtime Phoenix standout.
The Lynx have just one holdover from their 2011-17 championship days: center Sylvia Fowles. Napheesa Collier returns after her rookie of the year season, and it will be interesting to see if Minnesota's top draft pick this year, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, can make an impact as a rookie.
Then, at 3 p.m. ET on ABC, the Las Vegas Aces take on the Chicago Sky, with the Aces hoping that star forward A'ja Wilson, who has an injured ankle, is able to play. Since the schedule came out, the Sky have been reminded of their second-round heartbreak in last year's playoffs, when they lost to Vegas on Dearica Hamby's half-court heave. The Sky's Diamond DeShields, like Wilson entering her third WNBA season, will have a lot of eyes on her, as she is expected to have a big season.
The Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream (5 p.m. ET) is a rookie watch game. The Wings have three 2020 top-10 draft picks in No. 2 Satou Sabally, No. 5 Bella Alarie and No. 7 Tyasha Harris. The Dream have No. 4 Chennedy Carter, the scoring whiz from Texas A&M who's expected to get a lot of court time for Atlanta.
Ionescu drops 12 points in quiet WNBA debut
Sabrina Ionescu struggles with her shot but plays a nice floor game in her WNBA debut with the Liberty, an 87-71 loss to the Storm.
Storm, Liberty head to locker room before national anthem
Players from the Storm and Liberty exit the court before the national anthem and dedicate the season to Breonna Taylor as part of the WNBA's social justice initiative.
Ionescu follows miss for her first WNBA bucket
Sabrina Ionescu's runner is too strong, but she grabs her own rebound and lays the ball in for her first basket.