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Washington Mystics are primed for a comeback after 2 tough years

With Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark back from injuries, the 2019 WNBA champs look promising.

Elena Delle Donne, right, will be back playing for the Mystics this season after missing most of last season because of an injured back. Delle Donne is the only WNBA player to be in the “40-50-90 club.” In 2019, Delle Donne shot better than 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the foul line. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) season is starting, and one of the big stories may be the Washington Mystics.

The Mystics won the WNBA title in 2019 but barely had time to celebrate. The 2020 season was interrupted by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, and 2021 was marked by lots of injuries. Last season, the Mystics struggled to a 12-20 (12 wins, 20 losses) record and missed the playoffs.

The team outlook for 2022 is brighter. The first reason is that Elena Delle Donne is back after missing almost all of last season with back injuries.

Delle Donne is a unique talent. She is 6 feet 5 inches tall and a gifted shooter. Delle Donne is the only WNBA player to join the “40-50-90 club.” In 2019, Delle Donne shot better than 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the foul line.

Delle Donne may have to rest more than usual this season, but any time she on the court she should help.

Speaking of help, Delle Donne should have plenty. Forward Alysha Clark is returning from a foot injury that made her miss the entire 2021 season. Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud and Myisha Hines-Allen are all back from last year.

Atkins and Hines-Allen are good lessons for kids who play team sports. Sometimes, just as in the past two Mystics seasons, a team might be missing their best player. This is a bad break for the team but may give the remaining players opportunities to play more or to play different roles.

Atkins and Hines-Allen took advantage of their added playing time and responsibilities. After shouldering more of the load for the past two seasons, they should be ready to play important roles on this year’s improved team.

The Mystics have also added 6-foot-5-inch rookie center Shakira Austin from the 2022 WNBA draft. Local basketball fans may know Austin. She was a standout at the University of Maryland before she transferred to the University of Mississippi, where she earned All-Southeastern Conference honors.

Longtime Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault has not been shy about his expectations for this year’s team. He told The Washington Post he thinks that the Mystics will compete for a championship.

That would not be easy. Women’s basketball and the WNBA improve every year. The Chicago Sky is the defending WNBA champion. The Sky had a magic ride through the playoffs after finishing the season with a 16-16 record.

The Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm won more than 20 games last season and should be strong again.

But if the Mystics stay healthy, they should be able to play with any of them.