The Washington Mystics are set to get a big boost on Sunday as star forward Elena Delle Donne is listed as probable to make her season debut in their game against the Seattle Storm.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault spoke to reporters on Saturday and indicated that Delle Donne went through five-on-five action during practice and played without any hesitation. Delle Donne will be under a minutes restriction, though it's not clear exactly how much she'll be able to play.
Delle Donne, who in 2019 won her second MVP and led the Mystics to their first title in franchise history, has not played since the WNBA Finals that year. She underwent back surgery to address a herniated disc following the 2019 season but was expected to be ready to go for 2020. When the pandemic hit, however, Delle Donne opted out of the bubble because of health concerns. Then, as she was preparing for this season, she reaggravated her back injury and had to get a second surgery in January of this year.
Although it was clear she wouldn't be ready for the start of training camp, Delle Donne's initial goal was to play in the team's season opener back in May. That, obviously, did not happen, and the timeline shifted to a post-Olympic break return. Delle Donne started practicing a few weeks ago, and has now been cleared to give it a go in an actual game.
"It's been mentally incredible just to be back with my teammates and competing again," Delle Donnne said earlier this month. "It's been a really tough process, but I've been able to stay the course and honestly lock in to each day."
Prior to the injuries, Delle Donne was one of the best players in the league and a perennial MVP candidate. But after two back surgeries and nearly two years without playing in a game, it remains to be seen when -- and if -- she can get back to that level. The Mystics hope it will be sooner rather than later.
Without Delle Donne, and saddled with all sorts of other health problems, the Mystics have understandably struggled. Heading into Sunday's matchup with the Storm, they sit in 10th place at 8-13, which has them out of the playoff picture. However, they're only half a game behind the eighth-place Dallas Wings, and two games behind the sixth-place Chicago Sky. If Delle Donne is even something close to her usual self, the Mystics still have time to go on a late-season run.