Wings look to continue making history after first win of the postseason

ARLINGTON — The Dallas Wings are attempting to win a playoff series Wednesday night, and there are at least two compelling reasons you almost certainly can’t remember the last time this franchise played. One is that it took place on September 18, 2009, two days before the Cowboys played their first game at AT&T Stadium and lost to the New York Giants.

That was quite a while ago.

The other, even for those who follow the WNBA, is that since that win, the franchise has had to relocate twice before arriving in Arlington, where the Wings call themselves Dallas (similar to one of their neighbors a few blocks east). They were the Detroit Shock when they beat the Atlanta Dream and slipped out of the first round 13 years ago. After some less than memorable seasons in Tulsa, the club landed here seven years ago and managed to secure his First playoff win on Sunday.

That puts Wednesday’s winner at College Park Center into the second round, a goal Vickie Johnson reached regularly as a New York Liberty guard two decades ago (played for former Mavs coach Rickie Adubato) and is now attempting to advance here as a sophomore head coach of the Wings.

Dallas was just 18-18 in the regular season — an improvement from last year’s 14-18 — but that gave the Wings their sixth seed. A .500 record marked the club’s first lossless season since landing here in 2016.

“We are building something special here. We’re building a foundation that we want to hold for a long time,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s practice session. “We want to get used to being in the playoffs. Last year we made the playoffs. Now we want to win games. Now we want to advance to the next round, which is very important.”

Promotion seemed unlikely two weeks ago when the club announced that Arike Ogunbowale, the club’s top scorer, would miss the rest of the regular season and at least the first round after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle injury. But she practiced on Tuesday and now, quite surprisingly, listed as likely for Game 3.

Her return presents at least a bit of a dilemma, as the team played their best basketball in her absence. In back-to-back games without them during the regular season, Dallas beat Chicago and Las Vegas, the top two seeds in the WNBA. Against defending Chicago champion Marina Mabrey — once Arike’s teammate in Notre Dame backcourt when the team beat No. 1 UConn — scored a season high of 26 points.

They began to believe.

“Of course you never want a player like that to get lost,” said Mabrey. “It’s not ideal. But sometimes you change your identity a bit. She’s such a great goalscorer that we’re going to get her the ball and stay out of her way. I think when you win games like that (without them) it gave us confidence.”

It’s not unlike the start of the Mavs’ postseason. Most people assumed Dallas would have little chance without Luka Doncic and perhaps the club would have been sidelined for a long stretch of games. But before he could return from injury, the Mavs took a 2-1 lead.

A 2-1 lead against the Connecticut Sun propels the Wings into the second round. And assuming Ogunbowale is playing, even if she’s playing less than 100 percent, any number of players have turned up to fill the goal gap in her absence. Center Teaira McCowan was recently named WNBA Western Conference Player of the Month.

It wasn’t always a smooth ride. The wings lost Game 1 by 25 points before blowing out the sun early in Game 2 and holding on to an 89-79 win.

Now, with the unusual format of lower seeding hosting the deciding game, the Wings are getting their only chance at a home game in the first round.

“It’s hard to win away against one of these higher seeded players,” said Mabrey. “We had 80 minutes to beat them in my eyes. They got us the first 40 and we got the next 40, so we’re back in Dallas now. Can we pack up the store like they did?”

The Wings averaged 3,787 viewers this season and would hope to hit that figure Wednesday. It could be their only home playoff game in 2022. Or it could be the next building block in that foundation that Johnson believes is being built here.

“We have the second youngest team in the league. I think a win would do great things for this franchise and for the mentality of these players,” Johnson said. “Great things for the city of Dallas. And for the state. To have the only WNBA franchise in the state of Texas is huge.”

The Houston Comets won the first four league titles but ceased operations less than a decade after that run. The San Antonio Silver Stars produced some good players but moved to Las Vegas five years ago. So it’s the Dallas Wings.

And on Wednesday, the Wings hope to remake their own identity.

Twitter: @Tim Cowlishaw

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