Sun still have a chance in a season where the buzz has returned

Mohegan — It wasn't so long ago, when Mike Thibault, the man who will occupy the other bench Tuesday night, built this into an entity that regularly filled most of the seats inside Mohegan Sun Arena. A team that was a conversation piece inside coffee shops and gin mills here in our corner of the world — and a few other state outposts, too.

And so maybe this is what will pass for victory in 2019 for the Connecticut Sun: They matter again around here. The buzz has returned. People are talking again. There's more media at the games. More butts in the seats. More social media chatter.

This is significant, especially given the abyss into which the franchise fell after doing the dumbest thing it ever did and maybe the dumbest thing in WNBA history (which is saying something): fire Thibault after a 28-win season and a trip to the conference finals in 2012.

Because let the record show that it took nearly three years for the franchise to win 28 games combined after Thibault was dismissed.

Happily, Curt Miller is here now, author of three straight 20-win seasons and the current trip to the WNBA Finals. The quest for the whole Heineken truck resumes Tuesday night in Neon Uncasville, where the daughters of Sun need a win to stay alive.

Their path to a championship, full of such hope and wonder in the moments before tipoff Sunday, ended with the thud of a dropped bowling ball a few hours later, a hideous 94-81 loss. Hence the aforementioned thought that victory in 2019 may be through the newfound relevance of the old days and not necessarily the hoisting of the trophy.

Still, there are games to be played and if nothing else, we know this of sports: All we know is that we never know. The great unwritten script.

The Sun have an opportunity beginning Tuesday. And into next season, too. This is a young team that has captured the fancy of its fanbase again. They've done so with a dearth of UConn players, meaning the people love the Sun players for their contributions here and not for memories made playing for Geno Auriemma.

The Sun also have several free agents, calling into question who will be here and who won't be next year. We hear the same refrain now that we always hear about playing here: It's not the big city, not attractive to young, professional female athletes. And so, the prospect of people leaving is always greater than arriving.

I don't really get it. But then, I'm not young, female, athletically inclined or have money in my pocket. I'm the wrong guy to ask, but I can ask the current Sun players this much: Are you ever going to get this close to winning a championship again?

Perhaps youth begets a sense of being bulletproof. But sports can be as cruel as they are captivating. Which means in the next three days, the Sun have a chance to create a legacy they may never, ever get again. That might sound daunting. But the great ones learn how to embrace the struggle.

Then there's this: The Sun of 2019 have a chance to give the fans what they've never had: a champion. They've come agonizingly close, sure. Nykesha Sales hit the side of the backboard in 2004. Lindsay Whalen got hurt at the wrong time in 2005. So did Katie Douglas in 2006. There are 16-year season ticket holders here who have hung in there mostly through loyalty and the curious tug of heartache.

The Sun owe their fans their very best Tuesday night. It means embracing the struggle. It means channeling your energy at playing the next play and not barking at officials. It means process over circumstance.

The buzz is back here in Neon Uncasville. Will it be buzz kill by about 10 p.m. Tuesday? We'll see. The good news is that they care again around here. The bad news is that they've set themselves up for more heartache.

Or abject joy.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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