The Washington Mystics have yet to be fully healthy this season, that hasn’t kept them from the top of the standings though. Sitting at second place in the East, they’ll be facing the second placed team in the West tonight as the Tulsa Shock come to town. It’s another back-to-back situation for Washington, after tonight’s game they’ll head to Indy to face the Fever tomorrow.
Despite missing one half of their dynamic young back court in Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims, the Shock are the second highest scoring team in the entire league this season. Much of which has to do with their proficiency from beyond the arc, they’re shooting a staggering 39.5% from deep. With Sims down, others have had to step up. The biggest surprise may be 13 year veteran Plenette Pierson who’s averaging 14.8 points per game (66% from deep), a career high for her.
Sims went down June 9 with a knee injury, stepping into her starting job is rookie Brianna Kiesel. Before her injury Sims was off to a great start, in three games she averaged 17.3 points a game. Kiesel has started the last two games, in their last game she had eight assists. Sims is expected to return before the end of the month.
Tulsa’s at least had a few games with their full complement of players, the same hasn’t been said for the Mystics. Bria Hartley hasn’t played a single minute this year and Kia Vaughn missed the first game before taking an elbow to the head in her second appearance receiving a concussion. That hasn’t stopped the Mystics from playing outstanding defense, their offense has yet to get on track this season. Although, there were flashes of life in the drubbing of the New York Liberty last weekend.
While it seems it’s a contrast of styles by the numbers, that could be a bit misleading. The Shock like to get up and down the floor, as do this season’s Washington team. The biggest difference is that the Shock have been nailing there three point attempts and the Mystics haven’t yet found their groove. There are more than enough capable shooters in Washington, it’s just a matter of when they all get going. The pace won’t be an issue today, what will is the matchup in the paint.
Even with Vaughn out, the Mystics boast on of the league’s most impressive young front courts. Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson’s point per game averages are a bit misleading. Each of them have had a couple huge games this season, it just hasn’t happened at the same time. Dolson started the season with a double-double and Meesseman followed that up with a couple of 20 point games. Against the Liberty last week, the duo did an outstanding job of taking New York’s strength away, their post players. Meanwhile, Dolson’s full offensive game was on display. First round pick Ally Malott made the most of her 11 minutes and showed her ability to stretch the floor by knocking down two triples, Dolson also hit one from deep.
Just as Washington faces a tall task while being short handed, this may be a game in which Tulsa truly misses Sims. Washington, injuries withstanding still have a deep rotation of guards to throw at Diggins and Keisel. Tayler Hill and Natasha Cloud could play a huge role in this game, because of their size and skill. It’s not going to be all on Ivory Latta and Kara Lawson to contain that backcourt, last season Washington aggressively went after the youthful tandem of Diggins and Sims forcing them into several turnovers. Expect that to continue with Sims being out, especially with Kiesel being a rookie.
Tulsa’s bigs have a big task as well, even with their offense being off track, Washington’s dangerous in pick-and-roll situations. All of their bigs can dive to the basket or pop out and hit the long two or sometimes the three-ball. It’s a huge part of Washington’s up tempo offense. Tulsa’s Courtney Parris has shoulders much of the rebounding load for her team, averaging 12.8 a game. She can’t afford to get in foul trouble, her team needs her on the floor to battle on the glass.
Keys to the game
- Bench Production. Tulsa has gotten production from their bench in every game this season, several of their players averaging at least 12 minutes a game on the second unit. Riquanna Williams leads the way with 19 minutes a game, she’s averaging nine points. They could play a huge role in Tulsa getting a win in Washington
- Battle on the glass. The Shock have to help Courtney Parris on the block, while she’ll most likely be matched up with Dolson, who’s going to contain Meesseman? She’s given trouble to several teams with very good post players
- All-Star Ivory. No, I’m not campaigning. Simply saying that Washington’s a different team when she has it going on the offensive end. For the first time all season, last week against the Liberty it looked as if All-Star Ivory was in the building
- Turnovers. With both teams looking to push the pace and play stout defense, who ever turns it over least will put their team in the best position to get a win
- 3 Point Line. Which team will hit more and defend the line the best? There are shooters on both teams, although Washington may have a few more even if they’re not hitting at the moment. If Tulsa shoots their average it could be a long night for Washington, if the Mystics get all of their snipers going as well as the inside game, Tulsa’s drought against the Mystics will continue