As the regular season winds down, the Washington Mystics schedule refuses to get any easier. After losing a two game mini series last weekend to the Chicago Sky, Washington will host the reigning champion Phoenix Mercury tonight. The Mercury just clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference after beating the Connecticut Sun last night on the road. Leilani Mitchell was the hero for Phoenix as she hit a buzzer beating triple to give them the 81-80 victory. The champs trip to the nation’s capital also marks the first and possibly only trip home for former Mystics veteran Monique Currie.
Homecomings aside, every game the rest of the way is a “big” game for the Mystics. After tonight’s game against the Mercury, they’ll end the month of August by traveling up to Seattle to take on the Storm. The Mystics currently sit in fourth place in the East, but they are just three games out of first place. This is the best time of the season to get hot, as Kia Vaughn said last year “you want to be on a roll heading into the playoffs” and she’s absolutely right. As easy as it is to say each team is taking it “one game at a time” it’s not always the complete truth, as the Sky’s Cappie Pondexter shared last week, ” you have to be aware of it” in regards to the standings, especially with the race as tight as it is in the East.
The Mercury are a very good team, even with one of their star players missing the season in Diana Taurasi. They picked up Currie in the offseason and she’s been able to fit right on in. Several other players have also continued to develop and take their games to new heights. It’s easy to assume that Griner is the player being referenced, as she has developed and continues to be one of the best bigs in the league, it’s not her that I’m referring to. It’s forward DeWanna Bonner, she’s stepped up in Taurasi’s absence and went from a cog in the machine to a potential star in this league. In last night’s win over the Sun, she scored 26 points on 7-12 shooting. She’s had several big games this year, hitting big shots and shouldering the scoring load as well. She’s had 10 games this season in which she’s scored at least 20 points a game and one game in which she went off for 34 points.
Bonner and the always dangerous Candice Dupree will be quite a handful at the forwards spots for Washington. Griner deserves a lot of attention, but these two forwards often create chaos for opposing teams. They both have very good size, but they have games that allow them to dictate mostly any matchup. They’re tall enough to score over opposing players in the paint but quick enough to take taller players off the bounce, while also possessing the ability to shoot it from deep.
Phoenix isn’t the only team on the floor that presents challenges though, the Mercury will have to deal with the most unselfish team in the league. There’s a reason no player on the Mystics is averaging close to 20 points a game, the ball moves far too much for that. Similar to Phoenix, maybe even more so due to their leading the league in assists, Washington’s offense is an equal opportunity scheme. The Mystics have a plethora of scorers on their roster and it’s hard to pinpoint who to take the ball away from as Elena Delle Donne mentioned last week, “they pass up a good shot to find a great shot”. The Mercury will have to be ready on that end of the floor to not only deal with Washington’s All-Star bigs in Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson, but a litany of perimeter players that can hurt them as well. Ivory Latta, Kara Lawson, and Tayler Hill are three of the better shooters in the league and are all capable of getting hot at any time. The Mystics second unit is nearly as dangerous as their first, so Phoenix has to make sure they get production from their bench.
If Washington wishes to get hot down the stretch, it starts with a win tonight over the Mercury. Here’s what needs to happen in order for that to happen:
- Establish post players. The Mystics are at their best when they get their bigs involved early, that goes for Dolson, Meeseman, Kia Vaughn, Latoya Sanders and even Ally Mallot. Their post players are willing and capable passers, but once they get a couple of baskets it ruins opposing defenses. They can’t double both bigs which leads to open shots for Washington’s shooters
- Follow the first key. Throughout the season, the Mystics have had success in games then gone away from their post players, which caused their offense to struggle and get off track. Giving their opponents help by doing something they can’t do, keep the ball out of the paint
- Take care of the ball. August has been a month in which Washington has struggled with the turnover battle, sometimes they tend to overpass and it leads to turnovers
- Attack off the dribble. Washington has a couple of players who are able to stretch the defense with the long ball, but have the requisite handle to take defenders off the dribble. Tayler Hill, Bria Hartley, and Natasha Cloud need to be aggressive from here on out off the bounce. Hill already does a great job of this, Cloud and Hartley should take a page out of Hill’s book and use their handle and size to put even more pressure on the opposing defense