Let's start with the good news: With a 15-11 regular season record, the Washington Mystics are poised to reach the WNBA playoffs for a third straight season under coach/general manager Mike Thibault.
Now, noting the "good news" in such a manner means mention of something not quite so pleasant is coming and here goes. The Mystics dropped back to back games against Elena Delle Donne and the Sky, which dropped Washington behind Chicago in the East standings. With eight games remaining on their schedule, the Mystics are in the fourth and final playoff spot, three games behind first place New York Liberty.
We can swing this back toward good information by noting Washington is a comfortable 3.5 games ahead of Connecticut and note the skidding Sun have lost five straight.
The Mystics haven't finished higher than the third in the East since winning the conference in 2010. The organization has lost six straight playoff series with the last win coming in 2002. Having homecourt advantage in the best-of-3 opening round series would be helpful, but now they must climb past the Sky and Indiana Fever for the privilege.
The thing is - here comes the positive talk again - this team can do it.
Before losing two straight to the Sky, the Mystics defeated the Western Conference leading Minnesota Lynx in yet another home-and-home series including a 79-61 rout on the road.
Washington is one of top defensive teams in the league, holding opponents to 40 percent shooting from the field. Offensively, Thibault's push-the-pace approach opens the court for shooters. The Mystics, one of the most efficient teams, ranks second in the league in 3-point shooting.
All-Stars Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson epitomize the youth movement under Thibault. Veterans Ivory Latta and Kara Lawson are the experienced options and among the level-headed voices in the locker room. That last attribute is a needed one now considering each of the losses to the Sky came by two points.
“For me, you just understand that this is the way the league works. You never feel so great about yourself after wins or too bad about yourself after losses," said Lawson after scoring a team-high 19 points in Sunday' 66-64 home loss. "There are opportunities for us to improve and things that we could’ve done better. In an ideal world for us, we’re in the playoffs and maybe we’re facing them again. We have to learn from this and get better but it’s tough. The way we lost both of these games you feel like you’re right there and you have an opportunity to win. It could very easily be 2-0 us, that’s I think what makes it tough to swallow.”
Expect more opportunities for wins and not just this season. Few in town may notice, but those around the league recognize the impressive group of young talent assembled by Thibault, the winningest coach in WNBA history. More than half the roster are players born in the 1990's and these kids can play.
The Belgium-born Meesseman, the youngest player on the team (22), is a mid-range shooting savant and the team's leading rebounder. Dolson, a personality-plus center who led Connecticut to a national championship in 2014, is one of the most improved players in the league. Both are averaging over 11 points six rebounds while shooting at least 52 percent from the field. Rookie Natasha Cloud, one of the most athletically fluid players in the league, went from a second-round pick to starting more than half the season thanks to her defensive prowess.
The East is wide open this season and the Mystics have the goods to make some noise in the postseason. That is, assuming the two-game skid doesn't turn into a major slide. Washington hosts Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury Friday before starting a four-game road trip.
“The main thing with losses like this, we have to stay together," Latta said following Sunday's loss.
Washington's leading scorer caused no friction when Thibault chose to put her in the role of top reserve earlier this season.
"We can’t point [to] this person [and] that person did it wrong…We have to stay together. ... We’ll be fine.”
The good news is the record and talent suggests Latta's ultimate point is accurate. However, now is the time for the Mystics to grow a bit more so any bad news just comes in small doses.