Mystics-Liberty playoff preview: Upset brewing?


Mystics-Liberty playoff preview: Upset brewing?

Kara Lawson the basketball analyst and Kara Lawson the Washington Mystics guard are at odds.

The fourth-seeded Mystics open their best-of-3 opening round WNBA playoff series Friday in New York against the Eastern Conference regular season champion Liberty. At 18-16, Washington finished five games back of New York in the East standings.

"If I was doing this series for TV, I would probably pick New York to win because they've been the most consistent team all year in the league," said Lawson, an ESPN college basketball analyst. "So I would pick them just based off their consistency."

The player side of Lawson isn't about to pick against Washington.

"Obviously as a player, you're not picking New York to win since you're going up against them," said the 12-year veteran and Washington's fourth leading scorer this season.

Certain facts make Lawson the player's pick legitimate for reasons beyond homerism.

The Mystics took three of four head-to-head meetings this season including both matchups in New York. Washington dominated last Friday's matchup for an 82-55 win.

The Liberty, coached by former NBA star Bill Laimbeer, control games defensively. They held opponents to a league-low 71.1 points per game. By the numbers, New York won't have an advantage defensively in this series. Washington finished second at 71.2.

Whether either side ends up holding an advantage in the frontcourt could tip the balance, according to Lawson the analyst.

New York center Tina Charles ranked fourth in the WNBA in scoring (17.1) and second in rebounding (8.5). Connecticut product Kiah Stokes is among the top rookies in the league.

Meanwhile, Washington's frontcourt boasts two All-Stars in Stefanie Dolson and Emma Meesseman plus rugged center Kia Vaughn.

"The matchup is really going to come down to the frontcourts," Lawson stated. "Their frontcourt is so good. They're big, one of the biggest teams in the league. ...Their size and rebounding ability is really at the core of what they do.

"Our post players come at it a little bit differently. ...All of our post players can come outside and hit shots, bring their post players away from the basket.

Meesseman, one of the top mid-range shooters in the league, and Dolson sank a combined 16 of 34 3-pointers this season. 

Both teams also receive scoring punch from the backcourt. Ivory Latta topped the Mystics with 13.6 points per game.

Epiphanny Prince (15.0 ppg) and former Georgetown standout Sugar Rogers provide perimeter offense for New York.

Prince missed the first two games against Washington this season, which is among the reasons why Lawson the analyst doesn't believe too much weight should be placed on the regular season results. The Liberty having nothing at stake in the meeting last week is another example.

Lawson the player knows the importance of keeping those confident memories within reach. Washington made the playoffs the last two seasons under coach Mike Thibault, but exited in the first round. The franchise last won a playoff series in 2002.

"We can take some of the good from all the games, even the loss and say, 'here are some ways we can be effective against the way that they play."

If they end that playoff series losing-streak against the Liberty, the Mystics would face either the Indiana Fever or Chicago Sky in the conference finals.

"Do we want to win the series, absolutely, but we're going to have to play very well to do it," Lawson said. "If we're able to it that should give us a lot of confidence because we would have beaten the best team."

Even if the playoffs are different from the regular season, that's something the Mystics have done three of four times this year. Now they just need two more wins.

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Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

NBC Sports Washington

Blackhawks fans tossed after directing racist remarks at Washington's Smith-Pelly

CHICAGO—Four fans were ejected from United Center on Saturday night for taunting Devante Smith-Pelly as the Capitals’ winger sat in the penalty box.

The fans, according to a team spokesman, yelled “basketball, basketball, basketball” at Smith-Pelly, who is black. Smith-Pelly was in the box for fighting in the third period of an eventual 7-1 loss to the Blackhawks.

The taunts were confirmed by an off-ice official, the spokesman said, and the fans were subsequently removed from the arena.

Smith-Pelly did not speak with reporters after the game but is expected to address the incident at the team’s next media availability. The team is scheduled to practice Sunday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

Caps Coach Barry Trotz did not hold back when asked about the fans' comments.

“There’s absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism,” Trotz said. “I think it’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it. …It just shows ignorance.”

The Blackhawks responded on Twitter with an apology to Smith-Pelly, who is one of roughly 30 black players in the NHL.

February is Hockey is For Everyone month in the NHL.

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3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

3 stars of the game: Caps suffer ugly loss to scuffling Blackhawks

Just about everything that could go wrong did for the Capitals on Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Caps were coming off a strong 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but none of that carried over in the trip to Chicago. The Caps took on a Blackhawks team that had lost eight in a row, but Chicago quickly took control in the first period and never looked back.

Washington gave up 21 shots on goal in the first period and found themselves down 3-1 after the opening frame. Things did not get much better from there as they gave up another three goals in the final four minutes of the second.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Jonathan Toews: Toews opened up the scoring in the first period with a quick shot from the corner that caught Braden Holtby by surprise.

Later in the first, he recorded an assist as his pass sparked a breakout that led to Brandon Saad's deal that gave Chicago back the lead. The Caps tried to make a game of it in the second period, but Toews intercepted a pass from Brooks Orpik that led to a 2-on-0 with himself and Patrick Kane that Kane netted to give the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead and signaled to everyone that the rout was on. Saturday was only the second three-point night of the season for Toews.

2. Patrick Kane: Toews helped the Blackhawks take control early, but Kane helped provide the knockout punches in the second period. A bad pass from Orpik was intercepted by Toews that led to a 2-on-0 with Kane. Holtby made the initial save on Toews, but Kane was able to knock in the rebound for the goal.

Kane also added an assist on Artem Anisimov's power play goal which extended Chicago's lead to 6-1.

3. Tom Wilson: Before this one got out of hand, it looked like Wilson had erased the tough start for the Caps as he deflected a shot from Matt Niskanen into the net to get Washington on the board.

Saturday's tally was his third goal in two games and his 10th of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached double digits in goals.