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Mystics face tipping point with playoffs approaching

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Mystics face tipping point with playoffs approaching

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.

Latta continued.

"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.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

In this week's mailbag podcast, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir answer several questions about the Caps' prospects and Hershey.

How does the future look on the farm? Plus, they talk about potential weaknesses, their biggest surprises and more!

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: The best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 16, 10 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best quarterbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the quarterbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, although I did some juggling based on offseason moves and other factors. 

Aaron Rodgers, Packers—An injury-plagued 2017 season actually pushed Rodgers near the middle of the pack in DVOA. But we know better than that. We have every expectation that he will be back throwing for around 4,000 yards, 35 touchdowns, and a half-dozen or so miracle comebacks. The Redskins had better hope they have a big lead late in their Week 3 game. 

Drew Brees, Saints—The last time Brees failed to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season we were in the first year of the second term of George W. Bush and Joe Gibbs was in the second year of his comeback stint with the Redskins. Brees gives the Saints a chance in every game and nearly every situation (as the Redskins found out in New Orleans last season. 

Matt Ryan, Falcons—The first $30 million man in NFL history is everything you want in a quarterback. He’s productive, with at least 4,000 passing yards every season since 2011. Ryan also is durable; he hasn’t missed a game this decade. The only thing he is missing is a ring but he didn’t call passes when the Falcons were set up for a clinching field goal and he wasn’t on the field when Tom Brady shredded the Falcons defense in the fourth quarter. 

Carson Wentz, Eagles—The Redskins experienced their share of frustration in trying to deal with Wentz last year. They weren’t the only ones as Wentz was a prime MVP candidate before he missed the last three games and the playoffs with a torn ACL. I am not buying into the notion that there will be any quarterback controversy in Philly. When Wentz is healthy, Nick Foles will step aside. 

Deshaun Watson, Texans—Perhaps the hype train was getting a little bit out of hand for the rookie last year. After all, the Texans were 3-3 in his six starts and he was on pace to throw 21 interceptions. Still, he should be a good one. His mobility is a huge asset and we have seen the problems that the Redskins have had dealing with quarterbacks who can scramble in the pocket and take off and run. 

Best of the rest: Cam Newton, Panthers; Jameis Winston, Bucs; Marcus Mariota, Titans; Dak Prescott, Cowboys; Andrew Luck, Colts (if healthy)

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller, who outscored the entire Baltimore Colts team in the 1991 season, was born on this date in 1966.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 10
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 24
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 47

The Redskins last played a game 197 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 55 days. 

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