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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Justin Tucker missed a game-tying PAT, but the Ravens aren't fazed at all


Justin Tucker missed a game-tying PAT, but the Ravens aren't fazed at all

Justin Tucker making an extra point for the Baltimore Ravens is a sure thing.

As sure as the sun will rise each morning, Tucker's dependability and success have been a constant for the team. But on an afternoon where winds of around 17 mph were a factor though 60 minutes, Tucker's success came to a shocking halt. 

After Joe Flacco and the offense made their way downfield, Flacco found wide receiver John Brown in the end zone to make the score 24-23 with 24 seconds left in regulation.

In walked the most accurate kicker in NFL history to do what he's done so many times before; keep the Ravens in the game. As the ball sailed off Tucker's foot, it took a right and became the first point-after-touchdown the kicker has ever missed.

"I felt like when the ball came off my foot, that I hit it just how I wanted to," Tucker said at the podium following the Ravens' Week 7 loss to the Saints. "Don't get me wrong, today was a challenging day to kick the ball in our stadium, to the right of our bench."

Two hundred and twenty two-straight PATs. 222 consecutive makes, including 112 consecutive since PATs were moved back to the 15-yard line in 2015. Tucker was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September, marking the fifth time he's been awarded the honor.

From the field to the press box and all the way to the nosebleeds, M&T Bank Stadium was in shock. 

"A lot of things go through your mind, but I've been there plenty of time," Flacco said. "If you play football long enough, you're going to be there at some point. We're a very tight team here, and the first thing you think about is your brother and him dealing with it. Justin's the best in the world at what he does, and he's the most confident person that I know. It's not going to be an issue." 

"We're a tight group – we are light years better than we've been in the past," safety Eric Weddle said in the locker room after the loss. "Shoot, 'Tuck' is going to win us some games. We're not worried about that missed kick. Shoot, I think it's the first extra point ever that he's missed. Let's not get on him too hard. He's going to be hard on himself. That wasn't the only reason we lost." 

The support for Tucker, in what was a one-off for their teammate, was apparent throughout the entire locker room. When Tucker took to the podium to address the media, long snapper Morgan Cox and punter Sam Koch stood in the interview room while their kicker tried to explain what went wrong in a show of support.

"This one just happened to get away from me," Tucker added. "I'll have to look at it. I can't tell you exactly what happened, but at the end of the day, I feel like I cost us the game. Every single one of my teammates thus far has told me the opposite, and no one plays wins or loses a game, but that's a tough thing to grapple with when you're the guy in the situation at the end of the game."

Even members of the Saints were in disbelief. Almost everyone was mentally preparing for overtime as Tucker's accuracy is known around the league.

"When [Tucker] missed it, I thought, 'Let's get up and get out of here,'" running back Mark Ingram said. "I mean, that guy is good, so I was shocked."

"I automatically was thinking about overtime and what we were going to do," quarterback Drew Brees added. "I was very, very surprised when he missed it."

What the Ravens and fans alike can take solace in is that Tucker's stats speak for themselves showing more positive plays than negative. While it was probably the most heartbreaking loss they've had since Week 17 of the 2017 season, Tucker's point of emphasis when speaking with the media postgame was about more than a missed extra point.

"But, more than anything, I just wanted to be here [at the podium]," he said. "If I was going to ever teach my son or any young person about accountability, I felt like it was really important that I stand up here and answer whatever questions you guys may have."


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By the numbers: Bradley Beal on pace to become one of NBA history's best three-point shooters

By the numbers: Bradley Beal on pace to become one of NBA history's best three-point shooters

Bradley Beal topped Gilbert Arenas for first place in career three-pointers in Wizards/Bullets franchise history on Saturday night in the Wizards' loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Beal, only 25, has put himself in some good company over the years with his outside shooting. Here are some numbers to put it all in perspective.

By The Numbers: Bradley Beal's historic shooting numbers

2,208: Beal made his record-breaking, 869th three on his 2,208th attempt. It took Arenas 2,430 attempts to get there in a Wizards uniform. Arenas, however, reached the mark in 357 games compared to Beal's 408. Beal, now at 2,209, is second on the franchise list for career three-pointers attempted. Based on his career attempts averages, he should get there this season.

100: Beal has made at least 100 three-pointers in five straight seasons entering 2018-19. That is a franchise record. The longest such active streak is held by Jamal Crawford at 14. The longest streak in NBA history is held by Ray Allen at 17.

39.4: Beal's career three-point percentage. He is one of only five players ever to shoot at least 39 percent from beyond the arc while making two or more threes per game in their careers. The others are Kyle Korver, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Buddy Hield, who has only played in 164 games compared to Beal's 408.

223: Beal set the franchise record for three-pointers made in a single season back in 2016-17. He passed Arenas, who twice got to 205, in 2004-05 and 2006-07.

41: Beal also passed Arenas for the most games in franchise history with five or more three-pointers made. Arenas is in second with 40, while Trevor Ariza is in a distant third with 15. Otto Porter Jr., for comparison, has done it nine times. Beal's 41 games with five threes or more rank 18th among active players. Curry is way ahead of everyone else with 183.

37: Beal is one of just eight players ever to begin his career with six straight seasons of 37 percent or better from three. The other seven is mostly a who's who of three-point specialists like Curry, Thompson, Korver and J.J. Redick.

20: Shooting 37 percent or better from three while also scoring 20 points or more is rarer than you may think. Beal has done it twice in his career, same as LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard. Only 11 players have accomplished the feat more often. Dirk Nowitzki has done that in nine seasons, most all-time, while Kevin Durant is second with eight.

872: Speaking of Durant, this isn't a historic number, it's just an interesting coincidence. Since Beal entered the league before the 2012-13 season, he and Durant have been nearly identical as three-point shooters. Beal has made 870 threes, while Durant has knocked down 872. Beal has shot 39.4 percent, while Durant has hit 39.6 of them. Another guy who has been extremely similar to Beal is Danny Green, who now plays for the Raptors. He has hit 858 threes during that span at a 39.2 percent rate.