Mystics

Mystics face tough first week of new WNBA schedule in bid to defend championship

Mystics face tough first week of new WNBA schedule in bid to defend championship

Right out of the gate of the 2020 season, the Washington Mystics will face a challenging schedule to begin their repeat campaign. 

The WNBA announced the team's docket for the shortened 22-game season on Monday, which features two head-to-head matchups with each team in the league and eight nationally televised contests. 

Three of the Mystics' five games will be against teams that have true championship aspirations. The team will follow up its season opener (July 25, 5:00 p.m. ET) against the Indiana Fever, with back-to-back WNBA Finals rematches against the Connecticut Sun on July 28 and the Seattle Storm on July 30. 

Even though Connecticut is without some key figures from last year's team, they are still a threat after adding DeWanna Bonner in the offseason. Seattle, of course, has two of the best players to ever play in the W in Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird returning. 

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Less than a week later, the Mystics will go face-to-face with the Las Vegas Aces. In what is beginning to turn into a continuous rivalry between Vegas and DC, the two will surely have that contest circled. However, the two biggest characters, Liz Cambage and Natasha Cloud, both opted-out of the season. 

That is why these opening games will be a challenge for Washington. The team is presumably going to be without four of their five starters from last season, assuming Elena Delle Donne decides not to play and forgo her salary. 

There are four 'new' players at camp this season including Kiara Leslie (who missed her entire first season due to an injury), Essence Carson, Leilani Mitchell and Alaina Coates. 

With training camp also condensed, getting the new players up to speed and ready for a new role will be important. It might take a while before a new, open offense that isn't centered around Delle Donne takes shape. Head coach Mike Thibault says that the team will be able to spread out their offense more and not center around Emma Meesseman or a central piece. Still, that will take time to develop especially with Mitchell being the team's new point guard.

But while the opening couple of games will be a tall task, that means the team comes together true to form later in the year and have a lighter schedule. 

"It's hard to assess I mean, you know, you haven't seen anybody else play," head coach Mike Thibault said. "I haven't really worried about the schedule, other than looking at who our first couple games are I think it'll be fun for people to see a national TV game against Seattle in that first week, I don't know if that will be fun for us but we'll see. But you know, I think it just, it's hard to judge other teams when you don't even know who everybody's got right now."

No teams will have back-to-backs in the schedule that runs until Sept. 12. 

After Washington's first four contests, they'll have three-off days before a stretch of six games in 11 days. That series of games will likely be a measuring stick of where the team stands. Both Aces contests are in that stretch, along with two games against non-playoff teams from a year ago. 

The schedule will bode well for the Mystics to make a mid-to-late half of the season push. It's just a matter of if can they come together early enough that the push puts them in a favorable spot for the playoffs. 

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Myisha Hines-Allen has been waiting for her moment, now she's seizing the opportunity

Myisha Hines-Allen has been waiting for her moment, now she's seizing the opportunity

A year ago Myisha Hines-Allen's best opportunity to get time on the court was in the Washington Mystics practice gym. But only after the team's official practice. Behind the likes of Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders there was little opportunity for the third-year pro to get reps in.

For games, Hines-Allen's time was mostly reserved for sitting on the bench. She would watch Sanders size up and position her body against post players much larger than herself. She would study how Meesseman moves the ball as a forward with a ton of attention directed on her.

The 24-year-old was doing what she could to stay ready and work on her development in any way she could. She was biding her time until she got her chance.

And in 2020 that chance has been presented to her. 

Through seven games, Myisha Hines-Allen is leading the way for a Mystics' offense missing several key pieces from last year's championship team.  On opening night she made a statement. With a career-high 24 points, Hines-Allen led Washington to a dominating win over the Indiana Fever. Her explosive breakthrough took the eyes of many as she was named the WNBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

As the season has continued, she has emerged as one of Washington's top-scoring threats with 15.6 points and is nearly averaging a double-double with 8.7 rebounds. 

All that time waiting finally paid off. 

"I think the biggest thing was when I was sitting on the bench last two years, I wasn't just sulking and being mad 'Oh why am I not playing and this and that.' I was continuing to get better, look at the people in front of me," Hines-Allen said after the first game of the season. "What are they doing well, how do they defend, how do they get their open shots? It's like all leading up to this point right now where I've worked so hard for."

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While many may be surprised by the rapid pace Hines-Allen has started the season with, the rest of the team is not. She's been a well-kept secret buried down the depth chart that was bound to break loose at some point. 

"And I think, that's the biggest thing. If I would have been, you know mad, angry, those two years that I wasn't playing when we have great players in front of me playing, then this moment right here wouldn't have mattered to me at all," Hines-Allen said. "But it matters most because I took everything that every post players were giving me, even the guards for telling me what to do, you know, so it all leads up to this moment. It makes it even more special just because they're not here - those players that were helping me out."

Hines-Allen is a team-first competitor and has played well in the chances she has gotten at practices. Teammates knew this was going to be Hines-Allen's year to prove her value in the league. 

"I feel like if you know, you know, right," Aerial Powers told reporters after the win over Indiana. "The girls who have been on our team, that see Myisha compete every day in practice, they know what she has. We knew she had it in her, she just hadn't had the opportunity given the amazing players before her. But now she has that opportunity and she's taking full advantage."

Since being drafted by Washington in 2018 in the second round, Hines-Allen has remained on the roster. That is not necessarily an easy feat for the Louisville product in today's WNBA. Having only 12 teams means roster spots are hard to come by and a franchise can quickly run out of space with so many developed stars in the league.

Typically, second-round picks have trouble making it. The most notable are Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky, Jessica Breland on the Phoenix Mercury, and fellow Mystics teammates Natasha Cloud and Meeseman.

Her first year, Hines-Allen saw a decent amount of playing time for a rookie with injuries and Meesseman taking a year off from the WNBA. Last year she averaged less than eight minutes a game, the fewest among those in the regular rotation. 

Still, head coach and general manager Mike Thibault has raved about the ability of Hines-Allen since he drafted her. She's a dynamic forward who is quick and can score at all three levels. Her ball-handling is great for her size, but positionally she provides such a big mismatch on the offensive end. She has the strength of a post player, but the speed and agility of a guard. Thibault's go-to player comparison for her is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green. 

But when you have superstars in a two-time WNBA MVP and a Finals MVP who play in similar roles in an offense, how can you justify squeezing room for a player without those accolades into a rotation? You can't. 

"I thought that this (year) was a great opportunity for her," Thibault said. "I mean she just got stuck in a tough position last year with so many great post players. And she knew that when Tina (Charles) probably wasn't going to play or Elena wasn't going to play, this was a great opportunity for her to make a statement about her game, and where she is and how she can help this team, and she's obviously lived up to it. She's worked hard. In the offseason, in her game overseas and it's paid off."

Growth and development have come with limited reps and opportunities even in workouts for Hines-Allen. She's realizing this unique season has created not only a moment where she can showcase her abilities but a place where she can fully hone her craft and establish herself as a star in the league.

Game plans are now around her. Practice time has drastically changed. It was something that she frankly wasn't accustomed to in the first game when Thibault had to pull her out because she was winded. 

"I feel like for me, personally, I can grow a lot more," Hines-Allen said. "So, I think, me being on the court now it's definitely helping me because it's showing me things that I'm good at, things I still need to work on too. So just being on the court whether it's in practice, or actually in the game, the confidence in the things where I'm like actually watching film. Because before I was watching film on other players or in the game I was looking at [Sanders] most of the time. Now I can actually see myself, where, like I need to be more often or oh I could have done this differently."

With that evolution also brings a renowned confidence.  At this rate, Hines-Allen is going to continue to get better night-in and night-out. She hasn't wavered yet from her big opening night performance with three additional games of 16-plus points. No one has seen how much she can actually succeed with this much playing time since she was in college. For her, the next step forward is to just continue doing what she is doing. 

"This is a great feeling. I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't shocked, surprised, none of that," Hines-Allen said. "I'm super happy with myself and how I played, but again I wouldn't be able to do what I was doing if it wasn't for my teammates giving me that support."

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Mike Thibault calls Mystics' loss to Liberty one of the most embarrassing since he's been in D.C.

Mike Thibault calls Mystics' loss to Liberty one of the most embarrassing since he's been in D.C.

Things have taken a turn for the worst for the Washington Mystics after such a promising start to the 2020 season. 

A mere week after Washington started the year with a surprising 3-0 record, head coach Mike Thibault best described their third straight loss as one of the most embarrassing he's had in his coaching tenure while with the team. Falling to the Sabrina Ionescu-less New York Liberty, the Mystics had their worst offensive showing in over a year by posting only 66 points.

It's not exaggerating to say that Thibault is ticked. 

"This is my eighth year in DC, and probably in many ways that was one of the most embarrassing losses, if not the most embarrassing loss, since I've been in DC," Thibault said postgame.  "Not because we lost the game because of our approach, how we went about it. It's not the same that showed up and played the first couple games that we were here."

"That doesn't represent who we are as a Mystics organization and that was embarrassing." 

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Entering the game, New York (1-5) had yet to win a contest on the two-week-old season. They led the Mystics wire-to-wire, held Washington to a season-low 37.7% shooting night and forced them to turn the ball over 14 teams. 

Washington's offense was sparse, inconsistent and lacked the physicality that the Liberty brought. The bench was basically nonexistent (six points). 

In addition, Thibault said the Mystics lacked urgency and displayed a poor basketball IQ from start to finish. 

All descriptions are a far cry from the incredible offense the Mystics had to start the year. The 3-0 spurt had the team humming at an incredible pace and looked like last year's buzzsaw team. But in every game the offense has struggled more and more, culminating in Friday's result.

The opposite of what was expected from the direction of the team this year.

"We have to find our identity," Aerial Powers said postgame. "It's like we're losing sight of who we are. The ball's not moving like it usually is."

There's not much time for Washington to regroup. The next game is less than 48 hours away, as is the norm this season with a condensed schedule due to the coronavirus. Thibault has been saying even he is still trying to figure things out after each loss.

It was evident that this team can work together and be successful - just look at the first three games. The problem is, the current version of the Mystics is far away from that.

"We just have to determine and find how we play," Emma Meesseman said. "So we know that we just have to play like we play. We know how we can do that. So I think this feeling we have now should be motivation enough. We use that tomorrow and the day after. We do our best to find ourselves."

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