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Morning tip: Defensive leaks finally catch up to Wizards to end trip

Morning tip: Defensive leaks finally catch up to Wizards to end trip

To allow an average of 121 points a game and come back to Verizon Center at 4-1 from a Western Conference trip defies conventional wisdom. But the Wizards' methods in winning were indeed unconventional.

Monday, they fell 119-104 at the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 17th highest-scoring offense in the NBA. 

"Probably the biggest thing is getting back to our defensive concepts, getting back to our rhythm on defense," said Bradley Beal after the Wizards allowed Minnesota to shoot 52.3% from the field and almost 50% from three-point range. "We're out of whack a little bit. We're not communicating. ...We got to break those habits."

The Wizards (41-25) had to mount comebacks of 11 points to the Phoenix Suns (after leading by 22 themselves), 15 to the Sacramento Kings and 21 to the Portland Trail Blazers. They won all three, but it's too much to ask for them to do when they're playing five games in seven days. 

They return to D.C. and will be off Tuesday before a two-game homestand that starts Wednesday vs. the Dallas Mavericks, who beat them in their second game of 2017 before the Wizards won 18 of 21 going into the All-Star break. 

RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards vs. T-Wolves

Portland shot 51.1% from the field and 50% from three. The Denver Nuggets were 52.9% overall and 46.4% from deep. The Suns shot 50% and 48.1% on threes. The Kings were 47.8% overall and 54.5% with the long ball. 

Those percentages are nothing short of alarming. But the Wizards were able to overcome their defensive ineptness with superior offense. Monday, that spigot halted. They only shot 42.9% and just 26.9% from three.

That they were in range to pull out a flawless five-game road trip for the first time in franchise history speaks to their offensive potency. But 102-97 would be as close as the Wizards got in Minneapolis. Then Karl-Anthony Towns made sure there'd be no comeback as he led a 17-7 run.

"It was just glimpses tonight. We would play good defense two possessions  in a row and then we'd go on a drought for a couple of possessions. They'd go on a 7-0 run," Beal said. "It was inconsistency with not being able to guard. It wasn't just one person. It was everybody." 

Sometimes it was Wall gambling for steals too often. Other times it was Marcin Gortat not being aggressive enough in his help. Or Otto Porter was getting caught under screens against red-hot shooters.

The Wizards can play elite defense, which is how they beat the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics in key matchups recently. For some reason, when they play teams with bad records, their defense lowers in its intensity, too.

That won't be an issue for the playoffs, of course, but it's a major one as they're trying cement themselves as no worse than No. 2 seed in the conference.

MORE WIZARDS: Brooks on challenge of Towns and Rubio in loss to Wolves

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Elena Delle Donne thanks makers of face mask, knee brace after 2nd MVP honors

Elena Delle Donne thanks makers of face mask, knee brace after 2nd MVP honors

Most MVP award winners thank coaches, parents and anyone who helped them become great. Elena Delle Donne is not most people.

The Washington Mystic's superstar forward had a lot to be thankful for after receiving the second MVP honors of her career, creating a long list on Twitter. Some injury-preventing accessory manufacturers made their way high up on her list.

Delle Donne became the first woman player to shoot 50/40/90 splits over the course of an entire WNBA season this year, but she was perhaps more grateful for the apparrel that allowed her to stay on the court: her knee brace and face mask. 

The Delaware native often deflects praise onto her teammates and coaches when receiving accolades, but when EDD's knee is being held together by her bulky brace and her nose is feeling protected after a fracture earlier in the season, they definitely deserve the thanks. 

She had a gruesome knee scare in a Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Dream in the playoffs last season, and even missed some early season games this year in recovery. Still, Delle Donne wouldn't let her knee keep her out of action, as her 31 regular season starts were the most games she's played since 2015. It's been evident she's had an edge all season to help her Washington Mystics get back to the Finals, and this time finish the job. 

Delle Donne's face mask has also been somewhat of a fashion trend in recent weeks with star athletes around the District. Wizards all-star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal along with Redskins runing back Derrius Guice, all wore the face masks in solidarity when they came to support the Mystics at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

Despite Delle Donne's nose having been fully recovered, she's kept the face mask on during games for style and reassurance. Considering these ailments, it's impressive Delle Donne's shooting touch not only hasn't been affected, but instead has improved. 

After a Game 2 win over the Las Vegas Aces, Delle Donne and Co. have the opportunity to make their season mantra come true and #RunItBack to a second straight WNBA Finals appearance. 

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The Las Vegas Aces have no answer for the Mystics ‘missing piece’ Emma Meesseman

The Las Vegas Aces have no answer for the Mystics ‘missing piece’ Emma Meesseman

WASHINGTON – A year ago the Washington Mystics made it to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Top-to-bottom they were a loaded team that finally made the jump led by one of the most talented women’s basketball players in the world in Elena Delle Donne. 

But Delle Donne was hindered, battling through a knee injury throughout the entire playoffs. There was no one to give her relief, which resulted in the Seattle Storm sweeping the Mystics in the Finals. 

A full 365 days and some change have passed. Nearly everyone returned to the Mystics for another go at a championship. The younger players added a year of experience. Expectations are just as high. This year though they believe that they already have what it takes to win a championship; Emma Meesseman came back to the team.

“Emma is the missing piece for us,” Natasha Cloud said after Game 2. “From last year’s to this year’s team she the difference-maker in making us a championship team. She’s putting us on her back… Emma is an All-Star of her own. I’m extremely proud of the player she’s grown into.”

The first leg of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces in Washington saw different ways Meesseman can be the reason why the Mystics lift the trophy at the end of the season. 

Game 1 she led all scorers with a season-high 27 points. Thirteen of those came in a 26-point third quarter that erased a seven-point lead for Las Vegas. Her explosion allowed the Mystics to surge back into the game. Complementary to Delle Donne’s 25 points, they were a dynamic duo. Las Vegas couldn’t hone in on one of them when they were both on the court. Washington won by two.

Game 2 the Belgian matched that performance. Meesseman tied a career-high with 30 points going 11-for-19 from the field and 5-for-7 from 3-point range. A majority of those (22) came in the second and third quarters to take firm control of the game. Each time the Aces attempted to come back, Meesseman would hit another dagger. Washington won by 12.

“She ain’t missing any shots. That’s the main thing,” Aces’ Liz Cambage said on how they’ve been unable to stop Meesseman. “She came out tonight – [the Mystics] all shot so well tonight.”

Put her in the paint and the flex player posted up and drove against the 6-8 Cambage, or forced her out to clear the lane for other Mystics. Stretch Meesseman out to the arc and she knocked down threes over shorter guards. She’s a Swiss army knife for the Mystics, versatility that is similar to the 2019 MVP Delle Donne.

That comparison is drawn from her own teammates, including Cloud. One that Meesseman believes to be a big honor.

Last year Meesseman missed the season to take a break and work on her game. She was winded after the 2017 season and the toll that it took on her. While away from the WNBA, a lot of her time on the court was with the Belgium national team. There she had to be the team's primary scorer. 

This year in Washington, she’s applied that mentality and aggressiveness to her play. While she’s come off the bench for essentially the whole season, Meesseman has been a huge asset. Now, she’s starting with a big line-up for Washington.

“You can’t just have one or two [go-to players]. We need three or four to win a championship and [Messeeman has] embraced that this last part of the season,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “She was aggressive, she was looking for the ball, just there is a whole different body language to her about this right now.”

Only twice this season had the 6-4 forward reached 20 points for the Mystics. One was in the penultimate game in the regular season. Granted, she missed 11 games for her national team obligations, but it has been rare to see this explosion. 

"Emma has got a chip on her shoulder. She clearly was watching last year and wasn't happy with the result,” Delle Donne told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. “Emma is playing unreal basketball. She is so good, one of the greatest in the world. To add a piece like that and for her to step up like this has been so big for us."

But Meesseman doesn’t see herself as being the difference-maker. She’s just playing basketball and trying to contribute to an already established championship-level team. 

During Game 1’s postgame press conference Meesseman shut down being labeled as the “missing piece.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that-“ 

“Emma, stop it,” Delle Donne said. “We didn’t win Emma. We need you. I’ll take your 27 and 10 any night.”

She still isn't embracing that title after Game 2. Although if you ask the rest of the Mystics, Meesseman is alone in that regard.

Whether she likes it or not, Meesseman is the clear difference in the Mystics roster as opposed to the team that fell short in the WNBA Finals. When league historians look back at the 2018 and 2019 Mystics teams, she will stick out. 

The only question is will the “missing piece” push the Mystics to where they want to go. 

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