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Takeaways from Wizards' loss to Miami Heat after botched final-minute play

Takeaways from Wizards' loss to Miami Heat after botched final-minute play

The style matchup with the Miami Heat will almost always be a problem for the Wizards, and Saturday wasn’t any different as they lose for the third time in three meetings in the regular-season home finale, 106-103, at Verizon Center. It was the seventh sellout.

Markieff Morris (21 points), John Wall (16 points, eight assists) and Bradley Beal (16 points) led Washington (48-32), which has two games remaining at the Detroit Pistons and at Miami before the playoffs begin.

The Heat (39-41) kept their playoff hopes alive while Washington lost its grip on the No. 3 seed.

The Wizards couldn’t contain Hassan Whiteside (30 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks), who had help from Tyler Johnson (19 points), Goran Dragic (18 points, seven assists) and James Johnson (15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists).

James Johnson’s drive for a layup was the winning basket that put Miami ahead for good 104-103.

Beal had a chance to tie the score and force overtime at the end but couldn’t get off a clean shot as Whiteside switched onto him to prevent an attempt.

--Turnovers were the difference. Wall and Beal were turnover prone which kept Miami in the game early despite their slow start. They combined for 13 of 20 for the team and that led to 21 points the other way. Before Kelly Oubre's disastrous inbound in the final seconds, the most costly one came on a simple pass from Wall to Beal with 1:43 left. It went out of bounds.

--Otto Porter (back spasms) missed his third game of the seasons as Oubre (12 points, six rebounds) started in his place. Oubre didn’t score in the first half but his primary role was defensive. But where not having Porter hurt the Wizards most was on inbound play with 11 seconds left. He opted to lead Wall, who had gotten free of Richardson, with the pass that was errant. Wall had curled to the ball and Richardson collected it, was fouled and went to the line to make both free throws for the game’s final points.

--The Heat were switching smalls onto Morris. He made them pay for that late by making postups over Tyer Johnson and Josh Richardson (10 points, five steals). Morris scored 12 of his points in the fourth Morris, who missed the last game with a sore ankle, had a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 90-86 lead and tie the score at 100. But when Morris had to get a stop on James Johnson, he allowed the versatile forward to go downhill for what proved to be the winning basket. Johnson received the ball in the backcourt, went full speed and Morris only retreated into the paint. When Johnson made a counter move to get to his left hand, he met no resistance at the rim. Marcin Gortat wasn't able to help as he pinned himself to Whiteside to prevent a putback. 

--Dragic scored a season-high 34 points in the last meeting Dec. 12. Marked by Oubre from the opening tip, Dragic had three first-half points as he began 1-for-5. A physical, 6-5 point guard who is left-hand dominant, Dragic couldn’t get free of Oubre who is bigger and has a 7-2 wingspan. He did have a better second half but didn’t take over.

--Whiteside was a matchup problem for Gortat (11 points, 11 rebounds). Ian Mahinmi (11 points, nine rebounds, two steals) played just 18 minutes -- 11 fewer than Gortat -- and fared better. 

[RELATED: VIDEO: Projected NBA top pick Markelle Fultz goes 1-on-1]

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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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Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

Unsung LaToya Sanders’ two-way play has Mystics one game away from WNBA Finals

On a stacked Mystics team, LaToya Sanders knows her role. 

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound wisp of a center is asked to guard far bigger opponents throughout the season and still complement her teammates on the offensive end. It’s a lot to deal with. She does so without complaint. 

Sanders, the most unheralded of Washington’s five starters, did it all on Thursday night in a 103-91 WNBA semifinal win over the Las Vegas Aces at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

She finished with 17 points on a night when WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (14 points, 5 of 15 shooting) struggled given her lofty standards. Sanders also played the kind of defense that left coach Mike Thibault insisting she should have been named WNBA first or second-team All-Defense. 

“My job is probably the easiest on the team,” Sanders laughed. “My job is basically to hit wide-open jumpers and lay-ups. Pretty sure I can do those two things.”

Indeed, she was efficient hitting 7 of 10 shots and all three free throws. Sanders also had to guard Vegas’ 6-8 center Liz Cambage, a big ask given their size difference. Cambage did have 23 points and 10 rebounds, but she only took 11 shots. 

Sanders and her teammates tried to make it as hard as possible for the Aces to get the ball inside for easy baskets in their two wins this week. Washington won Game 1 of the series 97-95 on Tuesday, a game that left Cambage visibly frustrated. She also earned a technical foul in Thursday’s game on a rough play underneath the Vegas basket.  

“When you’re LaToya Sanders and you’re 6-3 and you’re relying on your long arms to guard people, she takes a beating every night,” Thibault said. “She guards Camabge and [Phoenix Mercury center Brittney] Griner and [Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia] Fowles and all those people. And every night she wins a lot of those battles.”

But the really unsung part of Sanders’ game is her mid-range jumper. Thursday she was on when some of her higher-profile teammates like Delle Donne didn’t quite have their shot dropping. 

Sanders had six points in the third quarter as the two teams battled back and forth in a tight game and that set the stage for the decisive run that tilted the game toward the Mystics. She also had a hot start to the night with two baskets in the first quarter. 

“[Sanders is] a really good player. She's just on a team with so many other good players that she doesn't get as many shots,” Vegas guard Kelsey Plum said. “But she plays her role as good as anyone in the league. She's a vet. She rebounds the crap out of the ball. I just think that she does a great job for them. Everyone made us pay."

Thibault referenced a rebound Sanders grabbed in traffic to stifle a Vegas possession when they were trying to get the lead under 10 points in the fourth quarter. Instead, Washington was able to work the clock at the offensive end and score a knockout blow. It’s the little things that matter most when a team is pushing for a championship. The Mystics are one step closer. 

“Cambage is a talent, she’s a big girl,” Sanders said. “I just do what I can to try to make it difficult for her, but she’s going to hit some buckets here and there. I try to dish it out, but not take it.”  

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