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Kristi Toliver takes big step in rehab as she eyes return in WNBA playoffs

Kristi Toliver takes big step in rehab as she eyes return in WNBA playoffs

WASHINGTON -- Injuries to key players has been an unfortunate trend in the WNBA this season with some of the sport's biggest stars like Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and others missing significant time. The Mystics know all too well how an injury can greatly affect a team's goals, as last year a knee problem for Elena Delle Donne contributed to them falling just short of a championship.

So, it is understandable why the Mystics have been extra cautious with All-Star guard Kristi Toliver as she continues to recover from a right knee strain. She has been sidelined since Aug. 8 when she banged knees with Stephanie Muvunga of the Indiana Fever and suffered a bruise so deep it affected her MCL.

It wasn't until Thursday, exactly five weeks after the collision, that Toliver made her return to 5-on-5 action in practice. She was limited to only about five minutes of the full scrimmage, plus another 25 minutes or so in halfcourt drills, but it represented a notable step forward as she eyes a potential return next week when the Mystics resume action in the playoffs.

"It's been a while. I'm good. Getting better," Toliver said. "It's been a process and it's testing my patience, but I'm getting there."

Covering for Toliver's absence has been the relatively easy part. The Mystics have continued to zoom along as a first-place juggernaut, beating nearly every team that has stood in their way. With Natasha Cloud stepping up to fill the void, Washington went 10-1 while Toliver was out to close the year and earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

During that 11-game stretch, they led the WNBA in points, assists, turnovers, offensive rating, defensive rating, three-point shooting (makes, attempts and percentage) and field goal percentage. Their league-best 14.8 net rating for the season spiked to 21.8 while Toliver was out.

That's how loaded the Mystics are this season. They lost a three-time All-Star and a veteran leader, yet continued to steamroll their hapless challengers. The only loss they had during that stretch was to the Chicago Sky and two weeks later they turned around and smashed them by 14 points.

Toliver's biggest regret was not playing when the Mystics set the WNBA single-game record for three-pointers. But the continued success of her teammates was pivotal because it allowed her to resist the urge to come back sooner than later.

"It eased the pressure on her to hurry to get back," head coach Mike Thibault said.

"I think part of it is that when you're a starting player and you have a lot to do with your team, it's like 'how are we gonna be when I'm not out there?'"

That doesn't mean the road has been easy for Toliver. She had never been through an extended injury absence like this before. The 11 games she missed were a career-high.

Toliver is more accustomed to playing through pain. She even practiced the day after suffering the injury, only to head to the training room at Delle Donne's behest after she noticed Toliver was limping.

"It's been hard just to be away from the game," she said. "That's when I'm at my happiest, when I get to play basketball. So, it's been a challenge."

Toliver, 32, described some of the worst moments of her rehab like the 8 a.m. hyperbaric chamber sessions and the fact she couldn't jump until last week. And though she is back on the court, she still has a ways to go.

The biggest hurdles for Toliver to still overcome involve next-day soreness, playing herself back into game shape and dealing with a brace on her right knee. She wasn't thrilled about being prescribed the brace but will set her comfort aside if it means getting back into the lineup.

The Mystics have a few more days off before they pick back up on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the WNBA Semifinals. As for whether she will be ready to return for that game, Toliver isn't certain yet. But she is definitely close.

"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm not quite there yet," she said.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey makes huge donation to John Wall's coronavirus charity

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey makes huge donation to John Wall's coronavirus charity

John Wall is getting some major help in reaching his fundraising goal to provide rent assistance to residents of Ward 8 amid the coronavirus, as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged $200,000 to the cause.

Dorsey, who has the handle @Jack, tweeted his plans Wednesday evening. His donation is two-thirds of Wall's goal to raise $300,000.

It is a very generous donation and also a testament to the work Wall is doing to help others during this time. He picked a cause, used his platform to get the information out there and has caught the attention of someone with the money to help.

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Wall's intention is to help those in the D.C. area who have been affected most by the coronavirus and the toll it has taken on the economy. Wall said residents in need will receive rental assistance for as long as possible and necessary as the country works to eradicate the virus.

For more information, go to the website for Wall's foundation called '202 Assist.'

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Brian Windhorst: 'The vote tomorrow is not going to decide whether or not there is NBA basketball'

Brian Windhorst: 'The vote tomorrow is not going to decide whether or not there is NBA basketball'

According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the next news to come out of the NBA world will not be if there's basketball - it will be if it's safe to play basketball.

“We’ve had a very long run of dark days, and this is a good moment. I don’t want to rain on that moment," he told Mike Tirico on NBC Sports' Lunch Talk Live. "The vote of owners tomorrow is not going to decide whether or not there is NBA basketball. I know that’s what it’s going to seem like. What is going to decide NBA basketball is if the virus continues to recede…I’m already sensing that people are forgetting the whole reason it is going on this way, and that is safety.”

While global riots in response to the murder of George Floyd have one-upped the coronavirus pandemic in major news cycles, Florida, where the NBA is reportedly planning to resume play, saw it's largest daily number of new COVID-19 cases since mid-April. 

Another health concern that has risen in return to play conversations is that of physical shape -- not all players have had access to personal basketball courts and training facilities during this time of nationwide quarantine. 

“Everybody that you talk to in the NBA on the training side are worried about these players who went cold turkey or vastly reduced their normal workout loads and haven’t been able to play any five-on-five basketball," Windhorst said.  

"They all have said you have to have time to build back up.”

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After reports with more details on the timeline surfaced, the next order of business will be to figure out how the eight-game schedule, prior to the play-in games/playoffs, would be assorted. Windhorst had a very strong opinion on the proposed idea of teams just finishing out the remainder of their schedule with the 21 teams eligible to play. 

"This schedule is going to be unfair," Windhorst said. "There’s 13 teams in the West playing eight games. Guess what? Not everyone is going to play the same schedule."

"There’s going to be an inherent unfairness and fans and teams are going to complain about it and they’re all going to be right, but they’re all going to have deal with it," he continued. "My expectation is that there will be five or six games per day…I think you could have afternoon playoff basketball."

Possibly the biggest takeaway from Windhort's appearance on Lunch Talk Live was the fact that Thursday's vote should go fairly seamlessly and unanimously. 

“Adam Silver has kept (President of NBAPA Chris Paul and Executive Director of NBAPA Michele Roberts) alongside the entire way here," Windhorst reported.

"Michele Roberts is so confident in the working relationship with Adam Silver that she said she doesn’t even think they’ll take a vote."

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