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Less than two years after Game 7 in Boston, almost everything is different for Wizards

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Less than two years after Game 7 in Boston, almost everything is different for Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Tomas Satoransky months ago looked at the locker to his left and pondered. Before the start of his third season, Satoransky already had gone through two teammates in that spot because “Meeks” recently was removed from the nameplate spot and replaced with “Howard”. He was asked to recall everyone else who cycled through that locker since he arrived from Europe in 2016. He rattled off some names and knew one thing: Kelly Oubre Jr. had always been to his right. 

Friday, John Jenkins, nearing the end of a 10-day contract, took temporary shelter under bulbous headphones at what used to be Oubre’s locker. Even Oubre had long ago left Satoransky following a mid-December trade to Phoenix. Sam Dekker dressed in what was Jason Smith’s spot. Howard’s locker remained empty. Jordan McRae had a light pregame meal at the next locker over. John Wall’s stall at the end of the row had a tomb-like feeling. Only a small batch of socks, practice jerseys and shorts dangled together, tethered onto a hanger above two pairs of unused shoes. The Larry O’Brien photo hanging on the locker’s back wall was obscured by the clean laundry.

Satoransky was the lone constant on his side of the locker room. Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi were the only multi-year occupants on their side. Just four players -- Beal, Satoransky, Mahinmi and Wall -- remain on the roster from Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, played less than two years ago. Only two -- Beal and Satoransky -- play with any regularity. The Wizards have undergone a massive shift in roster and trajectory since the night that closed a 49-win season with a reasonable argument more could have been, and would be, expected. 

“[That’s] how the league’s going,” Satoransky told NBC Sports Washington. “Still getting used to that. So much trades this year. We changed everyone. I actually saw a tweet that we are the last four players from that season -- Ian, John, Brad and me. It’s kind of crazy. You don’t even think of that because you’re still going. Season doesn’t stop because of that. But when you look around, and you just remember, it’s kind of crazy how much we’ve changed.”

No two teams since that night exemplify the shifting of NBA rosters more than Boston and Washington. Of the 13 players available to the Wizards on May 15, 2017, the aforementioned four remain. Despite reaching the Eastern Conference Finals that season, only four players -- Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier -- are still playing for the Celtics. The combined groups couldn’t produce a full starting lineup. 

Otto Porter and Markieff Morris were the last pieces removed from that Wizards group following trades last week. Morris’ “FOE” sticker (Family Over Everything) was peeled off the top of his locker after he was dealt to New Orleans for Wesley Johnson. Bobby Portis has taken Otto Porter’s old locker, providing a slight linguistic and enormous personality twist in the spot. Jabari Parker now sits in the corner Marcin Gortat occupied for four seasons, but has been used as a revolving home in 2018-19.

All of the tumult and turnover combined with Wall’s injuries to alter the path of the team since they walked out of Boston. That night, Scott Brooks, Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis met outside the Wizards locker room after the game. Their conclusion? “We’re close.” They felt small changes could push them into the conference finals for a swing at LeBron James. Beal and Wall deemed the season a failure at the time because it stalled in the semifinals. 

Washington came up with six fewer wins the following year and a quick first-round exit at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. Wall missed half of the season. After last weekend’s consecutive wins over two of the league’s wayward teams, the Wizards are now 24-32, again without Wall for the rest of the year and trying to scratch their way into the back end of the playoffs.

“It’s totally different,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington of now vs. the end of the Boston series. “I don’t think there’s anybody...me...Me, John, Sato and Ian. Crazy. That’s crazy. That’s the league. Guys come and go. Especially when we weren’t having that much success after that. Having 49 wins, making it that far -- the last year and a half, two years, has been kind of rocky for us. Now, it’s a totally different team. A lot has changed. I’m kind of thrown into a position now where I have to be an ultimate leader. I’ve been embracing it. It’s been a challenge but it’s been fun, too.”

He’s working without Wall, something Beal first became accustomed to -- or at least dealt with -- for an extended period last season. The ball is in his hands much more. His time as a pseudo-point guard has it moments, in both positive and negative directions. “Now I know what John deals with all the time,” Beal said before the season began. 

Only Wall knows how much the last two years have weighed on him. An arthroscopic debridement of his left knee in January of 2018 was followed by heel surgery to remove bone spurs a year later. A slip tore 95 percent of Wall’s tenuous Achilles tendon three weeks after the bone spur surgery aimed toward preventing that specific injury. Asked if he is surprised by the massive roster changes since Boston, Wall, his left knee resting on the padded seat of a purple scooter with a gray boot framing the end of his leg, looked around at the nameplates in the locker room. 

“Mmmm,” Wall said as he glanced across the room. “No, not really. I’m so used to having so many new teammates every year, it’s kind of like nothing new. ... I think when I got injured, kind of missed a lot of time last year, they kind of had to go a different way and try to get under the [luxury] tax so they can make some moves throughout the summer. No, I’m not [surprised]. It’s great that they added these pieces and Brad’s going to continue to lead these guys.”

Even for those who remain, much has changed since the loss in Boston. Beal is no longer solely Wall’s backcourt partner. Instead, he is the team’s lone All-Star representative, it’s voice, motor and lead rope-puller. The injuries stalled Wall’s ascension following his first season of All-NBA recognition and filled his future with questions. Mahinmi rarely plays. Satoransky has acquitted himself well for the second straight season as the starting point guard with Wall out. He didn’t play in Game 7 against the Celtics. But the memory of being on the cusp and recognition of massive change remains.

“I remember leaving that place with feelings like we didn’t take care of the advantage we had there, not only Game 7, but [also] Game 2,” Satoransky said. “We feel like we should [have won] those games. It was like opportunity that passed by us, we all felt very disappointed. We felt disappointed because it was going well. Then, you don’t think about it, but now that you remind me, it’s crazy how much everything has changed. But I guess this is how NBA goes now.”


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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.


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Mystics unable to complete a sweep, fall to Las Vegas Aces in Game 3

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Mystics unable to complete a sweep, fall to Las Vegas Aces in Game 3

A rare poor shooting night plagued the Washington Mystics as the WNBA Semifinals have shifted toward Las Vegas. As the highest-scoring team in WNBA history was unable to get on the right track in Game 3, the Las Vegas Aces grab a season-saving victory, 92-75. 

Not once did the Mystics get into a coherent flow on the night. They shot 38.6% (27-of-70) from the field and an even worse 33.3% (11-of-13) from behind the arc. In the regular season, their season averages were 46.9% and 36.6% respectively.

Aside from Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver, no one managed to get into a grove. Delle Donne was the only Mystics’ starter to scored more than six points. She had 22 points but with a team-worst minus-21.

The only time Washington strung together a series of points was when the WNBA MVP Delle Donne took over the game. She scored eight straight points for Washington in the first quarter to tie the game at 19. Back-to-back 3-pointers gave the team their best offensive spurt of the game. However, it would not last long. 

Moments later, a huge 14-2 Aces run in the second propelled Las Vegas to a 41-33 lead. From there the Aces would not relinquish it for the remainder of the contest. The difference eventually grew to a series-high 22 in the waning moments off a layup by Kayla McBride.

Liz Cambage was basically unstoppable for the Aces with 28 points and a highly efficient 12-of-15 shooting night. Just as importantly she helped shut down the Mystics star of the first two games of the series, Emma Meesseman to only six points. Also, she essentially drew a technical from Mystics' coach Mike Thibault after she got away with a high elbow that was not called.

A'ja Wilson added 21 points for the Aces while McBride had 18. 

Nights like these are rare for Washington. Throughout the year they scored more than 100 points a WNBA-record 15 times. Four times did they fail to score more than 75 points.

The loss prevents the Mystics from completing a three-game sweep of the Aces. As Washington still leads the series 2-1, Game 4 will be on Tuesday with the time still TBD.