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Mystics clinch No. 1 seed in WNBA playoffs with Emma Meesseman coming to form

Mystics clinch No. 1 seed in WNBA playoffs with Emma Meesseman coming to form

WASHINGTON - A season predicated by dominance gave the Washington Mystics a slight speed bump Friday night. As victories of 20 or more points have become standard for Washington, a scrappy Dallas Wings gave them all they could handle in the Entertainment and Sports Arena.

Nevertheless, with a Washington 86-73 victory over the Dallas Wings and a Connecticut Sun loss, the Mystics clinched the No. 1 seed in the 2019 WNBA Playoffs.

Unlike most opponents though, the Wings did not fold once the Mystics jumping up by 22 points early in the third quarter. The non-playoff team did not play like one. Dallas played physical and aggressive, totaling 22 fouls to try and slow down the high-powered Washington offense. A mix of double teams and aggressive chase-down person defense kept the Mystics on their toes for the whole game.

“It was such a kind of herky jerky game for a while with foul calls and the physicality. I think it’s good for us to play against physicality like that, because the playoffs are going to be a little bit more like that,” head coach Mike Thibault told reporters after the game, before Washington officially had clinched the No. 1 seed. “It’s a great win…. To decide our own fate, that’s a nice position to be in.”

It wasn’t the typical win for the Mystics, besides not having a 20-plus lead throughout. It displayed a showcase for Emma Meesseman, who led the team in scoring for only the fourth time this year.

The Belgian player showed out for arguably her most impressive game of the season. She matched a season-high 25 points, scoring 23 in the first half alone. At one point she was 9-for-10 shooting and started taking a shot every time the ball found her hands. She ultimately would finish11-for-17 going cold in the second half.

But unstoppable was the only way to describe her in the first 20 minutes. Patrolling the post, slashing toward the rim, stepping out for 3-pointers, the Wings had no answer. Her play was mesmerizing, performing in a manner that the team had yet to see on the court this season.  

“She’s a monster. She’s so efficient. She can score the ball at will, so [she] was huge for us tonight,” Elena Delle Donne said after the game.

It was only the fifth start of the season for the 6-4 forward. Throughout the season Meesseman has been a vital bench player for the Mystics averaging 12.6 points. Often she has been the back-up for Delle Donne when she needs rest. With Kristi Toliver out and taking advantage of a big lineup, Meesseman got all of the attention.

“We got her the ball in all kinds of places. She got the ball in the post. She got it on the pick and pop. She got threes. I couldn’t believe she passed up a three down in front of [Dallas’] bench in the fourth quarter,” Thibault said.

The process to get her playing at this level has been slow throughout the season. Of course they would also like it without Delle Donne being held to only 16 points. They would also want to see it for a full 40 minutes over just a half.

But as their first playoff game is nearly two weeks away, Meesseman has come to form at the right time.

“Our biggest missing piece [from last season] was Emma Meesseman,” Natasha Cloud told reporters postgame. “That’s been the biggest difference in our play and where we are right now as a team. She’s phenomenal. It’s fun to watch her. It’s almost like you’re looking at another Elena Delle Donne.”

Another Delle Donne is never a bad thing.

The team remained without one of their key All-Stars Toliver, who out at least until the playoffs. She has been missing from the active roster since Aug. 8. After last season’s injury troubles in the Mystics’ 2018 WNBA playoff run, no one wants to push Toliver back.

While closer than perhaps the Mystics (25-8) would have hoped, Friday gave the team their 25th win on the season. Further building on the franchise-record that the team currently holds, Washington will get to enjoy a double-bye to start the playoffs.

Taking the top seed for the playoffs marks another first on the Mystics historic season. In addition to a franchise record for wins, they’ve also set the WNBA record for made 3-pointers in a game, the WNBA’s wins by 20 or more points, just to name a few.

Mission accomplished for the regular season as the team has ‘ran it back’ and more. All that is left is to match that effort in the postseason.

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Wizards District Gaming takes JBM with No.1 pick in 2020 NBA 2K League Draft

Wizards District Gaming takes JBM with No.1 pick in 2020 NBA 2K League Draft

Sixty eight gamers' lives changed on Saturday night. 

One of those very lucky individuals was Jack Mascone, who was selected by Wizards District Gaming with the No.1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft. 

Wizards’ managing partner Ted Leonsis had a special message for the point guard from New York, who joins the Monumental Sports & Entertainment family. 

“On behalf of the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go we’d like to welcome JBM to the Monumental basketball family. Congratulations on your hard work paying off. We’re excited to have you run the District with us,” Leonsis said.

Wizards District Gaming also drafted small forward Justin Howell in the second round, No. 30 overall, small forward Antonio Newman, No. 37, and utility Brandon Richardson at No. 51 in the third round. 

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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