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On off shooting night, Elena Delle Donne shows why she's MVP in Mystics' Game 2 win

On off shooting night, Elena Delle Donne shows why she's MVP in Mystics' Game 2 win

WASHINGTON -- Most nights for Mystics superstar Elena Delle Donne call for her to score. Some nights require her to do just about everything else.

In Washington's Game 2 win on Thursday night, Delle Donne was the focal point of the Aces' defense, to the point where double teams were common and open shots were rare. She managed 15 attempts, but only made five of them and topped out at 14 points, well south of her regular season average (19.5). 

So, Delle Donne adjusted and, with coincidental timing, did exactly what she described just hours before the game during her acceptance speech for the 2019 WNBA MVP award. Earlier, she explained how seven years of WNBA experience have instilled the importance of making her teammates better, how that ultimately is the separator from winning in the playoffs and going home early.

Thursday put that theory into practice. Delle Donne overcame her off shooting night with 10 rebounds, two blocks and countless plays where she created shooting opportunities.

Delle Donne is known for her scoring. She holds a 20.3-point average for her career and this season became the first WNBA player ever to post a 50-40-90 shooting season.

How she played in Game 2 may have been unfamiliar for some that were watching, but not for those in the Mystics locker room.

"That's the Elena Delle Donne that's the MVP," head coach Mike Thibault said. "This game kind of epitomized it because she didn't have a good shooting game and yet people are running to double-team her and she's finding someone else. She gets double-figure rebounds, she comes up with a big blocked shot down the stretch. Those other things are things nobody ever things about with her."

"I think that’s what makes Delle the MVP is because she doesn’t force anything," guard Kristi Tolliver said. "She’s able to just be herself stay unselfish – we have a very unselfish team."

Thibault revealed that as the game went on, he purposefully drew up plays to use Delle Donne as a decoy just to get shots for Emma Meesseman, who had a game-high 30 points, and others. Delle Donne had no qualms with it, either, as she watched five of her teammates reach double-figures.

"That's what this team is about. On any night, someone can step up and take over," Delle Donne said.

That attitude can spread on a team. If the best player is giving herself up for a greater cause, others have no excuse not to do the same. 

As guard Natasha Cloud described, Delle Donne is so versatile that a bad shooting game doesn't fit the traditional definition of an 'off night.'

"I wouldn't say that she was off, I would just say that she missed some shots. But even on this type of night, she's a player that you have to commit to, that you have to respect," Cloud said. "You have to respect her shot and you have to respect the player that she is, especially on the offensive end."

Stopping Delle Donne and the three-point shot were the main areas of emphasis for the Aces on defense, and technically their strategy worked. Delle Donne didn't light up the scoreboard and the Mystics attempted only seven threes in the first half after taking 28 in Game 1.

But they didn't account for how Delle Donne would adjust. That left a sense of bewilderment in the Aces' locker room as they processed a game that has them one loss away from elimination.

"I thought we did a decent job on her," Aces star A'Ja Wilson told NBC Sports Washington. "But we've still gotta get back to the drawing board."


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Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas returns to practice days before season opener

Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas returns to practice days before season opener

Five weeks after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas returned to practice Sunday and was a full participant.

Originally expected to miss 6-8 weeks in recovery, Thomas is on track to play much sooner than anticipated. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t go as far to say Thomas would be ready for Washington’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, but he did seem optimistic that he’d be playing in the near future.

Thomas signed a one-year minimum deal with the Wizards in July. Once healthy, he’s expected to be the team’s starting point guard with Ish Smith and Justin Robinson coming off the bench.


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Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

The Wizards closed their 2019-20 preseason schedule with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, which means up next is the regular season opener on Wednesday night in Dallas. Now that the exhibition schedule is (finally) over, here are five takeaways from what we saw...

Injuries have added up

The Wizards entered this preseason with a lot of things to sort out in their rotation due to the significant roster overhaul they went through in the summer. But injuries complicated things further for head coach Scott Brooks, who wasn't offered anything close to a full cupboard to work with.

The most notable injuries were to Isaiah Thomas (thumb) and Troy Brown Jr. (calf). Both players will be key members of the rotation when they recover, but are each on track to miss the start of the regular season. The same goes for C.J. Miles, who has a foot injury. There is also Ian Mahinmi, who has an Achilles issue, though he is not likely to play a big role on the team this season.

Hachimura looks the part

The early returns on rookie Rui Hachimura have been good. The 2019 ninth overall pick has not looked timid or out of place on an NBA floor. He has shown he can attack the rim assertively and has even made a few threes. Those two areas will be key to watch for him this season; how he can adapt to NBA interior defenders and shooting threes from a longer distance.

Hachimura is a likely starter for the Wizards this season and should get ample shot opportunities. He is going to have a chance to be a focal point of the Wizards' offense and probably a long enough leash to play through his mistakes. As a young player, you can't ask for much more than that.

Also impressive this preseason were Moe Wagner, who was much better than he showed in the Las Vegas Summer League, and Thomas Bryant, who looks like he is going to take another step from his breakout season last year. Bryant is more confident knocking down threes and has been a force on the glass. Don't be surprised if he averages a double-double this season.

Small forward is a question

The Wizards had Brown penciled in to be their full-time starting small forward, according to a person familiar with their plans, but his injury is expected to keep him out to start the season. He did a post-practice workout the other day and wasn't moving very quickly, either due to discomfort in his calf or to be extra cautious in fear of a setback.

Either way, he is still rehabbing and so is Miles. The Wizards also released Justin Anderson, leaving them with no obvious choice to start at the three. At this point, it looks likely they will have to either put someone there that is probably best suited for another position like Hachimura, Davis Bertans or Jordan McRae, or roll with someone who is very inexperienced like Bonga or Admiral Schofield. The odds seem better they choose the former.

Final roster spot?

The Wizards now have to decide who gets their final roster spot. The safe money at this point is probably for point guard Justin Robinson and wing Jordan McRae to be the 14th and 15th players on the roster and for Chris Chiozza to have his contract converted to a two-way deal.

The Chiozza part has been speculated for weeks and it is the direction the team is leaning, NBC Sports Washington was told. If Chiozza did get the two-way contract, he could remain with the team to start the season and help fill the void at point guard while Thomas recovers from his left thumb surgery. Chiozza would have 45 days allotted at the NBA level, but that clock would not begin until Oct. 28 when G-League training camps open.

Beal's commitment

This season took on an entirely different tone with Thursday's news Bradley Beal would sign a contract extension with the Wizards. This year had the potential to be overshadowed by Beal's uncertain future, but now that has been put to rest. The trade rumors can be set aside as Beal has made it official his commitment to the Wizards' plan.

Now, that could get interesting late in the year if losses are piling up. He ultimately wants to win and it will bear watching how he shows his frustration if the team isn't playing up to his standards.