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Wizards' newfound depth on display with big bench scoring effort vs. Bulls

Wizards' newfound depth on display with big bench scoring effort vs. Bulls

The injuries to John Wall and Dwight Howard have left the margins thin for the Washington Wizards, producing a noticeable lack of depth in recent weeks as Markieff Morris was also sidelined with a neck injury. The pair of trades they made this week, however, have already helped stretch out their rotation.

They lost a very good player in Otto Porter Jr., who was shipped to the Bulls. But in return they received two players who have already produced in Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker. Their other trade netted Wesley Johnson, who so far has proven at least good enough to hold a rotation spot.

Given Morris wasn’t playing, the Wizards essentially lost one member of their rotation and added three in the two trades. That trade-off was clear in their 134-125 win over the Bulls on Saturday night.

They may lack high-end talent with Porter, in particular, now gone. But there is something to be said about strength in numbers, especially when they play teams like the Bulls that are bad in part because they don’t have the necessary depth to compete for a full 48 minutes.

Against Chicago, the Wizards had a 64-38 edge in bench points. Four of their reserves reached double figures and two – Parker and Chasson Randle – dropped 20 apiece. For Randle, that was a career-high.

The Wizards’ bench nearly matched their starters. The Wizards’ starting five had 70 points compared to the 68 for their bench, about as balanced an effort as one team can have.

Two games are not enough to draw real conclusions from the new-look Wizards and specifically how Portis, Parker and Johnson will affect the overall cause.

The team still has some obvious defensive limitations. Though Portis can help with rebounding, they are still likely to struggle overall on the boards. One man alone can only do so much for a team that ranks 30th in total rebounds and 27th in rebounding percentage.

Praising the Wizards' depth may look foolish in just a few days when they go to Toronto on Wednesday to see the Raptors, arguably the NBA’s deepest team.  

But Parker already looks to potentially be the best bench scorer the Wizards have had maybe in years. This is a guy who put up 20.1 points per game just two seasons ago. That was also one ACL tear ago, but the skillset is still there.

He can score inside and out, has a quick first step and is aggressive off the dribble in the halfcourt. He can finish with power and finesse.

Parker’s three-point shot hasn’t been falling this season. His percentage dropped to 31.7 after an 0-for-3 performance from long range against the Bulls. But the previous two years, he shot 37.1 percent on 3.2 attempts per game. Despite the injury, that was across 82 games, not a small sample size.

The Wizards have lacked scoring punch off their bench for what seems like forever. There were those few months Bojan Bogdanovic gave them a lift in 2017, but otherwise they haven’t enjoyed consistent bench scoring with anything that has resembled efficiency in a long time.

Portis, as he showed with his 30 points against Cleveland on Friday night, can also fill it up. And Johnson, who scored 14 vs. the Bulls, can contribute as well. 

Both have already proven they can get hot from three. Portis went 4-for-6 vs. Cleveland and Johnson hit 3-of-4 against Chicago.

The Wizards have won each of their games since Portis, Parker and Johnson made their debuts. But they remain eight games under .500 with 2 1/2 games separating them from a playoff spot.

There is plenty of work to do to close the gap, but the added scoring to their bench may help their chances.

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WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 1: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

WNBA Semifinals: Aces at Mystics - Game 1: Date, time, TV channel, live stream how to watch

The Washington Mystics and Elena Delle Donne finally get to play in the WNBA Playoffs after a week off due to a double-bye from winning the No. 1 seed. 

The Mystics will play the No. 4 seeded Las Vegas Aces on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET. It begins a best-of-five series between two of the best teams in the WNBA this season. 

Midway through the year, the Aces were arguably the best team in the league. They were trading turns with the Mystics and the Connecticut Sun sitting atop the WNBA Standings. Led by MVP candidate Liz Cambage, one of the most dominating centers in the league, the Aces were squarely in the running for one of the top seeds and a double-bye.

Then they went cold, finished the season 2-4 and witnessed the Mystics and Sun continued success.

The Aces, honestly, should probably not be here after the incredible end-of-game sequence from the previous round. Dearica Hamby's steal and desperation shot are the only things that have the Aces here and not the Chicago Sky.

Much of the dominance from Cambage and A'ja Wilson has dissipated over the past several weeks. Still, they bring in one of the strongest defensive units in the league to try and slow down the most potent's in WNBA history. In the regular season, the Aces held opponents to a WNBA-best 43.5% from the field and the second-best from 3-point range (32.1%). 

Washington won the regular-season series against Las Vegas 2-1. Yet in the process, one game was postponed at halftime by an earthquake and another game delayed because of clock failures. The only game the Aces won was the one that Delle Donne missed. 

Washington finished the regular season with a franchise-best 26 wins. They set the WNBA record for made 3-pointers on the season (9.3 per game) and in a game (18), and fewest turnovers (11.3 per game) among a few.

While the Mystics have a much-needed eight days off before they play the Aces, one also has to be concerned if it was too much time off. They will have more time to recover in a series as opposed to the winner-take-all first and second rounds. However, there is not much wiggle room in a five-game series predicated on homefield advantage.

ACES VS. MYSTICS GAME 1:

Who: Las Vegas Aces at Washington Mystics

What: WNBA Semifinals Game 1

When: Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington D.C.

TV Channel: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

MYSTICS vs. ACES WNBA SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE:

Game 1: Tue, Sept. 17: Aces at Mystics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 2: Thurs, Sept. 19: Aces at Mystics, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 3: Sun, Sept. 22: Mystics at Aces, 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Game 4: Tue, Sept 24: Mystics at Aces, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

Game 5: Thurs, Sept. 26: Aces at Mystics, Time TBD, ESPN2 (if necessary)

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Just joining the Mystics' bandwagon in time for the semi-finals? Here's what you need to know

Just joining the Mystics' bandwagon in time for the semi-finals? Here's what you need to know

The Washington Mystics are set to kick off their playoff run on Tuesday night at 8:30 pm against the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Semifinals. You may have followed the entire journey to this point, or you may just joining in on the fun, hoping to hitch a ride on the bandwagon of a great team.

If you are in that second group, you're in luck. Here is what you need to know about the 2019 Mystics as they gear up for the postseason...

They are historically good: The 26-8 Mystics weren't just the best team in the league this season by their record, they were dominant to a degree rarely seen in the WNBA. Washington scored the most points per game (89.3), had the most assists (21.9), the fewest turnovers (11.8) and the highest field goal percentage (46.9). 

The Mystics had the best offensive rating (112.9) with an 11.3-point edge over the second-best team, the Chicago Sky. With the sixth-best defensive rating, the Mystics' 14.8 net rating was 10.7 points better than the next-best team, the Las Vegas Aces. 

Washington's offensive rating is the best ever, ahead of the 2000 Houston Comets who were at 109.1. Their 53.6 effective field goal percentage is also an all-time best. Basically, no one has ever scored as efficiently as this year's Mystics.

Delle Donne could be MVP: Mystics star Elene Delle Donne may take home her second WNBA MVP award. She had another monster season with 19.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while posting the first 50-40-90 season in WNBA history. She shot 51.5 percent from the field, 43 percent from three and 97.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Delle Donne is also healthy this time around. Last year, she battled a left knee injury that limited her during the playoffs and contributed to the Mystics demise in the Finals.

They make lots of threes: The three-point shot has never been more important in basketball and the Mystics are better at it than anyone else in the WNBA. They led the league in three-pointers made and attempted, and were second in percentage this season. They hit 36.6 percent, second only to the Aces, on 25.4 attempts. Their 9.3 made threes per game were 1.8 more than the next team, the Connecticut Sun. 

The total numbers are impressive, but so is the Mystics' versatility of perimeter threats. Delle Donne is 6-foot-5, yet she hits her 43 percent on 3.9 attempts per game. Meesseman is a 6-foot-4 center who makes 42.2 percent on two attempts per game.  Then they have Myisha Hines-Allen, Tianna Hawkins, Aerial Powers, Kristi Tolliver and Ariel Atkins, who all shoot 35.7 percent or better from long range. 

Their defense is elite: It isn't just scoring and outside shooting that makes the Mystics great. They also have one of the best defenses with the athleticism and length to frustrate opponents. Washington was fourth in points allowed (77.3), sixth in defensive rating (98.1), fifth in turnovers forced (14.5), eighth in opponent field goal percentage (43) and seventh in opponent three-point percentage (34).

That led to both Atkins and Cloud earning second-team All-Defense this season. LaToya Sanders also drew consideration and, if you ask her teammates, was a glaring snub.

Run it back: The Mystics are on a mission to clear up some unfinished business. Last year, they made it all the way to the WNBA Finals, only to lose to the high-powered Seattle Storm.

The path is there for another deep playoff run, this time perhaps with a different result. 'Run it back' has been a mantra for the team all season. You will see it in hashtags on Twitter. They want to get back to the Finals and take home the first championship in franchise history.

Thibault could get a ring: Head coach Mike Thibault has enjoyed a long and distinguished basketball career that includes two NBA championships as an assistant with the Lakers in the early 1980s. He is the winningest coach in WNBA history.

But Thibault does not have a WNBA championship on his resume, at least not yet. He has lost in the Finals three times including twice during his days with Connecticut. Winning a title would represent a breakthrough for him and would make for a great story of someone finally reaching the mountaintop in their sport.

Toliver has been hurt: The biggest question mark for the Mystics going into the playoffs is the health of All-Star guard Kristi Toliver. She has been sidelined since Aug. 8 with a right knee contusion, an injury that forced her to miss 11 games. According to Thibault, she is "probably" going to play in Game 1 but if she does, she will be on a minutes restriction.

The Mystics closed the season well without her, winning 10 of the 11 games she missed. But Toliver is an important piece as a veteran leader and because of her three-point shooting and passing.

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