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WNBA title has been elusive for Mystics coach Mike Thibault, star Elena Delle Donne

WNBA title has been elusive for Mystics coach Mike Thibault, star Elena Delle Donne

Mike Thibault is used to his teams playing at this time of the year. The WNBA's all-time winningest head coach, Thibault is set to lead the Mystics into the postseason for the third straight year. It will be his 14th playoff appearance as a head coach in 17 total seasons.

Thibault has enjoyed success all over the basketball world, including during his days as an NBA assistant. He won two rings with the Lakers in the early 1980s just down the bench from Pat Riley.

But the one accomplishment that has eluded him is a WNBA championship. No one has gotten quite as close as he has without winning one.

Last year, the Mystics fell in the WNBA Finals to the Seattle Storm. That was Thibault's third Finals appearance and also his third loss. He has 336 career wins in the WNBA. Everyone else with at least 135 wins has a ring.

Thibault even has more playoff wins than any other coach. Yet still, no title.

"Well, it depends," Thibault said when asked to describe his playoff history. "I've been in the playoffs a lot and we've won. I've lost in the Finals three times. But there are a whole bunch of teams sitting at home when you get to the Finals, too."

Thibault's dichotomy of regular-season success and playoff frustration is fairly unique in the world of professional sports. He does have a peer in Don Nelson, the NBA's all-time winning coach who also does not have a title. But the winningest coaches in the NFL (Don Shula), MLB (Connie Mack) and NHL (Scotty Bowman) each won at least four championships. 

Nelson also didn't get to the Finals as often as Thibault. In fact, no NBA coach has ever reached the Finals at least three times without winning it all. 

That type of misfortune is only seen in the NFL where two coaches - Marv Levy and Dan Reeves - lost four times in the Super Bowl. If Thibault gets to the Finals and loses again this season, he could join that group.

Thibault said he looks back on the second time he was in the WNBA Finals as the one that got away. That was back in 2005 when his Connecticut Sun went 26-8 in the regular season, same as this year's Mystics, to tie the best record of his career. 

In the Finals that year, All-Star Lindsay Whalen suffered a left leg injury in Game 1 that shifted the series in favor of the Sacramento Monarchs. It took Thibault 13 years to get back to the Finals last season.

Though the Mystics lost last year, Thibault believes they are on the right track.

"We lost in the Semifinals two years ago and we lost in the Finals last year. This year, we're back in the playoffs and in the Semifinals again," he said. "You just keep knocking at the door and hopefully your experience and your skill improvement makes the difference this time around. We're a better team than we were a year ago. That doesn't guarantee anything, but we are a better team."

The Mystics are also searching for their first title as a franchise. And Elena Delle Donne, who could win her second WNBA MVP award this season, is no stranger to getting close herself. After last year, she is 0-for-2 in the WNBA Finals.

The Mystics' mantra this season has been 'run it back.' But it could also be framed as unfinished business.

"He loves [the game]," Delle Donne said of Thibault. "He is just passionate about it, so to bring him something he's never earned, since I feel like he's done literally everything else under the sun, would be really cool for this team."

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

The Washington Wizards announced the passing of John Wall's mother, Frances Pulley on Friday. 

Wall's mother had been battling cancer before her passing. She was 58. 

In a statement on Twitter, the Wizards said, "Sending thoughts and love for John Wall and his family after the passing of his mother, Frances Pulley. She will forever be a part of our #DCFamily."

Zach Leonsis, the senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also released a statement

"Thinking of @JohnWall and his family right now. Keeping you guys in our prayers. So terribly sorry for your loss and know that she will be remembered forever. #DCFamily

Wall's Kentucky coach, John Calipari also expressed his condolences for his former star: 

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Bradley Beal sees a young John Wall in the Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant

Bradley Beal sees a young John Wall in the Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant

WASHINGTON -- It is not often you see a rookie find initial success in the NBA to the degree Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant has, already with borderline All-Star numbers at the age of 20. And oftentimes, opponents are careful throwing out player comparisons for guys his age, wanting to see more before they anoint anyone.

Morant, though, is a different case and questions from media members at Wizards practice this week as the team gets set to face him for the first time naturally led to parallels to great players. On Thursday, Brooks brought up unprompted how much Morant reminds him of Russell Westbrook, his former player in Oklahoma City.

And on Friday, Bradley Beal invoked a teammate of his when breaking down what makes Morant so good.

"He loves to get up and down. He's really fast with the ball. It reminds you of John [Wall] in a lot of ways. He plays with his pace," Beal said.

Through 19 games this season, Morant is averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 42.2 percent from three on 2.2 attempts.

The threes have been surprising to most, as he shot a relatively modest 36.3 percent his final year in college at Murray State. But also surprising maybe just how lethal he has been at attacking the rim.

Sure, that was a big part of his game in college. But this is the NBA where athletes are much bigger and stronger. And he isn't the biggest guy either, weighing in at 175 pounds according to Basketball-Reference.

But despite lacking in size, he has shown an ability to finish through contact rarely seen from any player.

"I think he has a no-fear type of mentality. So, you have to respect his aggressiveness," Beal said. "He'll get respect from a lot of players in the league, a lot of refs in the league because of his aggressiveness and... with all the posters he has. So, he's an assassin. You gotta respect his game."

Beal likely won't draw the defensive assignment on Morant. That will probably go to Ish Smith and back-up point guard Chris Chiozza, who is with the team while Isaiah Thomas recovers from a left calf injury.

Beal knows it is going to be tough for the whole Wizards team to contain Morant. He said the trick will be trying to stay in front of him, though he knows that is easier said than done.

Really, Morant is such a unique player that the Wizards can only gameplan and prepare so much until they actually experience facing him for the first time.

"He's gonna be a handful," Beal said.

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