Category archive: Washington Mystics
It looks like a "changing fortunes" kind of week for the Washington Mystics. And if any WNBA team needs a new direction and new blood, it's them. They ended the regular season Saturday with a 5-29 record, somehow doing even worse than last year's moribund 6-28.
Just two years removed from finishing first in the Eastern Conference, the Mystics seem eons away from that kind of success. So what can stop their downward spiral and give their exasperated fans hope for 2013?
David Butler II-US PresswwireTrudi Lacey went 11-57 in two seasons as the Mystics' head coach.
The first essential step came Monday, with the announcement that the team and coach/general manager Trudi Lacey were -- as the Mystics' news release said -- "parting ways." The team also did not retain assistant coaches Marianne Stanley and Jennifer Gillom, both of whom are former head coaches in the WNBA.
Lacey, the architect of two consecutive teams that went nowhere, was hired in November 2010, a time that will live in infamy in Mystics' lore. Washington had, for the first time, finished in first place in the Eastern Conference earlier that year under the guidance of coach Julie Plank and general manager Angela Taylor.
Despite Washington's first-round playoff loss to Atlanta, it looked like the often-snakebit Mystics finally had found a really good blueprint for consistent success. Then, apparently over salary and/or control issues, it all blew up. Taylor left, and Plank did not want the combo job of coach/GM.
There was an infamous teleconference in which Mystics president and managing partner Sheila Johnson told the media that she would "idiot-proof" for them her explanation of what went down with Plank's and Taylor's departures. Instead, the Mystics' management looked clueless and desperate, with Johnson referring to the just-hired Lacey's chances for success as a "crap shoot."
It was a losing move for Washington, which now will try to turn the tide yet again. Whoever is hired will be the 13th coach in the history of a franchise that began play in 1998. The Mystics have been to the playoffs six times, while subjecting their fans to now four seasons of only single-digit victory totals.
Will the Mystics now hire two people -- one a coach and one a GM -- or go with a combo job again? That decision will impact who might be candidates for the Mystics to consider.
Getting the No. 1 pick, especially, and a new mentor might not cure everything that has ailed the Mystics the last two years, but could go a long ways to doing that.
Another factor in the hiring(s), though, will be how Wednesday's draft lottery goes. The Mystics, with the league's worst record, have a 44.2 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, which seems a virtual lock to be Baylor center Brittney Griner.
So the Mystics organization will already know its lottery position before it hires its next coach, which could make the job more attractive and could also impact whom the franchise prefers to be in charge of X's and O's.
The Mystics "celebrated" their 15 seasons in Washington this summer, but that was bittersweet at best, coming in the midst of so many losses. Post player Crystal Langhorne had another solid season, averaging 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. She turns 26 in October, so she's still in the heart of her prime as a pro.
But Langhorne needs more help, and the Mystics need a major confidence boost. They lost their last 13 games in a row and won just once on the road all season. Add to the team's frustration that former Mystics star Alana Beard has had a very good comeback season for playoffs-bound Los Angeles. She signed as a free agent with the Sparks after missing the past two seasons in Washington with ankle problems.
Getting the No. 1 pick, especially, and a new mentor might not cure everything that has ailed the Mystics the past two years but could go a long ways to doing that.
If, that is, the lottery balls fall in the Mystics' favor and the team's management makes a wiser decision when handing over the reins.
The Mystics have plummeted a long way in the past two years. Now is a chance to start climbing back out of that hole.
The participants in the WNBA playoffs and the draft lottery are now set. Washington, Phoenix, Tulsa and Chicago -- which lost Thursday and was eliminated from postseason contention -- are the teams that will be in the Brittney Griner sweepstakes.
We'll have a whole lot more on that topic next week, in preparation for the live "SportsCenter" announcement of the lottery results Wednesday. There's plenty of ground to cover in that regard, including the considerable ire directed toward Phoenix by some other teams' fans, while the Mercury's own supporters seem quite OK with just letting 2012 go and looking toward 2013.
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireBrittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 star who led Baylor to a 40-0 record last season, is expected to be the top pick in the 2013 draft.
But this last weekend of the regular season, about all that's left to decide is which team ends with the worst record in the WNBA. Right now, that's 5-27 Washington, which finishes Friday against Indiana and Sunday at Chicago. The Mystics have lost 11 in a row, but are playing two teams with nothing on the line. The Fever's playoff spot is set, as is the Sky's position as the team with the best record in the lottery.
Still, it seems a safe bet that even against even those unmotivated foes, Washington will continue sinking until firmly settling on the bottom. Most chances in the lottery, here we come.
Meanwhile, the team with the second-worst mark is Phoenix, which at 7-25 has lost five games in a row. The Mercury finish Friday against defending WNBA champion Minnesota and Sunday against Seattle. That finale will be televised at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. Not exactly a barn burner.
The Storm, who also have two regular-season games left, realistically are thinking about their first-round playoff series against the Lynx. Minnesota went 3-1 against Seattle this season. The Storm are not coming into the postseason with a full head of steam, having gone 5-8 since the Olympic break. Seattle hosts another playoff team, San Antonio, on Friday.
And on the other side of Sunday's matchup in Phoenix, you have the tattered remnants of the Mercury, a team besieged both by myriad injuries and rumors that at some point this season, they rolled over and played dead. Phoenix coach Corey Gaines says that's nonsense. He says that, in fact, the Mercury did what they could to be competitive until the playoffs were mathematically impossible to reach, and then they decided there was no reason not to shut down star Diana Taurasi and give her rest.
Whether you believe that or subscribe to one of the various Mercury tanking theories, this much is not debatable: Phoenix will benefit next year from the advancements players such as DeWanna Bonner have made in their games. Bonner, in her fourth year out of Auburn, has become a starter this season and carried a huge load.
Phoenix president and chief operating officer Amber Cox praises Bonner for keeping the Mercury's attitude as upbeat as possible.
"You can give her a ton of credit for that, because she really has been the leader of this team," Cox said. "She's been the one to make sure everybody keeps working hard. But also become more of a vocal leader in a positive manner."
In this clunker season for the Mercury, Gaines insists that his players consistently attempted to play hard.
"Our game is up-tempo and we'd have games where we just ran out of gas," Gaines said. "Even when games got out of hand, we had to strive for some kind of goal. Like, 'Let's try to win these next few minutes.' You have to do that, and that's what we did."
Meanwhile, Tulsa's goal was simply to get as many victories as it could in a season in which the Shock again were often at a pure-talent deficit against foes. Tulsa is now 9-23 after winning its third game in a row Thursday, beating New York. In their two previous seasons in Oklahoma, the Shock went 6-28 and 3-31. Liz Cambage's decision not to return to Tulsa for the last 10 games hasn't dampened any of the Shock's enthusiasm for finishing this season as strongly as possible -- even if that gives them worse odds in the lottery.
It seemed fitting that the final Eastern Conference playoff spot was clinched by a team on a night when it lost. Neither New York nor Chicago grabbed the East's No. 4 spot with gusto. It went to the Liberty, and the Sky again are left on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Some might say it's just as well, that Chicago potentially might benefit more from the lottery in 2013 than by making the franchise's first postseason appearance now. Still, it has to be looked at as a disappointment for a team that appeared to have a good chance at making the playoffs this season.
Los Angeles' DeLisha Milton-Jones didn't try to avoid the obvious recently when asked about the struggles the Sparks have had this summer.
After Lisa Leslie retired, Candace Parker was going to be the team's undisputed centerpiece. But Parker's season ended after 10 games because of a shoulder injury.
"You know, you go through the whole list of clichés to try to make it seem like it won't be that bad," Milton-Jones said. "Like, 'It doesn't matter; one player doesn't make the whole team.' But at the end of the day, that one player is vital.
"When it's someone who is also one of the faces of women's basketball that is not just a hole. That is an astronomically large crater that we have to fill. What that player brought to us is something that can't be replaced. The way teams had to formulate defenses to stop Candace when she is in transition, when she is setting a pick, when a pick is set for her, when she's on the block, when she's on the 3-point line "
Yep, Parker is a multifaceted nightmare for defenders. Milton-Jones knew as soon as she found out that Parker was done for the season that the Sparks were in trouble. It was an additional blow to L.A. to lose guard Betty Lennox to injury, too; she appeared in just 11 games.
But Milton-Jones held on to the hope that the Sparks would find a way to still get into the playoffs. She expected it would be kind of like dragging several large pieces of heavy luggage -- which had the wheels fall off -- to an airport gate that seemed five miles away. Oh, and don't even think there is a luggage cart available to help.
Well, on Friday night, the Sparks finally made it to that gate. And they didn't miss their flight. L.A. is going to the postseason. A 98-91 win over the Minnesota Lynx put the Sparks in the playoffs.
Milton-Jones had a season-high 24 points. Her fellow "old ladies" on the Sparks were also critically important. Tina Thompson led L.A. with 26 points, while Ticha Penicheiro had 12 assists. All three players are 35; Milton-Jones and Penicheiro will be 36 in September.
Thompson, who became the WNBA's career scoring leader last week, also had nine rebounds, while Milton-Jones had seven.
"We're feeling very, very good, but we know the hard part is about to begin for us," Milton-Jones said. "This win tonight we can't get too high off it because we want to go in [to the postseason] and represent ourselves well."
Actually, they should take some pride in just making the playoffs. Thompson, Milton-Jones and Penicheiro have all won WNBA titles, and their resolve and leadership carried the Sparks in the worst times. When the going got rough this season, they kept on going.
The Sparks' victory added one more piece to the playoff puzzle, which is still not fully formed. Now we have seven of the eight postseason teams, but the matchups remain to be determined.
There was a fair amount of drama Friday in that regard. The San Antonio Silver Stars, despite losing Chamique Holdsclaw to an Achilles tendon injury earlier this week, scrambled for an important 75-61 victory over the Indiana Fever. It put the Silver Stars closer to the last Western Conference playoff spot, while the Lynx were pushed a little further away by the loss to L.A.
Speaking of pushing, a little of that went on in D.C., as the Washington Mystics edged the New York Liberty in a 75-74 thriller that ended New York's 10-game winning streak. There was a bit of a postgame scuffle that fortunately didn't last long or amount to much but it did show that passions are more than a little inflamed at this point in the season.
Going into the final two days of the regular season, Washington, New York and Indiana are all at 21-12 and tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Ready for the big finish?
So here we are a week into the WNBA season, and everything is working out precisely as we all thought it would to this point, right? Not entirely.
Chicago's struggles? Not very surprising. But Atlanta's hot start? I admit I wasn't expecting the Dream to race to a 4-0 record.
What about Los Angeles being winless? Well, not a huge stunner, considering the Sparks' opening three games were on the road. But with six of its next eight at home, L.A. has a chance to effectively negate the slow beginning. Still, this might be an intense week at practice for the Sparks. Because there were moments in Saturday's loss at San Antonio where Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom looked ready to really go Vesuvius on her team.
And what an upbeat Silver Stars debut for Chamique Holdsclaw, wasn't it? She had 19 points and five assists for San Antonio against L.A., and seemed to bring a lot of energy to the AT&T Center. So far, it doesn't appear that Holdsclaw's departure is hurting Atlanta, while her arrival has helped the Silver Stars. "Chamique Part IV" is off to a good launch, and now just needs to stay on course.
Overall, it has been an entertaining start to the WNBA. And Tuesday offers a doubleheader with each game providing a very different story line. At 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, defending WNBA champion Phoenix visits Tulsa. Then at 10 p.m. ET, Washington is at Seattle, with the Storm leading the Western Conference at 3-0.
The Mercury-Mystics game is scheduled to be available online with WNBA Live Access, which fans hope is truly "accessible." The webcasts have had some glitches early on, not unlike some of the teams themselves.
The Storm, though, have been glitch-free so far, including an overtime win at Phoenix on Saturday. The Storm's Lauren Jackson seems to be uber-motivated every time she faces the Mercury, and that was the case again as she had 25 points and eight rebounds.
Whenever a team goes into Phoenix and "steals" a victory on the Mercury's home court, it's almost like winning two games instead of one. That said, the Storm will have to consolidate it by slowing down a Mystics team that is 3-1, with the loss coming at Connecticut.
Entering the season, I thought the Mystics had legitimate high expectations to be a playoff contender even without injured Alana Beard. And Tuesday's game in Seattle could be one of those potential early season statement games for the Mystics if they win.
As for the Tulsa-Phoenix game, too many key Shock players are no longer with the franchise for the game to remind us very much of the 2007 WNBA finals that went the distance between Detroit and Phoenix. And, of course, Cappie Pondexter is not with the Mercury anymore, either.
But what's interesting with this matchup is the concept of pitting a high-octane offense like Phoenix's against a Tulsa team that is, Shock coach Nolan Richardson hopes, learning what "40 minutes of hell" is really about defensively. And with Tulsa having gotten its first victory, a double-digit win at Minnesota on Sunday, the Shock at least now can bring some legitimate confidence against the preseason favorite.