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Mystics lose to the Shock, beat the Fever over the weekend

The Mystics are still second in the East after their third week of regular season play.

Stewart W. Small

The Washington Mystics are now 4-2 in their 2015 season. On Friday, they lost a close 86-82 game to the Tulsa Shock where Plenette Pierson scored 24 points, and 6 rebounds and Riquna Williams scored 22 points more off the bench. For the Mystics, Emma Meesseman scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked 6 shots, but ultimately, the team didn't capitalize on that.

Washington had a chance to get the taste of a loss out of their mouths quickly by playing the Indiana Fever on the road Saturday. They defeated Indy 87-75. Ivory Latta scored 21 of her 24 points in the second half and made six of her eight three-point shots in the win. Meesseman also added 15 more points and 7 rebounds in the win. For the Fever, Briann January and Lynetta Kizer scored 14 points each in the loss.

The Mystics' 4-2 record puts them in second place in the Eastern Conference. They are one game behind the Connecticut Sun, who are on a five-game winning streak. Let's get to some takeaways.

1. Bria Hartley's and Kia Vaughn's absences are giving other young players opportunities to contribute or even thrive

One important thing to look at the Mystics' 4-2 record is that they have done so without two starters as sophomore guard Bria Hartley and veteran center Kia Vaughn haven't had a chance to play much or at all this season. Most teams that lose two starters will see a noticeable drop in performance. But in Washington's case, things seem to be a bit more "plug and play" that seems to be a bit like the Spurs' way of doing things over the last several seasons.

Hartley is still out due to a stress fracture in her right foot. She was warming up last Friday but ultimately didn't play either game this past weekend. Her absence has given other players like Tayler Hill and Natasha Cloud to play more minutes. Neither was particularly consistent this weekend as a scorer, but Cloud has been a consistent assister (she has dished at least three assists every game), and she scored 9 points in Saturday's game. I'm not sure how either player's minutes will be once Hartley returns, but both Hill and Cloud have made contributions to Mystics wins this season.

Vaughn has sat out all but one game this season. First she was out due to a hip flexor, but now it is because of a concussion. With her out of commission, sophomore center Stefanie Dolson has taken her place in the lineup where she is averaging 11 points, and 6.8 rebounds a game. Dolson also had a chance to play with Meesseman overseas on Spartak Moscow in the EuroCup this past season, so the extended time both players have together may be paying dividends. Since things appear to be working with a Meesseman-Dolson frontcourt, perhaps Vaughn should come off the bench when she returns.

Finally, rookie post player Ally Malott has started to come along herself where she scored in double digits in two of the Mystics' last three games. She also has played at least 20 minutes in each game this past weekend. Her playing time will be more sporadic than most of the other younger players on the roster, but it's good to see that she is stepping up when her number is called.

2. The offense is starting to come along

The Mystics are fourth in offensive rating (100.1) according to Basketball-Reference. They have played two games where they made shots at a higher rate than their opponents, so this is not surprising. Also, the Mystics scored over 80 points in each game last weekend, which also indicates that things are clicking on that end.

This is nitpicky, but the Mystics also failed to score in double digits on the fast break last weekend. In fact, they didn't score a single fast break point against the Fever on Saturday. This may also be a sign that the Mystics may be dialing back their ambitions to be a faster-paced team, but with only six games in the books, it's hard to make conclusions on this.

Meanwhile, the Mystics are also 4th in defensive rating (93.4), so their commitment to this end of the floor hasn't gone away to say the least.

3. Ivory Latta is wildly inconsistent

Latta put on a great show in Saturday's win over Indiana, but she laid a dud against Tulsa the day before. When she's making her threes, Latta can look like one of the best players in the WNBA. When she's not and is bricking shot after shot, then Latta can be a liability on the floor instead of an asset. That's a problem.

Granted, I'm not banking on Latta saving the franchise nor do I have that type of expectation. But at the same time, Latta signed a multi-year extension because the front office believes she can be a steady force to help develop the current bumper crop of younger players. She's not living up to that expectation right now.

4. Mike Thibault is now the longest tenured head coach in franchise history and has a chance to be the Mystics' winningest head coach as early as this week

With the WNBA's all-time winningest head coach on the sidelines last Friday, he coached his 73rd regular season game for the Mystics which surpassed Richie Adubato's mark of 72 games. Adubato was the Mystics' head coach from 2005 to the middle of the 2007 season.

In addition, the Mystics' win over the Fever on Saturday gives Thibault 37 wins while leading D.C. Since Washington is playing three games this week, there is a good chance that he will tie current leader Julie Plank's mark of 38 wins, if not surpass that mark altogether. Plank was the Mystics' head coach from 2009-2010 which includes their franchise-best 22-12 season in 2010.

The Mystics are far from a perfect franchise, but if there are two themes that sum up the Mike Thibault Era in Washington, they are continuity and stability. This team has gone through 13 head coaches in franchise history, none of whom made it through three full seasons. Barring something crazy, Thibault will be leading the Mystics for at least that long. Hopefully, he'll be able to win a championship here before he calls it a career.

BF's Mystics Player of the Week (June 15-June 21): Emma Meesseman

The third-year Belgian's forward's consistency this past weekend earns her a second Player of the Week honor.

I've already mentioned Meesseman's stats above, but she averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over the weekend. For the season, she is averaging 14.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.2 blocks a game. According to Basketball-Reference as of June 21, Meesseman also has contributed more win shares than any other Mystics player and has the highest individual offensive vs. defensive rating differentail among all players who started every game this season.

Thibault has stated in the past that he believes that Meesseman -- who is just 22 years old -- is better than any rookie player in the 2015 Draft Class who didn't declare early. I know she had a head start compared with most players her age, but I can't disagree based on how much she has improved over the last couple years. If you're wondering why Meesseman was able to start her pro career early, it's because she never played NCAA basketball and only played in Europe.

I hope the numbers above show you that Meesseman is the Mystics' best individual player. But for whatever reason, she doesn't realize it and doesn't seem to want to be a superstar. I've harped on the team for not having that player, but to be fair, Meesseman does have some of the elements to be that type of player if she can find her inner beast.  If anyone can think of something that can unleash Emma's inner beast, that would be great.

Who do they play this week (June 22 to June 28)?

The Mystics have three games:

Date Team Time (ET) TV/Online
Tuesday, June 23 vs. Los Angeles Sparks (0-3) 8 p.m. ESPN2/WatchESPN
Friday, June 26 at Atlanta Dream (3-4) 7:30 p.m. WNBA LiveAccess
Sunday, June 28 vs. Chicago Sky (3-3) 4 p.m. Monumental Network/WNBA LiveAccess

Of the three games, all are winnable, but the Sparks game is one that the Mystics really should take advantage of. Their franchise post duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike will not play. Parker is choosing to sit out part of the season to rest while Ogwumike has been sidelined due to an ankle injury all season. Tuesday's still a couple days away, but I still doubt either will be playing in this nationally televised contest.