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The Mystics win two straight over the weekend, remain in contention for the East's #1 seed

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After a blowout loss to the Chicago Sky last week, the Washington Mystics beat two other conference foes over the weekend, getting a bad taste out of their mouths.

Stewart W. Small

The Washington Mystics went 2-1 over the last week to end up with an 8-6 record, good for third in the Eastern Conference. Last Wednesday, they got blown out 85-57 to the Chicago Sky, easily their worst loss for the season. In fact, they fell to fifth in the Eastern Conference despite a 6-6 record at the time.

That set up last weekend's pair of home games against the Indiana Fever and Connecticut Sun to be must-win affairs. Win both games and Washington should still be in the thick of the Eastern Conference's top seed in the playoffs. Lose one or both, and we'd have a completely different post today. Fortunately, the former happened as they blew out Indiana, 68-50 on Friday and followed that up with an 89-82 win over Connecticut on Sunday night.

Here are the main takeaways we learned from the week that was:

1. The starting backcourt finally has some youth injected into it

On June 29, I suggested that the Mystics bench Kara Lawson and put Tayler Hill in her place. At the time, Lawson was shooting inefficiently despite her solid playmaking skills. Hill on the other hand never had a full opportunity to show what she can do with extended minutes, and she's the team's only draft lottery pick who is 25 or younger. Bria Hartley hasn't been at 100 percent due to a stress fracture in her foot, and she shouldn't play extended minutes until then.

Last Friday, Thibault decided to implement my suggestion in principle, but he chose different players to bench or start. Ivory Latta was benched in favor of rookie Natasha Cloud. Thibault's reason for the change was because the 6'0 Cloud would be a longer defender on the floor as opposed to the 5'6 Latta, according to Gene Wang of the Washington Post. The move has helped Washington defensively, and it also allows a younger player to get a chance to play with the first unit. That leads me to the next point.

2. The Mystics' youth movement has finally dominated the starting lineup

With the insertion of Cloud into the starting lineup, four of the Mystics' five starters are in their third WNBA season or less. With the exception of Lawson, every starter is on a rookie contract AND is 24 or younger.

Even though I don't agree with every single move that Thibault made since he came to Washington, I do appreciate the fact that he hasn't hesitated to put younger players into major roles quickly, even when there are available veterans to pick up the slack. Hopefully, we'll see more of this younger starting lineup for the rest of the season.

3. The offense is at its best when the ball is moving

Washington leads the WNBA in assists per game, where they dish 18.5 dimes. They dished 21 team assists in the Friday win against Indiana and 23 against Connecticut on Sunday.

Furthermore, all five starters in the Connecticut game dished at least three assists each. That's not particularly a surprise because both guards -- Lawson and Cloud -- are point guards. In the frontcourt, Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson are post playmakers who are skilled at passing themselves. And Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, the starting small forward played point guard during her senior year of college at North Carolina. In short, it's no coincidence that the Mystics are the best when it comes to the art of the assist.

3. LaToya Sanders, where have you been?

The Mystics' newest post player has made a big impact in the rotation, almost right away since she officially decided to play for the team earlier this month. Last week, she averaged 13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in their three games, all off the bench. Sanders' best performance was on Friday during the Fever win when she scored 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished 5 assists in what was a career game for her. She followed that up with a 17-point scoring performance against Connecticut on Sunday.

With Kia Vaughn still out and Ally Malott not fully ready to be a regular rotation player, Sanders fills a much-needed role for D.C. I never thought that she would actually play for the Mystics when she was traded here in 2012 by the previous GM/Coaching Regime. But it's nice to see that Sanders is contributing right away after joining the team midseason.

BF's Mystics Player of the Week (July 13 to 19): LaToya Sanders

You knew where I was heading with the last point. In light of the impact she made the last several games, Sanders deserves to be the Player of the Week.

Who do they play this week? (July 20 to 26)

There is only one game over the next seven days, but the WNBA All-Star Game's also on this weekend. There should be at least one Mystics player there as a reserve:

Date Opponent Time (ET) TV/Online
Tuesday, July 21 Tulsa Shock 12:30 p.m. WNBA LiveAccess
Saturday, July 25 WNBA All-Star Game 3:30 p.m. ABC/WatchESPN

The Mystics will face the Tulsa Shock on Tuesday where they will look to get some payback after losing 86-82 to them back on June 19. The key difference -- as we mentioned to you a couple times in passing -- is that their do-it-all franchise guard Skylar Diggins tore her right ACL during a game where she scored a season-high 31 points in a June 28 win over the Seattle Storm.

Diggins' absence, as you might expect, hurt the Shock a lot. Tulsa was 8-1 and was first in the Western Conference at the time of her injury. Since then, they went 2-6. The return of second-year guard Odyssey Sims from an injury in June will be key for Tulsa to regain their early-season form, but they've only gone 1-3 since she returned. Either way, Tulsa's not in good shape, and the Mystics can certainly use a win against one of the West's rising powers before the league's midseason showcase.