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The Mystics sweep the Lynx but lose two straight to the Sky

The Mystics will clinch a third consecutive playoff berth, and they will scare the Minnesota Lynx if they both make the Finals. But are they realistically able to advance past the first round when they can't win critical games against teams in their own conference?

Stewart W. Small

The Mystics played three crucial games last week, against two of the best teams in the WNBA. In the week, we saw that they will give the WNBA's top Western Conference team scares if both make the Finals. But the Mystics also lost two heartbreaking games to the Chicago Sky, a team they may face early in the postseason.

Coming out of the week, this is the main takeaway: if the Mystics can't beat the Sky or another top Eastern Conference team consistently, especially in a playoff series, how much of a damper does that put on things considering that they can beat the Lynx four times in a season?

I think any Mystics fan would love to see D.C. in the Finals, but it's frustrating to see them not take care of business against teams that they will have to face before any Western Conference opponent in a playoff setting.

Anyway, let's go through the summary, standings, a player of the week, and more.

What happened during the week (August 17 to 23)?

On Wednesday, August 19, they beat the Minnesota Lynx 79-61 on the road, just days after beating them 77-69 the previous Sunday. After a relatively even first half, Washington just annihilated Minnesota, 43-27 with Kara Lawson, Ivory Latta, and Tayler Hill leading the way offensively.

While the offensive performance was great, they literally stopped 2014 WNBA MVP Maya Moore, as she only scored 10 points on 2 of 10 shooting for the night. Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus also scored in double figures, but they shot a combined 9 of 25 and weren't in sync either. I already called the Mystics second regular season sweep of the Lynx in three years a signature moment, but this game was an excellent performance all around for D.C.

On the following Friday, the Mystics traveled to Chicago to face the Sky and lost 87-85 after Allie Quigley, the 2014 Sixth Woman of the Year made a three-pointer with just two seconds left. This game really could have gone either way because there were 18 lead changes and ties. In addition, neither team led by more than six points in the game.

However, the Mystics lost the rebounding battle quite badly, 45-27. Furthermore, they lost the offensive rebounding battle, 15-4. If there's a reason why the Mystics lost, it wasn't one clutch shot, but rather their poor performance there.

The Mystics got a chance to avenge the Friday loss on Sunday as they hosted the Sky at Verizon Center. Once again, they lost a close game, 66-64 after Cappie Pondexter made a shot with just 6 seconds left. De ja vu.

The good news with this game was that the Mystics made a point to make sure that they wouldn't be dominated on the boards where the margin was very even (32 vs. Chicago's 33). It was also very scrappy as both teams had at least four or maybe even more jump balls.

But Chicago played at a higher level for most of the game and was leading by double digits at some points during the game. It was great to see Washington make some valiant runs to take the lead at times, but it wasn't wasn't enough.

2015 Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

The Mystics are fourth in the east with a 15-11 record. Here are the rest of the standings in the East:

W L GB Conf W Conf L Home W Home L
New York Liberty 18 8 0 10 6 9 3
Indiana Fever 17 9 1 10 7 9 4
Chicago Sky 17 11 2 12 6 11 3
Washington Mystics 15 11 3 8 10 9 5
Connecticut Sun 12 14 6 4 12 7 7
Atlanta Dream 10 16 8 6 9 6 6

Barring a really bad losing streak, they're making the playoffs. After all, the Sun are three games behind D.C., and both teams still have eight games left to play. Atlanta at this point is looking forward to the 2016 Draft.

Among the four teams that would make the Eastern Conference playoffs today, the Mystics have the worst record against conference foes and have just a .500 record. The other teams are doing considerably better in that regard. Therefore, they are effectively three games behind the Indiana Fever for the second seed in the playoffs. And that's a problem for them as they head toward the postseason.

At first glance, the Mystics' 7-1 record against Western Conference teams is great. Hell, it's the best in the WNBA and they swept the freaking Lynx! Like the NBA, the WNBA's Western Conference has been stronger in recent years. The West has also won all but one title from 2009 to 2014.

However, the Mystics aren't facing the Lynx in the playoffs unless both teams advance to the Finals. If they do, I will give D.C. a chance to make things interesting in a five-game series. I really would. But don't get ahead of yourselves.

They still will have to face off and defeat some combination of the Liberty, Fever, and Sky in two playoff series order to get there. That's going to be Washington's biggest hurdle to making the Finals, let alone advancing to their first Eastern Conference Finals in 13 years.

Of the three other potential playoff teams, I wouldn't want to see the Mystics face off against the Sky in the first round. They are now 1-4 to the Sky after the weekend. If the Mystics faced them in a postseason series, it's going to be tough to see them win it, even considering the fact that they lost three of their four games to Chicago in heartbreaking fashion.

If there's a team where Washington appears to have a better chance of advancing against in the first round, it's probably the first place New York Liberty, given that they haven't made the playoffs since 2012 and the Eastern Conference Finals since 2010. Right now, even though the Mystics are the fourth seed in the East, the Libs are exactly who they would play.

At the end of the day, with first round and Conference Finals series only being three games long, playoff seeding may not matter that much when you consider that the East is relatively even from top to bottom.

BF's Mystics Player of the Week (August 17 to 23): Kara Lawson

Lawson averaged 17.3 points this week, shooting 51 percent from the floor and 46 percent from three. Lawson is in her 13th year in the league, and while she has struggled with back pain she is having one of the best seasons of her career as a distributor, averaging 3.6 assists per game. Lawson led the Mystics offensively in of this past week's win over the Lynx and had some timely buckets to keep both games against Chicago close despite the heartbreaking losses.

Who do they play this week (August 24-30)?

Date Opponent Time (ET) TV/Online
Friday, August 28 Phoenix Mercury 7 p.m. Monumental Network/WNBA LiveAccess
Sunday, August 30 at Seattle Storm 9 p.m. NBATV/WNBA Live Access

The Mystics now are about to play four consecutive Western Conference opponents with a home game this Friday against the Mercury who won it all last year. That will be followed up by a game in the Emerald City which kicks off a four-game cross-country road trip that will include a rematch against the Merc and the L.A. Sparks, who now have Candace Parker back after she took the first half of the season to rest.

Given that Phoenix isn't as dominant as they were last season and Seattle is evaluating their talent for the future, the Mystics should do what they can to finish the week with two more W's as they get closer to clinching a playoff berth.