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Mystics vs. Liberty preview: Washington has the pieces to win first playoff series since 2002

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The Mystics may be a 4-seed, but they have more than enough to defeat the New York Liberty in their first round playoff series. Let's preview it, shall we?

Stewart W. Small

The WNBA Playoffs are starting tonight. However, the Mystics won't start playing until Friday at 7 p.m. on NBA TV when they face off against the Eastern Conference-leading New York Liberty who finished the year with a 23-11 record.

Overall team stats and analysis

Here are the Four Factors numbers, pace, and team ratings for the Mystics and Liberty heading into the playoffs:

Offense Defense Pace and Team Ratings
eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA Team eFG% TOV% DRB% FT/FGA PACE ORTG DRTG
45.47% 16.05% 29.19% 23.60% New York Liberty 43.75% 15.44% 78.33% 23.44% 74.9 (5) 98.6 (10) 94.2 (1)
46.79% 14.35% 24.58% 21.00% Washington Mystics 43.56% 14.94% 70.24% 20.76% 72.6 (11) 100.6 (7) 97.4 (4)

TL:dr version: This playoff series is going to be a battle of the defenses as the Liberty have the top defensive team rating in the league, while the Mystics are fourth.  Still, the Liberty will have a slight advantage as they perfomed better than the Mystics in defensive TOV% and DRB%.

On offense, the Mystics have an advantage, especially from the three-point line where they were third in the league in made attempts with 203. If their pace was higher than 11th this season, I wouldn't be surprised to see them lead the league from long range.

The Liberty, however, were tied for last place in made three-pointers with 128. They also shot from two-point range at a lower percentage than the Mystics.

Who has the advantage in the backcourt?

New York will have the advantage over D.C. based on talent at the top of the roster. Epiphanny Prince has averaged 15 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.9 rebounds this season while shooting 46.7 percent from the filed. In addition, Tanisha Wright has been a solid playmaking and defensive presence where she has averaged 7.4 points and 3.5 assists. She is also a perennial member of the All-Defensive team.

Other guards such as Brittany Boyd and Sugar Rodgers have also made positive contributions though Boyd is out due to a wrist injury she suffered earlier this month.

That said, the Mystics have depth. They do not have an All-Star like Prince, but Ivory Latta has led the team in scoring for the third straight season with 13.4 points a game along with Kara Lawson who has averaged 9.6 points and 3.6 assists per game. In addition, Tayler Hill averaged a career-high 7.5 points per game while playing as one of the first guards off the bench.

Latta, Lawson, and Hill have combined to make a combined 132 threes this season -- more than the entire Liberty.

Finally, Bria Hartley's healthy again, according to Rob Knox of WomHoops Guru. Hartley has been limited all season due to a stress fracture in her right foot. A healthy Hartley only makes them better and she was an All-Rookie team selection last season when she was healthy the entire year.

Who has the advantage in the frontcourt?

The Liberty have the biggest superstar in Tina Charles who was the 2012 WNBA MVP (and played for Mike Thibault when both were in Connecticut). They even have rookie Kiah Stokes who has played surprisingly well both as a bench player and as a starter, despite her otherwise pedestrian production at UConn where she went to college (like Dolson).

But let's face it: the Mystics' "House of Posts" / "Washington Posts" duo of Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson will have the advantage when it comes to the battle of the bigs.

Meesseman and Dolson combined for 22.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.5 blocks in the regular season, not to mention that both players' production was similar to each other. They also have the ability to make both mid-range AND three point shots consistently.

Charles and Stokes, on the other hand, aren't so hot shooting from deep and their shooting from mid range is left to be desired. Both of them also do not take as many of these shots as Meesseman or Dolson. When you compare all four posts' shooting statistics against each other, the Mystics' posts are clearly a step above their Liberty counterparts:

1-5 ft 6-10 ft 11-15 ft 16-21 ft 3 Pointers All shots
Player Team FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG%
Emma Meesseman Mystics 76 111 68.47% 23 43 53.49% 23 45 51.11% 50 108 46.30% 6 13 46.15% 178 320 55.63%
Stefanie Dolson Mystics 66 105 62.86% 19 35 54.29% 20 50 40.00% 33 88 37.50% 10 21 47.62% 148 299 49.50%
Tina Charles Liberty 123 195 63.08% 42 109 38.53% 35 95 36.84% 42 127 33.07% 1 5 20.00% 243 531 45.76%
Kiah Stokes Liberty 70 107 65.42% 4 17 23.53% 5 11 45.45% 3 13 23.08% 0 2 0.00% 82 150 54.67%
All WNBA Players WNBA 5273 9551 55.21% 930 2639 35.24% 1012 2637 38.38% 2156 5817 37.06% 1965 6040 32.53% 11336 26684 42.48%

Stats from the Minnesota Lynx's Lynx Data Blog.

If the Mystics can keep Charles and Stokes shooting mid-range jumpers more frequently, that can very well pull the series in their favor.

Who wins the series?

Despite their lack of a true franchise superstar -- and I disagree with WNBA.com's (and Thibault's) counterpoint on that by the way -- the Mystics have enough to pull out a series win over New York to go to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2002.

I'll bullet point the reasons why my vote goes to D.C.:

  • The Mystics went 3-1 vs. the Liberty in the regular season. This is their most favorable matchup in a series against any of the three teams they could have faced. If they had to face the 2 seed Chicago Sky, there's no doubt in my mind that they get swept two games to zippy.
  • Most of Washington's core group has been together as one unit for each of the last three seasons. New York's core group -- including Charles and Prince -- have only been there for two seasons or less. In addition, the Liberty haven't been in the playoffs since 2012. The bulk of the Mystics' core has been here since Thibault arrived in 2013 and they already have two years of playoff experience as Mystics players. That counts for something.
  • The Mystics want to complete a "Monumental Trifecta" where all three of Ted Leonsis' teams advance to the second round of the playoffs in the same year. The Capitals and Wizards have both done it this past spring, and there's no doubt that there's some pressure for the Mystics to do the same. Leonsis has yet to see all three teams make the second round during his tenure as majority owner, and he would want to see the Mystics get to the Conference Finals as much as anyone.
How far do you think the Washington Mystics will go? Let us know in the comments below.