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The Mystics strike out on their four-game road trip

This puts a big damper on their season goals, even though the postseason is still within reach.

Stewart W. Small

The Mystics lost all of their games on a four-game road trip which concluded today. They were shut down by the soon-to-be-lottery-bound Seattle Storm last Sunday, 69-59. The Phoenix Mercury and their superstar Brittney Griner gave them the business 73-53 on Wednesday.

On the following day, Washington managed to maintain a solid lead over the Los Angeles Sparks to the fourth quarter and had a 15 point lead at one point. But Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike -- who came back after missing seven games from an injury -- happened. End result? A 93-91 loss.

And on this Sunday, the Mystics came out flat against the Atlanta Dream, the only other team in the Eastern Conference that is holding onto dear life for its postseason future. They LOST AGAIN, 73-67.

Of all the losses this past week, the Atlanta one gets under my skin the most. If the Mystics beat the Dream today, they clinch a playoff berth, AND the Dream would get an entry with a very small chance to get Breanna Stewart in the 2016 WNBA Draft.

In addition, this loss puts a damper on everything that they were hoping to accomplish this season.

Based on their offseason moves and rotations all season, they had NO INTENTIONS to get in the conversation for Stewart. And to be fair, I totally understand why the Mystics, or any team, will do everything they can to win as many games as they can.

They wanted to show the WNBA -- and ESPECIALLY WNBA fans who wanted them to "go all young" and "tank" like me -- that they can win 20 games this season AND advance to the second round, which is the Eastern Conference Finals in their league without a bonafide franchise star. The Mystics haven't advanced in the playoffs since 2002.

Now with the Atlanta loss, Washington is 16-15 which puts a 20-win season mathematically out of reach. They also won't get homecourt advantage either. If they win out to get to a 19-15 record and the 19-12 Chicago Sky loses all the rest of their games, they lose out due to their 1-4 record to Chicago in the regular season.

That said, even though the Mystics have lost six of their last seven games AND face the Dream one last time next Sunday after facing the already playoff-bound Indiana Fever at home on Tuesday and the first-place New York Liberty on the road Friday, it's difficult to see them missing the playoffs, even if they lose out.

The reason why? It's because the Dream also have a difficult schedule of their own. Even they're at home, Atlanta has to play the surging Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, who have been on a roll since the aforementioned Parker returned from taking the first half of the season off due to rest. After that, they host the Fever on Friday night before heading to D.C. next Sunday.

I find it difficult for Atlanta to beat L.A. given how well Parker's playing, where she's averaging 18.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. If she played the entire season, she'd likely be a leading MVP candidate. Either way, she's the MVP of the second half of the season, but that's beyond the point.

This however, is. I'm fearing that the Mystics are now about to get on the dreaded Treadmill of Mediocrity.

The Mystics are slumping at the wrong time of the season. They have the worst record against intra-conference opponents among all WNBA teams that are either playoff bound or are expected to make the postseason. If Washington makes the postseason, they're likely one and done for the third straight season.

They also don't have a record that's poor enough to have a significant shot at the number one pick in next year's draft, so losing out is not a particularly appealing option given the lottery odds. So next season, the Mystics will have to select another mid-first round pick and the rest of the roster probably won't change much. Unless we see another offseason like this past winter's, except that the Mystics would be involved.

Of course, there's a chance that the Mystics make the playoffs and shock everyone by advancing to the Finals. After all, the Chicago Sky did just that last year despite being a number four seed and having injury woes for much of the regular season. But things like that don't happen often.

I really do want to see the Mystics win a championship one day. They have built themselves a team that plays very well together, given what they have. Mike Thibault is in my opinion, the best head coach in the WNBA because he gets his teams to buy into his system and get them to overachieve on a perennial basis. But ultimately, a team with only two Top-4 overall picks (and one player who is 25 or younger who is a Top-4 pick and isn't starting) just isn't the recipe for a perennial contender.

I get that the season isn't over yet and a Mystics Eastern Conference Finals (or better) playoff run can make this post an unnecessary rant. But if there's anything this last week showed us, it's that Washington still has work to do in order to be a team that most would consider a championship contender, whether now or in the next few seasons.

I just don't know how they're going to get there.