Who knew so “early” in the season, something of this nature would have to be written about the 2019 WNBA Champions, the Washington Mystics? Who knew we’d have a pandemic that would shape the course of the sports world indefinitely? Who knew Washington would begin a season with only one returning starter and excel just to plummet so quickly later on?
Honestly, who knew?
A season began with uncertainty and more as the Washington Mystics had several players who weren’t returning this season such as Elena Delle Donne who was denied a medical exemption, Natasha Cloud, Tina Charles and more. With that came even more uncertainty and doubt that Washington would most likely not be making the Finals three years in a row, let alone the playoffs. Ariel Atkins was the only returning starter, and most of the team who played a reserve role would now become starting leaving the bench now depleted. Even in power rankings before the season began, many had the Mystics no higher than a six or seven seed.
Opening weekend began and Head Coach Mike Mike Thibault had chosen his starting five: Leilani Mitchell, Aerial Powers, Atkins, Emma Meesseman and Myisha Hines-Allen. Mystics would go on to be 3-0 defeating the Indiana Fever, Connecticut Sun and the Seattle Storm. After that Washington played the Chicago Sky and lost by two. That wasn’t bad due to it being a well-played game and it just came down to who made the most three-pointers.
And then the Mystics lost again. And again. And again.
The first two losses were lost by a combined no more than eight points. The next loss was the most surprising and bewildered loss of them all: the New York Liberty. The Liberty came came into the game without a win and left victorious. The eight-point loss shocked fans, media and most definitely Washington. Even for Head Coach Mike Thibault it was an embarrassing loss.
“That was one of the most embarrassing losses if not the most embarrassing loss since I’ve been in D.C. Not because we lost the game, but because of our approach and how we went about it,” he said. “It’s not the same team that showed up and played the first couple of games when we were here.”
Mystics’ forward Aerial Powers even voiced her opinion of how the team continued to come out flat. Powers even made it known that figuring out their identity needs to happen.
“We have to find our identity and I think after three losses when do you start getting mad and start showing other teams who the hell we are, “ she said. “We should make the other team feel that we’re here and we’re here to stay and we have to have that aggressiveness when we first start.”
And then the Mystics on Sunday lost to the Fever, who they had already beaten in the season opener. Washington went from a top seed to now at 3-4 sitting in seventh place with 15 games left to play in the regular season. And the time is now to definitely worry about this Mystics team.
In the Liberty game, Powers took a heavy beating and will out for at least a week or so before we see her back on the court. That’s a heavy blow to Washington’s offense because Powers has been such a powerhouse behind the arc and taking it to the rim. She’s averaging 16.3 points per game the most for the Mystics this season.
Also, Washington hasn’t had a good rest since after playing the Sky on August 1. All of their games have only had a day in between games. And currently that has been like that since August 5 and remain as such until August 15 before they get a few days in between their next game, but even after that their schedule returns back to the grueling one day breaks in between games. That could definitely play a part in why the Mystics have lost so many games back-to-back as well as why their shots haven’t been falling.
The worry comes in more seeing where the Mystics are in the standings where they are now seventh. They’re only three games out of first place. But when examining the way they’ve been playing and putting the short season into context, it’s a big deficit.
Hate to say it, but Washington could easily be pushed out of the playoffs at the rate they’re going. Of course , they could make the playoffs, but it’s hard to see them making it past the single elimination first and second round games.
Basketball is a team sport and the Mystics have to give an all-around team effort no matter who’s on the floor if they expect to still be contenders. Looking at their next three games, Washington plays top-five seeds, one of which they’ve already lost to: Minnesota Lynx (#2), Los Angeles Sparks (#5) and Las Vegas Aces (#4).
Let’s be real. If the Mystics go 0-3 especially without Powers in the lineup against their next three opponents, then kiss a repeat championship goodbye.