Mystics begin road trip in Atlanta

The Washington Mystics, who had trailed by double figures, closed within one possession of the Atlanta Dream during the final minutes Sunday and needed a defensive stand to get the ball back with an opportunity to tie.

But when Dream rookie guard Shoni Schimmel’s three-pointer bounced off the rim, only her teammates seemed interested in chasing down the loose ball. First Atlanta forward Angel McCoughtry collected the offensive rebound but missed. Then Dream center Erika de Souza secured another offensive rebound, and this time the follow attempt fell through the net.

The decisive offensive rebound was Atlanta’s 17th of the game, underscoring a glaring deficiency Mystics Coach Mike Thibault had addressed early this season and appeared to have resolved recently. Washington entered Sunday ranked No. 1 in the WNBA in rebounding margin, but the Dream collected 13 more offensive rebounds and 11 more overall to win its fourth in a row.

After losing for the fourth time in five games , Washington (5-6) had 48 hours to address its rebounding deficiencies before a rematch with the Eastern Conference leaders Wednesday at noon in Atlanta. The Mystics are in fifth place in the East, as they embark on a four-game road swing over the next week that includes a matchup against the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx on Friday night.

“You can’t teach rebounding,” Mystics point guard Ivory Latta said. “Rebounding’s hard, and you’ve just got to go get it. I’ve got to do a better job of trying to go down there and help the post [players] as much as possible, so it’s on all of us.”

There are plenty of other concerns, too, for Thibault, who continues to tinker with his starting lineup and substitution patterns on a team with seven players who are rookies or in their second season. Thibault has used five starting lineups this season, and only center Kia Vaughn and forward Emma Meesseman have started every game.

Youth and inexperience also have conspired to send Washington to the bottom of the WNBA in turnover differential (-3.9) and second-to-last in overall turnovers (16.7). Only the Dream commits more turnovers on average than Washington, but Atlanta forces opponents into a league-high 18.8 turnovers per game.

“We’ve just got to make easy passes and not try to make risky passes,” said forward Monique Currie, who in her seventh year with the Mystics is the club's longest tenured player. “We’ve just got to be more sharp.”

The Dream (7-3), meanwhile, lead the WNBA in rebounding differential (+3.7) with the formidable combination of Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle patrolling the painted area. De Souza is fourth in the league in rebounding, averaging 9.6 per game, and Lyttle is fifth at 9.5.

A foot injury kept Lyttle out of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals against the Mystics, but de Souza averaged 13.7 rebounds during Atlanta’s series victory in three games. The Dream also got 18 points per game during the series from McCoughtry, the league’s reigning scoring champion who’s sixth in scoring this season.

“Sometimes Erika de Souza is actually offensive rebounding when she’s shooting because she just knows to go, and we get caught watching,” Thibault said. “Hopefully we can fix it on this road trip a little bit. We’ve got our work cut out. These are hard games, but I think we’ll be okay in that area.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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