Mystics are on a roll, while Dream swoons into playoffs
Despite controlling their final regular season contest against the Atlanta Dream for a 90-81 win Sunday, the Washington Mystics remain wary of the team they will face in a WNBA Eastern Conference semifinal series beginning on Wednesday.
All signs would seem to indicate that Washington got the opponent it would most like to face out of a slew of hard-nosed, evenly matched East teams in the first round. The Mystics are 3-1 against Atlanta this year and enter the postseason having won six straight, the longest active winning streak in the WNBA, while the Dream lost six of its last seven contests.
But the Mystics, most of whom have appeared in only two playoff games in their careers as part of Washington's first-round exit to Indiana in 2009, refuse to take Atlanta lightly.
"Atlanta is still the team that got off to the best start in the WNBA this season," said veteran center Chasity Melvin, who has appeared in 19 playoff games and is one of only three Mystics who have played in more than two postseason contests. Katie Smith (35 games) and Nakia Sanford (seven games) are the others.
"We have to be ready on Wednesday. As I've been trying to stress to everybody, this is a whole new season now," Melvin said. "Hopefully we can keep that same intensity we had early [Sunday]. Atlanta started out playing really well and they're struggling now, but they could go on a run at any time."
After spending much of the first two months of the season atop the East standings, Atlanta struggled to maintain consistency and went 7-11 through July and August to fall into fourth place. Statistically, the Dream has remained one of the top rebounding and offensive teams in the league, wrapping up the regular season first in rebounding (38.8 per game) and second in points (85.4).
But Atlanta can be prone to turnovers, a plight the Mystics know well, averaging 16.7 a game; and falters when forced deviate from the inside game it relies heavily upon - the Dream shoot a league-worst 28.9 percent from three-point range. The team also watched forward Sancho Lyttle, point guard Shalee Lehning and guard Kelly Miller all miss time with injuries.
"We of course would have liked to hold on to the top seed . . . but we just didn't play well at the end of the year," Atlanta Coach Marynell Meadors said after Sunday's game. "It's been just a rash of injuries that I think have taken a little bit out of us. But the fourth part of our season is the playoffs and that's where you want to be this time of year."
Mystics notes: Roughly 50 Mystics fans met the team when it arrived at Reagan National Airport around 10 p.m. Sunday night after Washington beat Atlanta to clinch the Eastern Conference regular season title and top seed in the playoffs. The players expressed their gratitude and surprise on Twitter.
"We have the best fans in the WNBA," Crystal Langhorne tweeted. "They just came and greeted us at the airport."