With three games left in the regular season, the Washington Mystics are taking aim at two marks, one reachable through their own doing and the other requiring considerable assistance.
A win against the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena would guarantee Washington a home game in the WNBA playoffs. The Mystics secured a fourth postseason berth in five years when they beat the Indiana Fever on Aug. 20.
Two losses in a row since have left Washington as a long shot to claim a top-four seed and the accompanying first-round bye. For that scenario to unfold, the Mystics (17-14), now in the No. 5 slot, would need to win out and have either the New York Liberty or the Sun lose each of their remaining games.
The Mystics, losers of four of their past five games, trail third-seeded Connecticut (20-11) by three games and No. 4 seed New York (20-12) by 2½ .
“The biggest thing for me is to be playing better basketball with some rhythm going into the playoffs,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “We’ve had no rhythm at all. It’s just been disjointed really.”
Part of the uneven play, according to Thibault, is attributable to injuries late in the season. All-star forward Elena Delle Donne, for instance, has played two games since undergoing left thumb surgery that kept her out of the lineup for more than two weeks.
The 2015 WNBA MVP’s first practice since the procedure was last Thursday, immediately before a back-to-back, the Mystics’ only such stretch this year. Delle Donne scored 29 points, matching her season high, with 11 rebounds during Saturday’s 83-78 home loss to the Dallas Wings.
Washington had lost to the Liberty, 74-66, Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m all right,” Delle Donne said. “Obviously all of our bodies are a little tired. I think both were great tests. Unfortunately, we came away with losses in those tests, but they are good games to be in right now, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. A back-to-back is always a struggle.”
Guard Natasha Cloud, a top reserve, has missed the past three games with a partial plantar fascia tear in her right foot. She continues to rehab but may not play again until the postseason, Thibault said, leaving the club even more shorthanded during this critical juncture.
Washington already is without starting guard Tayler Hill, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in mid-July. She was the Mystics’ second-leading scorer at the time and has missed the past 13 games.
Thibault gave his players Sunday off and had them in film study Monday afternoon, allowing for additional time to rest. The Mystics’ final two regular season games are Friday at home against the Seattle Storm and Sunday on the road against the Minnesota Lynx , which has won three WNBA championships since 2011.
“We’re going to have to get back to work in the couple days before we play a game just to try to get everybody on the same page,” Thibault said of his plans later this week. “It’s going to be hard. I was looking at our games lost to injuries, and I was just shaking my head, not as much just for people being out but being out at different times so you’re always re-scrambling things.”
Turns out Washington will be playing Tuesday night because of another unforeseen circumstance. The Mystics originally had been scheduled to face Connecticut on July 28 in the rubber match of their three-game series, but a leak in the roof at Capital One Arena forced postponement until a month later.
After another leak delayed the Mystics’ game against Indiana for 45 minutes on Aug. 12 — creating the opportunity for a dance-off between the two teams during the interlude — the roof at the 20-year-old arena has undergone repairs, according to Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the facility, in an effort to guard against additional leaks.
Tuesday’s forecast calls for a chance of rain throughout the day.