The Washington Mystics may have been able to attribute a pair of season-opening losses to a severely depleted roster, most notably injured all-star point guard Ivory Latta, but there was absolutely no explaining away Friday night’s debacle against the Los Angeles Sparks at Verizon Center.
The 97-67 clunker included a season-high 22 turnovers, misses on 8 of 15 free throws and a dearth of urgency that left the Mystics 0-3 for the first time since 2007. Washington is the only winless team in the Eastern Conference following a three-game home stand in which each loss came by double figures.
Six of the Mystics’ next seven games are on the road, beginning with Saturday night at the Connecticut Sun.
“We’re a really bad basketball team right now,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “There’s no way to sugar-coat it. I don’t know what’s going to change it. I hope a couple players will help, but that doesn’t excuse some of the things we’re doing right now. Twenty-two turnovers is just absolutely unacceptable, and we probably had more assists on [the Sparks’] baskets than they did.”
The Mystics got 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds from all-star forward Emma Meesseman and 10 points from rookie guard-forward Kahleah Copper, who started for the third time. No other Mystics player had more than eight points, with Washington shooting 44 percent in front of announced crowd of 7,807.
Los Angeles (2-0) shot 56 percent, made 8 of 17 (47 percent) from three-point range and collected 27 points off turnovers, winning easily despite two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker making only 3 of 10 shots and finishing with eight points. Point guard Kristi Toliver, the catalyst of Maryland’s NCAA tournament title run in 2006, led the Sparks with 19 points, making 5 of 6 three-pointers.
The outcome began to grow out of hand after Washington had drawn within 28-25 with 3 minutes 1 second left in the second quarter. The Sparks reeled off 13 of the next 17 points in the quarter, including consecutive three-pointers by Toliver, and expanded the advantage to 53-36 with a 10-2 burst shortly after intermission.
“It was just bad today,” Meesseman said. “I don’t know how to explain it. I’m sorry for the fans, but we have to look at ourselves. Luckily we have a game tomorrow. Maybe we can turn it around and just show that we’re not the team that we showed today.”
Washington did get back two ailing players who had missed Wednesday night’s 87-77 loss to the Dallas Wings. Small forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt made her season debut well ahead of schedule after badly spraining her right ankle in training camp, and reserve forward Ally Malott played 16 minutes despite a grade 2 sprain in her right arm.
But starting point guard Natasha Cloud missed the first game of her brief WNBA career. The second-round pick last season is dealing with kidney stones that had her doubled over in pain in the training room after the loss to Dallas. The absence of Cloud and Latta left primary ballhandling duties to Bria Hartley, Tayler Hill and Ruffin-Pratt.
Latta continues to recover from offseason right knee surgery and isn’t expected back until perhaps Thursday, when the Mystics visit the Seattle Storm and No. 1 overall pick Breanna Stewart.
Also unavailable for Washington has been power forward LaToya Sanders, who was second in the WNBA in blocks last season. The Mystics’ most reliable post defender is overseas for several weeks fulfilling obligations with the Turkish national team in advance of the Brazil Olympics. Sanders is a naturalized Turkish citizen.
“I just think it’s on us,” said Ruffin-Pratt, who had seven points and two steals in 14 1/2 minutes. “It’s not really adjustments as much as just looking at what we do ourselves individually, taking pride in rebounds and defending and making free throws and not turning the ball over. If we take pride ourselves in those little things, those big things, then we’ll turn our season around.”