When the Washington Mystics began their longest road swing of the season July 1, they had moved above .500 for the first time this year and were the No. 4 seed in the eight-team chase for the playoffs.
Two weeks later, Washington limped back to the District having dropped all five games on the trip for its longest losing streak this season. The slide also has left the Mystics (9-13) in precarious playoff positioning with a dozen games remaining.
Heading into Wednesday’s matinee against the Eastern Conference-leading New York Liberty (17-7) at Verizon Center, Washington sits in the No. 8 slot, with the Dallas Wings a half-game behind and the Seattle Storm within one game. (Teams with the eight best records make the postseason regardless of conference.)
“We aren’t consistent at all,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “The biggest thing is I just don’t want somebody to play harder than us. We’re not shooting the ball well particularly. Our guards are struggling with consistency. The other night our guards as a group shoot 17, 18 percent. You have no chance of winning when you’re playing like that.”
Washington’s breakdowns during the road trip were in stark contrast to how it performed away from Verizon Center earlier this year. The Mystics had been among the top road teams in the WNBA, going 5-2 in such games at the beginning of the schedule, including a victory over the Storm on May 26.
The Storm, however, trounced Washington, 80-51, on Friday night to end the Mystics’ stretch of games out west that included losses to the Los Angeles Sparks, 93-82, and Phoenix Mercury, 78-74. The Mystics play WNBA front-runner Los Angeles (20-2), which has won nine of its past 10, again on Friday night at Verizon Center in their final game before the month-long Olympic break.
Other losses during the road trip came to the Chicago Sky and San Antonio Stars. The Mystics were unable to preserve a 14-point lead against Chicago, which owns the tiebreaker over Washington, having won the first three meetings this season.
The Sky is one game in front of Washington, which has made the playoffs three straight years.
A 77-70 loss to the Stars was especially disappointing given that San Antonio not only has the worst record in the league (5-17) but also was without leading scorer Kayla McBride (17.1 points per game), who is sidelined for the season with a broken right foot. The Mystics had beaten San Antonio soundly at home, 84-67, only a week beforehand while limiting McBride to a season-low seven points.
“We went on the road after a good run at home, and I think we thought it was going to be as easy or we were going to win without working hard and coming out focused,” said Emma Meesseman, the Mystics all-star forward. “L.A. was a good game for us. In long stretches we played hard, and against Seattle and San Antonio, we just didn’t do well.”
Compounding matters for Washington moving forward is another spate of injuries, including starting guard Tayler Hill’s sore left foot and a broken finger in reserve guard Bria Hartley’s left hand. Both players were hurt in the loss to Seattle.
Hill, the team’s second-leading scorer, has not practiced this week and is a game-time decision. Hartley practiced with a splint protecting her left middle finger and appears in line to play.
The Mystics also have been monitoring Natasha Cloud and Ivory Latta after the point guards collided Sunday and fell to the court in considerable pain during the first practice at Verizon Center since coming home. Both players had to be helped by teammates to the trainer’s table, with Cloud favoring her left hip and Latta clutching her left knee.
Both players practiced Tuesday and are hopeful to play against the Liberty, which beat the Mystics, 87-76, in the season opener May 14.
“Obviously the road trip didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but I just think the main thing we have to do is stay together, stay focused, kind of not dwell on that too much,” Hartley said. “Learn from our mistakes and be critical of ourselves but not dwell on it where it carries over to the next game because we have two big games coming up, so we have to fix it fast.”