With a roster that includes seven players who are rookies or in their second year, the Washington Mystics predictably endured plenty of uneven play during the first half of the season. There were games with turnover numbers in the 20s, shooting percentages in the low 30s and unforced errors and poor decisions that cost them victories.
Still, through the travails — including an injury-depleted bench — the Mystics find themselves in the thick of the playoff picture with 11 games left in the regular season. Washington is in third place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Indiana Fever for the No. 2 seed.
The Mystics (10-13) play all but one of their remaining games against East opponents, beginning with Wednesday morning’s tip-off against the Connecticut Sun. Connecticut (10-14) trails the Mystics by a half-game, and the teams play twice more in the final week of the regular season.
It’s also the Mystics’ first home game in three weeks following a season-long five-game road trip and the all-star break. Washington, which plays its next three in a row at Verizon Center for its final home stand, has won three of four and is the only club in the East that has completed its West Coast obligations.
“The all-star break, I kind of wish we could have kept playing just because we were playing well,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “We’re figuring out the things that had come in bits and pieces are now staying longer on the court. Longer stretches of good.”
Washington has shot at least 47 percent in each of its last three games, including 49 percent in Thursday’s 79-75 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks at Staples Center. The Mystics scored 27 points in the third quarter, which at times this season had been their undoing, and held a 10-5 advantage in offensive rebounding.
Perhaps most noteworthy in their recent upswing is the decline in turnovers. Washington is last in the WNBA in turnover differential (-3.09) and tied with the Fever for the second most turnovers per game (15.6) but committed more than 15 turnovers once over the last four games.
Defense also has kept the Mystics competitive despite inattentive ball security and wayward three-point shooting. Washington is the only club shooting less than 30 percent from beyond the arc, but it’s limiting opponents to 41.8 percent shooting overall, the second lowest total in the league.
“We picked up a lot of confidence on the West Coast,” small forward Monique Currie said. “We beat a lot of good teams. I think we’re playing better every game. We know how close of a race it is to the playoffs so having that confidence going into the second half and having that momentum will really help us hopefully to perform well.”
Currie is averaging 17.5 points and shooting 62 percent (13 for 21) in her past two games. Washington has had at least four players score in double figures in each of the last four games but may be without one of its top reserves in Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.
The second-year guard-forward appeared to hurt her ankle late in Monday night’s practice and left the court on crutches. The Mystics have been without Taylor Hill, last year’s No. 4 overall pick in the WNBA draft, all season after the guard recently gave birth. Reserve guard Kara Lawson missed the last two games with a sore back, and first-year forward Jelena Milovanovic has missed nine consecutive games with a strained right knee.
“I absolutely think we have momentum, but we have to continue it,” said starting point guard Ivory Latta, who was the Mystics’ lone representative in the All-Star Game in Phoenix over the weekend. “We can’t have any letdowns. We can’t have defensive breakdowns. If we have the momentum, we have to use it to our advantage.”