Chicago Sky all-star Sylvia Fowles works to get past Mystics rookie Stefanie Dolson, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds while starting in place of the suspended Kia Vaughn. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A second straight playoff appearance continues to prove elusive for the Washington Mystics, who without their starting center and a major contributor off the bench pushed the surging Chicago Sky down the stretch before losing, 72-69, early Wednesday afternoon at Verizon Center.

After trailing by 11 points twice in the first half, Washington had possession in the final seconds with an opportunity force overtime, but Emma Meesseman never got a clean look over the outstretched arms of Elena Delle Donne, and the second-year forward’s three-pointer wasn’t close as the buzzer sounded.

The Mystics (15-17) lost their second in a row and their fourth in six games to fall to third place in the Eastern Conference . Still, one victory in their final two games — either at Connecticut on Friday or at home against New York on Saturday — would ensure Washington’s season will continue next week in the conference semifinals.

“We were shorthanded today, and we still fought,” forward Monique Currie said. “I think we played great defense. I just think our start was slow. We missed a lot of open shots, and we got ourselves in a hole that we had to dig out of. ”

Currie led the Mystics with 18 points, and all-star point guard Ivory Latta added 12 points, five rebounds and three assists but missed 10 of 14 shots. In her first start, rookie center Stefanie Dolson had 12 points and 10 rebounds replacing Kia Vaughn, who served a league-mandated one-game suspension for elbowing Chiney Ogwumike in the head during Sunday’s 89-81, double-overtime loss at Connecticut .

The Mystics also were missing Kara Lawson after the reserve guard sprained her ankle in the fourth quarter Sunday. The 1999 All-Met Player of the Year and Alexandria native is out for the remainder of the regular season and was on crutches Wednesday.

“I think our effort was great,” said Dolson, the No. 6 pick in April’s WNBA draft. “I think in the last few minutes of the game, defensively, we are short two pretty big players for our team so it was definitely a battle, but you can’t feel sorry for yourself. We just went out there and played as hard as we could. Obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted.”

Delle Donne had a lot to do with that, coming off the bench to score 18 points in 23 minutes. The No. 2 pick in last year’s WNBA draft missed 17 games this season while dealing with symptoms of Lyme disease but has scored in double figures in four of five games this month.

With the Mystics whittling the deficit to two points with 5 minutes 16 seconds left in the game, Delle Donne sank an acrobatic running jumper in traffic to silence the announced crowd of 16,117. One minute later the 6-foot-5 guard-forward swished a field goal from the foul line with the shot clock nearly expired, giving Chicago a 62-58 lead.

Sky center Sylvia Fowles finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, one short of matching her season high. Even when the Mystics employed double-teams on the three-time all-star, Fowles was unfazed in leading Chicago (15-17) to its seventh win in 10 games.

●DREAM 96, MERCURY 82: Rookie Shoni Schimmel scored a season-high 24 points and Atlanta beat Phoenix to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Tiffany Hayes had 19 points and Aneika Henry added 15 points and 12 rebounds to help the Dream (18-14) snap a five-game losing streak.

Erin Phillips scored 21 points to lead the Mercury (27-5), which has already secured the top spot in the West and home-court advantage throughout the WNBA playoffs.

— Associated Press